The Colorado Avalanche took care of business by sweeping the first two home games of its first-round playoff series against the Wild. Now it’s the Wild’s chance to return serve.
The Wild, lit up by Colorado’s first line especially in Saturday’s 4-2 loss, theoretically will have a better chance of shutting down Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Nathan MacKinnon on Monday night because it will have last line change on its home ice.
That means coach Mike Yeo will be have greater control of which matchups he wants to get against the prolific trio. The three forwards combined for 10 points Saturday.
That likely will mean top defenseman Ryan Suter and the third line, which should consist of at least veteran Matt Cooke and speedy rookie Erik Haula.
“Obviously I want that matchup for me and for my line and for our team,” said Cooke, who will play his 100th playoff game. “It’s tough when you’re on the road. We’re going to get the last change, and if that’s the way that Coach wants to go, then I’ll be ready.”
Haula is the Wild’s fastest forward, so it would make sense to assign him the task of shadowing MacKinnon, one of the fastest NHLers already at the age of 18. MacKinnon has seven points in the first two games.
Nino Niederreiter has been the third line’s right winger in the first two games, but perhaps Justin Fontaine, scratched in Games 1 and 2, draws in. When the Wild held Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby to no shots in a victory late in the season, Fontaine played on the right side of Cooke and Kyle Brodziak.
Yeo said that when the Wild’s playing well, he’s not afraid of “anybody playing against anybody.” But the Wild hasn’t been on top of its game, Yeo acknowledged.
“We really started to back up, which really plays into their game,” Yeo said. “We’re all on our heels, and that gave them that opportunity to build that speed. … We’re giving them too much ice. We have to do a better job of making sure they’re coming through tight layers.”
Added Cooke: “We have to be quicker to take away time and space with those guys. They’ve proven with time and space they’re going to make plays.”
Captain Mikko Koivu, who has three assists in the series, was caught flat-footed in the neutral zone on Colorado’s first three goals. This is a player who Yeo feels should be a perennial Selke Trophy candidate as one of the league’s best defensive forwards.
“We’ve got to be better with the puck so it doesn’t happen,” Koivu said. “It’s about us being better in each and every zone of the ice. If we do that, we are a good hockey team and have a good chance to winning the hockey game.”
The Wild also needs better play from its defensemen. Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon have struggled in the series. Yeo said he’s not concerned about either, saying Brodin is “trending in the right direction” and Spurgeon is a “guy who’s bounced back continually. If he wasn’t at his best [Saturday], I’m confident he will be next game. That’s the kind of character he is, the kind of player he is.”
The Wild went 26-10-5 at home this season. The Avs were the NHL’s best road team at 26-11-4. They also are 12-0 all-time when leading 2-0 in a series.
“We recognize the challenge,” Koivu said. “We’re excited to be home. We’re excited for [Monday’s] game. We know we need to play better. As a team, there’s things we need to do better. We recognize that, and that’s our goal.
“We just have to take advantage of coming home and playing in front of our fans and in our building.”