Afternoon from Xcel Energy Center, where the Wild held another practice today as it anxiously awaits opening the playoffs Thursday in St. Louis.
"Like a kid on Christmas, two more sleeps," Chris Stewart kidded. "That’s the only way to put it. It’s kind of like you’re waiting for judgment day. You just kind of wait around, but you do get some time to get ample rest and get ready for the next series."
Said Blues captain David Backes: "You want to get into it. Five days of prep and things that Hitch probably relishes and enjoys but we want to put our skates on and play for keeps and we finally get to do that on Thursday."
Here's our coverage from today's paper:
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter talk about how trying a year this was for them with the deaths of their fathers and how they supported each other.
Rachel Blount's story on how the Wild hopes to counter the Blues' physicality with speed.
Tomorrow's paper, I'll be writing a pretty cool personality profile on Jason Zucker, a feature on David Backes (I chatted with the Blues captain via phone yesterday) and a notebook. Rachel is writing about how important special teams will be in this series, particularly solving the Wild's poor power play.
This afternoon at 5 p.m., I'll be at the Local in Minneapolis with columnist Jim Souhan doing another podcast. Come on down or listen live or at a later date at souhanunfiltered.com or IHeart Radio or Itune or your Podcast app on your iPhone or spreaker or...
Some news from today's Wild practice:
Matt Cooke didn't practice today with some "discomfort" that coach Mike Yeo said is unrelated to the sports hernia surgery he had in February.
Yeo said, "I'd say he's definitely a possibility [for Thursday]. It'll just be a matter of us deciding if he's not a hundred percent, then we wouldn't put him in. We've got healthy guys but I don't think this is something that's going to linger."
Ryan Carter replaced him on the line with Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine today. Yeo said, "That's the way we went today. Lots of special teams work today. I'd say there's definitely a possibility for that but we've got other options, based on identity, based on roles. But that's the look we went with today."
My gut? In St. Louis, the Wild wants to go with a grittier lineup and Carter draws in if Cooke can't play. At home, when Yeo can dictate more of the matchups, I bet he goes with the speedier Erik Haula and maybe tries to get him out against Vladimir Tarasenko the way he did last year against Nathan MacKinnon in the Colorado series.
On Haula, Sean Bergenheim and Jordan Schroeder potentially be scratched for Game 1, Yeo said, "That’s part of the challenge, but guys that were here last year remember and guys that have been part of the playoffs (know) things change quickly. Haula went from barely being in the lineup to barely playing in the first couple games to having an elevated role and obviously having quite an impact as things went on. Things change quickly and we just have to make sure they stay positive, and they stay ready as far as what they’re doing on the ice."
Remember, Fontaine, too. And Brodziak. I was talking to Fontaine about that this morning. He didn't even play Games 1 and 2 in Denver last year. Now Yeo says he has played so well, he doesn't have to look over his shoulder.
Well, for now. If Fontaine doesn't make an impact in St. Louis, it wouldn't shock me if Schroeder draws in or Bergenheim, who has a history of producing in the postseason.
Lots of bodies right now.
The Wild will practice here in Minnesota on Wednesday, then fly to St. Louis for Thursday's Game 1.
In St. Louis today, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock again didn't name Brian Elliott or Jake Allen starter for Game 1.
Yeo joked, "I’m not ready to declare my starter yet."
Hitchcock indicated he would name his starter Wednesday.
Yeo said it makes no difference to the Wild, as in it won't change anything.
Dubnyk said, "We’ve been playing these games for months now, and we’ve done a real good job of really being able to focus on a single game at a time and regardless of winning or losing just forgetting about it and shifting our focus to the next game. And we’ve had to do that for months now. So I think we’ve grown as a team to know how to do that well and that should help us going forward here.”
On beating St. Louis twice since March 14, Dubnyk said, "You look at the two wins we had against St. Louis, those are both games you can look at. We go in and we hang around in a back to back in a tough building and score two big goals in the third period, and the game here at home we played how we do at home and we put a ton of pucks at the net and went hard at the net and scored six goals. Those are both games I think it’s important to have that winning feeling against a team going into a series, and we certainly have that. We’re certainly not worried about the last game of the year; that didn’t count much. But we’re going to latch onto those last two and really hold onto those feelings and try to use that.”