WINNIPEG – The Wild doled out a league-low 1,367 hits in the regular season, but it had no trouble responding to the physical tone set by the Jets in Game 1. Game 2 was a different story, and it's clear the Wild will need a better physical response after it was knocked around in a 4-1 loss Friday.
Center Eric Staal said the physical nature of the series wasn't stoking the offense's woes, but the Jets' hits are undoubtedly a factor in them being up in the series.
For the second straight game, Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien leveled a critical check — upending captain Mikko Koivu to interrupt Koivu's bid at a shorthanded goal. Overall, it ended up being a turning point in the action.
"You're trying to score and you're around the net and you know he's somewhere, but you can't really think at that point," Koivu said. "I missed the first one there with an empty net, and the puck just got away from me. I got another chance and I tried to wrap it around, and he got me there. But I thought it was a clean hit."
It took a while for Game 3 to end, with scrums breaking out in the waning minute.
Wingers Daniel Winnik of the Wild and Brandon Tanev fought. So did defensemen Nick Seeler and the Jets' Ben Chiarot. Wild winger Marcus Folgino and defensemen Nate Prosser, and Jets Joe Morrow and Byfuglien were all tagged with two minute-minors and 10-minute misconducts.
"It tells me that enough is enough," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It's not a series until you get a hate on for each other, and I think that was created toward the end of the game. Not even the fighting, the chirping going on back and forth. It's a rivalry now."
Before the game, Wild winger Jason Zucker said: "They're a physical team. I think we have some guys that play pretty physical, as well, so I think we knew it was going to be kind of that way."
Winnipeg was aggressive early in Wednesday's opener, finishing checks and closing gaps throughout the first period Wednesday en route to a 3-2 victory.
"It's part of the game and part of the process," winger Nino Niederreiter said. "We have to take care. We can't get bullied out there. We want to push back."
In all, the Jets racked up 39 hits on Wednesday and 38 more on Friday— reinforcing their status as one of the more bruising lineups in the NHL, since it dished out the 11th-most hits (1,831) during the regular season. The Wild had 31 of its own run-ins, but only 23 on Friday.
"I don't think you put too much focus on it," defenseman Matt Dumba said. "I think you're just aware that you gotta make plays quick and put yourself in good situations to not get blown up. But I think that comes a lot with the first game and the jitters and just everything. Everyone wants to be contributing in some way, and that's a really easy way to get yourself in the game by finishing your checks and making sure you're being a force that way."
Pushing someone into the boards, however, isn't the only way the Wild can be physical. Being hard on the puck and gaining body position to protect it can be key to generating offense, especially when crashing the crease.
"If there's a chance to finish a hit, you want to do it," said Niederreiter. "At the end of the day, it's going to give you room offensively. If you come over and over and over again, that 'D' is going to start thinking, 'Not again, not again, not again.' That's something we have to create, and it's not just going to be from one game."
• The Wild rolled out the same lineup it used Wednesday for Game 2, while the Jets made one change. Winger Jack Roslovic subbed in for Mathieu Perreault, who left Game 1 because of an upper-body injury.
• In support of the Humboldt Broncos following a bus crash that killed 16 and injured 13 others, the Wild is wearing Broncos stickers on its helmets for its series against the Jets.