Pushed around and severely outplayed in a miserable Game 2 performance, Wild players resorted to throwing haymakers at the Winnipeg Jets in the final 10 seconds, which, predictably, caused hockey traditionalists to characterize their pugilism as “sending a message.”
Punching an opponent in the head after being so thoroughly dominated doesn’t send a message. That’s called blowing off steam.
Want to send a message? Possess the puck more. Generate some shots. Complete more than two passes in a row before turning it over. Finish a check with the same thunderclap as Big Buff and his cohorts keep delivering.
Here’s a real message the Wild can send in Sunday’s Game 3 trailing 0-2 in its first-round series:
Put forth the most complete effort of the season to show that this won’t just be a leisurely stroll through the park for the Jets.
That would get people’s attention.
“We know we’re a good hockey team,” Zach Parise said. “It hasn’t really shown in the first two games. But we know that we can and we have to play a lot better.”
Finding some way to generate offense is at the top of their to-do list. Mustering one shot in the first 15 minutes of the third period isn’t going to cut it.
Winnipeg’s physical style is having an effect on the Wild’s ability to control the puck and establish time in the offensive zone. Just about every time a Wild player retrieves the puck along the boards, ka-boom, he gets flattened against the glass like a bug on a windshield.
That takes a toll.
Jets bruiser Dustin Byfuglien is like a great white shark lurking. He has delivered a few jarring hits already, including one on captain Mikko Koivu in Game 2 that made Wild players look even more tentative. They can feel Big Buff’s presence.
The Jets are outhitting and outshooting the Wild by a wide margin. The Wild held an edge in faceoffs won in Game 2 and still managed to do next to nothing offensively. The Jets are smothering them and not letting up.
That blueprint isn’t going to change. It’s up to the Wild to find a way out of the straitjacket.
“Our play through the neutral zone with the puck hasn’t been good at all,” Parise said.
The first two games would have been more tilted if not for goalie Devan Dubnyk, who is doing everything in his power to stop the floodgates from opening. He’s getting little help.
“For us to win,” Parise said, “we need to spend more time in the offensive zone.”
Being back at Xcel Energy Center should provide a spark. The Wild is usually tough at home. And maybe tweaks to line combinations will create something positive.
The Jets have been superior so far because of their size, speed and physical play. Solving those issues isn’t an easy fix.
“There are things structurally that we have to do way better than just pure desperation,” Parise said.
Unfortunately, the Wild understands very well the desperation needed for Game 3 when trailing 0-2 in a series. This is the fourth consecutive playoff series and seventh in the past eight that the Wild has lost the first two games.
Parise called it a “bad habit,” but it’s also an annoying habit. This narrative has become too familiar. Constantly having to dig out of a hole isn’t conducive for playoff success. The Wild’s margin for error is so small again.
Parise doesn’t believe the nonsense that took place in the final seconds on Friday will have any bearing on Game 3. Nor should it. Animosity typically builds over the course of a series. The Wild has more pressing concerns.
“We need to worry about winning a hockey game and not the chippy part,” Parise said. “We need to worry about scoring more goals. We’ve got three goals in two games. That’s not good enough. All that other stuff … we need to pay attention to the hockey game.”