I t’s a well-worn concept, one that Devin Setoguchi has heard and repeated dozens of times in his NHL career. In the playoffs, every shift can be the one that makes the difference in the game.
He doesn’t find that daunting, not even with the Wild in a 2-0 hole in its first-round series against Chicago. Actually, Setoguchi said, it is exhilarating — and that thought will linger in his head Sunday, when the Wild faces the Blackhawks in Game 3 at Xcel Energy Center. After coming up short in most areas of their game in Friday’s 5-2 loss, Setoguchi and his teammates spent Saturday identifying where they fell short and seeking remedies.
The Wild hopes to do a better job of getting pucks behind the Blackhawks’ defense; maintaining possession of the puck in Chicago’s zone for longer periods; protecting its goaltender; and playing a grinding, physical game to try and slow Chicago’s swift attack. Coming home, Setoguchi said, will give the team an emotional boost. But his playoff experience has shown him that the Wild will need to pump up its internal drive, too.
“So many little things can make a difference,’’ said Setoguchi, who scored the Wild’s first goal in Friday’s loss. “You need to play flawless hockey. That’s the way it has to be. And I think that makes it more exciting.
“You have to be engaged mentally and physically. This time of year is the fun time, when you want to play. We’re still looking for that first (win), but we know what we need to do. We need to raise our game.’’
Coach Mike Yeo was more guarded about what the Wild studied Saturday. He spoke in vague terms about shifting focus and making improvements, but he did not want to tip his hand to a Chicago team that needs no further advantages.
Yeo lauded goaltender Josh Harding while he lamented the Wild’s failure to give him much help. Harding’s save percentage in the playoffs stands at .929, and the 84 shots he has faced tie him with Ottawa’s Craig Anderson for the most of any playoff goaltender entering Saturday’s games. It is uncertain whether Harding will get his third consecutive start Sunday, or whether Niklas Backstrom—who practiced Saturday—will return after missing two games because of an injury.
Harding said every player, including himself, can be better. While Setoguchi encouraged his team to embrace that challenge, Yeo urged them to recall how they performed at their peak.
“There have been moments, even in the last game, that we’ve seen when we play our game and we’re doing the right things, we’ve seen the result,’’ he said. “The best thing we have going for us is we haven’t seen our best hockey yet.’’