Afternoon from the United Center press room.
Game 5 of the Wild-Blackhawks series is tonight at 8 on CNBC. Series is tied 2-2.
Just like Game 7 against Colorado on the road, the Wild’s locker-room configuration was completely different than Games 1 and 2 in Chicago. To try to change the vibe, every player was in a different stall.
“Switched it up,” laughed Zach Parise. “All of us went to our old stalls that we thought we were in, but they changed it up again. Try to reverse the luck again.”
Huge game tonight. If the Wild can go up 3-2, it’ll have the chance to close out the series at home in front of its raucous crowd. The Wild is 5-0 at home, having outscored opponents 16-5. On the road, the Wild is 1-5 and has been outscored 26-17.
By the way, in the second round, the team that has scored first is 18-0. First goal is big and the Wild would love to take the Blackhawks barn out of tonight’s game early.
“This is a great test and a great opportunity for us to prove that we’re ready to take another step,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “I don’t want to sit here and just say, ‘It’s great, we got ourselves back in this series,’ and then take another step back tonight. This is a real challenge this game. I said this yesterday, we’re not just here because we want to make a series of it. We believe we can win this series and obviously this game would give us a better chance of making that happen.”
At home, the Wild has averaged 3.2 goals per game, has allowed 1 goal a game, has allowed 19.2 shots per game, has a .211 power-play percentage and a .937 penalty-kill percentage. On the road, it has scored 2.83 goals per game, allowed 4.33 goals per game, allowed 26.8 shots per game, has a .067 power-play percentage and .789 penalty-kill percentage.
Two different teams home and away. That must change tonight.
On his team’s confidence, Yeo said, “We were confident coming into this series and we’re confident right now. At the same time, we’re cautious. We still know who we’re playing against and what they’re capable of, and I think we all recognize the importance of this hockey game. We know that we have to win a game in this building and we prefer to try to do it tonight.”
No lineup changes for the Wild tonight other than Nate Prosser sliding back in for injured Keith Ballard. Prosser had a solid Round 1 but had a couple tough moments in Games 1 and 2 before being scratched in Games 3 and 4.
“You don’t go through a playoff like we have without anybody having a couple tough moments, so we’re expecting [Prosser] to come in and do what he’s done over and over for us; just be a real strong steady presence on the back end,” Yeo said.
The Blackhawks have altered two lines from the start of Game 4:
The lines at least to start the game:
Bryan Bickell-Jonathan Toews-Kris Versteeg
Patrick Sharp-Michael Handzus-Marian Hossa (8 points in 4 games this series and 14 in 9 playoff games against the Wild in 2 years)
Brandon Saad-Marcus Kruger-Patrick Kane
Joakim Nordstrom-Peter Regin-Ben Smith
Regin is making his playoff season debut because Brandon Bollig is suspended two games for hit from behind on Ballard. He’s big and fast and can be a threat.
“I’m going to try to just be myself and play the way I know I can,” Regin said. “I think I can bring some speed to the game. That’s kind of my thing, that I can skate. So I’m going to try to skate as much as I can and try to be in the right positions and hopefully good things will happen.”
Versteeg comes back after being a healthy scratch and gets on the top line as opposed to the fourth.
On Versteeg, coach Q said, “We’re looking for more directness in his game, more pace. We were ready to start him at the beginning of the series and he was sick. We want to get him up to speed where he’s contributing with the puck, without the puck, influencing both ways, and have more speed in his game.”
“I bring skill and maybe tenaciousness on the puck,” Versteeg said. “That’s just the way I’ve always played, is an offensive style and try to be good in my own zone. I don’t know. Just try to bring an all-around game that I’ve always been able to do.”
It did look from the skate that Michal Rozsival, a nightmare in Game 4, will be scratched for Sheldon Brookbank, but Joel Quenneville wasn’t committal on that.
On the Wild, Quenneville was asked if the Wild was better than even he thought: “Thought down the stretch, arguably the top team in the league, and how they beat Colorado was comparable to the way they played. They’re hard to play against; they check well, have some team speed and they’ve got more skill in their lineup than we saw last year. It’s a better team. I’m going to say par to what we thought they’d be; not an easy game, not an easy opponent.”