UPDATE: Left wing Matt Cooke has decided not to appeal his 7-game suspension. He doesn't want any more distractions for the Wild in the playoffs.
The Wild had a very optional practice this morning and flew to Denver, where it plays Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinals Saturday night at 8:30 p.m.
So, we know Game 6 at the X will be an elimination game Monday night. The only question is whether it will be Minnesota with its back against the wall or Colorado.
The road team hasn’t won a game in this series yet. If the Wild wants to advance to the second round, it will need to change that.
“Obviously the next game is going to be a big one,” coach Mike Yeo said. “The team that wins that is going to be a little more in the driver’s seat here, so they have two games at home and we’re going to have to win a game in their building. I would certainly like to make that be the next game.”
Yeo said it’s important the Wild doesn’t hang its hat on its two home victories.
“Our start next game will be very important. We’re not going to have our crowd there to build off,” Yeo said. “I’m confident with our group that it’ll be ready to dictate and play the same type of game.”
The Wild has outshot the Avs 143-94 in the series and 78-34 in St. Paul, but it has lost two games in Denver in two games that looked very different than the type of hockey played at home. The Wild needs to figure out a way to bottle up its defensive game and bring it to Denver.
Obviously, two big differences is Erik Haula will be centering the third line and Darcy Kuemper will be starting in goal. Kuemper leads the NHL with a 0.40 goals-against average and .979 save percentage and is one of five goalies in the expansion era (post 1967) that has given up one goal in his first two career playoff starts. The second, by the way, was Wild goalie coach Bob Mason in 1987 against my Islanders.
“We’re on the road, there’s matchups that we would like to get, and there’s going to be matchups that we won’t be able to get,” Yeo said.
Yeo repeated that he has no problem playing the lines centered by Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund or Haula against any line.
“Those guys at different points of the season have played against the best centermen in the league and have done the job,” Yeo said. “I really believe regardless of who we’re playing, we can have anybody go out in that situation if our team’s playing a certain way because we don’t play the game as a one-man unit.”
He said the Wild can’t assume the next game will start the same way as at home. It’s up to the Wild to “make it happen,” not expect that it’ll be able to pick up right where it left off.
“We have to expect a hard push from them,” Yeo said. “We’re still playing the team that won the division. I look every day and the NHL’s announcing award winners, and everyday there’s a Colorado Avalanche player that’s part of those nominees (So far -- O’Reilly, Lady Byng; MacKinnon, Calder; Varlamov, Vezina). It helps remind us that we’re playing a very skilled group.”
The Wild’s penalty kill will have to continue to be great. It is a league-best 14 for 15 (one empty-net goal on the PK) at 93.3 percent. This is against the league’s fifth-best power play in the regular season, and the Wild was the NHL’s 27th-ranked penalty kill.
Mike Rupp, who won’t play Saturday, and suspended Matt Cooke aren’t going on the trip. No word yet if Cooke has decided to appeal. I’ll update when there’s definitive word. Again, he can’t play during an appeals process anyway.
Follow our correspondent, Michael Kelly, on Twitter at @berge19. He said Matt Duchene skated today, but Patrick Roy said he’s not going to play Game 5.
Here are some quotes from the Avalanche side, supplied by Michael Kelly in Denver:
Patrick Roy, on what the Avs offense needs to do after a terrible outing in Minnesota: "We also played a little different. we didn't have the same jump, we didn't come with speed, we didn't get pucks deep and things like that. They made us look slow and kept us to the outside. They did a good job of doing those things to slow us down and certainly they can get their matchups right in their arena."
On getting experience for younger players: "It's the first playoffs for a lot of us. Maybe the first couple games in the Pepsi Center, you're playing with excitement and you're excited and you're just going out there and feeding off the crowd. Once you get on the road you realize they want this just as bad as we do. It's certainly not easy to win on the road. You have to kind of keep the same game as you do at home and play the same way and that's certainly not easy. They certainly make it tough on us and they keep us to the outside. We have to learn, to find a way. I think the positive for us is even though with how many shots we had, it's still a one-goal game and we're still in it right until the end. I guess that's a positive."
Paul Stastny on what the Avs learned in Minnesota: "No matter who you’re playing everyone wants to win the same way. You have to compete and you have to be hungry as you can. Just because a team’s down 2-0 doesn’t mean they’re going to sit back, they’re going to give it their all. Maybe that first game they came at us hard and the second game we feel a little better, but still we have to create more offensively. We need more puck possession. On the bright side, it’s 2-2. Last night it was a little disappointing but today we regrouped, forget about yesterday get it back to home ice and it’s a best of 3."
Erik Johnson on fixing the offense: "As D, we haven’t been as clean in our exits from the D zone. We have to have more poise as a group. When we’re playing well and having success we’re getting the forwards the pucks in stride. We’ve been a little too stagnant, maybe a little too unsure to make the right play. We’re looking a little too long for the perfect play. As D we have do a better job of making our forwards’ lives a little bit easier in transition. When they get the puck with speed their so dangerous so as a group we have to be better with that.
"Clearly we were outplayed in Game 3; Game 4 was a little bit better. The only thing that’s disappointing is you look at how great Varly has played and you wish you could have popped a few more goals by Kuemper. As a group we’ve been resilient all year, we haven’t let anything let us down. That’s not going to change. We’ve had no fear all season long and there’s no reason for us to have it now."
Roy on the lack of scoring: "It’s not just shots on net, it’s scoring chances. You can finish a game with 50 shots on net but if you end up the night with six scoring chances are you better off? You’re sometimes counting on bad goals to win a game. Bad goals happen but they don’t happen every night. What we’re looking more from us is generate more scoring chances. It was like 14-8 puck poession. They spent 14 minutes in our end we spent eight in the other end. Clearly that’s not enough. Normally you’re around 11 or 12, it’s pretty balanced. It’s clear they dominated us.
"When we put our plan together for the playoffs it’s not to go 16-0. How many teams have done that? None? I’m surprised to hear that. I thought there were a hundred teams. The 2-2 doesn’t bother me one bit. It’s how we’re going to bounce back is what I want to see tomorrow."
Varlamov: "I don't want to talk about myself, how I play, how I'm feeling. I can tell about the team. Play solid hockey, right now playing very well. We just need to keep going, continue to fight. It's not going to be easy to beat Minnesota. We knew that before the series that it was going to be a tough series. Continue to play well and fight."