The Wild held its final practice of the week this morning at Xcel Energy Center and is now headed to the airport for a flight to St. Louis.
Game 1, finally, is at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
Our coverage today:
My big profile on Jason Zucker. Give it a read to learn a little more about the Wild speedster.
The Wild will be looking for Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter to step up again in the playoffs.
Rachel Blount on the importance of special teams and the need for the Wild's power play to get its head out of, uh, the sand.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock named Jake Allen Game 1 starter today.
"I'm looking forward to it," Allen said. "It'll be a good challenge. I've been working for this moment all year. To be able to get the start, it's going to be huge. I know we're all ready and excited to go. It feels like a long four-day break here."
Allen gave up four goals in his last four starts and will contend with Michael Hutchinson as goalie on the NHL's All-Rookie team.
Allen went 22-7-4 with a 2.28 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.
'It's been quite the year for me, a little bit up and down, but I found myself, I found my game. It's something that I've been working for since I first turned pro. I finally get an opportunity and I'm looking forward to the challenge. We're ready for a big effort tomorrow night."
Left wing Matt Cooke practiced today and isn’t expected to play Thursday. Sean Bergenheim took the spot that was occupied by Ryan Carter on the left of Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine today.
Coach Mike Yeo said they’ll take the decision into tomorrow. Bergenheim has been a playoff performer before, scoring 12 goals and five assists in 23 playoff games for Tampa Bay and Florida.
“It’s something different with every player,” Yeo said. “It’s kind of luxury for us. We have different players with different identities and one player can kind of change the dimension of the whole line. All those players have their strengths. With Bergie, he’s had success when he’s been in the players in terms of how he goes to the net, how he gets in on the forecheck, he’s created some offense. Certainly an energy type player.”
Yeo said, “We are expecting a tough matchup for that line. We need guys that are, No. 1, be solid defensively because I’m expecting matchups that we have to be strong in our defensive part of our game, but you also don’t want to defend the whole time. If you are out there against offensive-type players, then certainly there are opportunities to create offense against those guys as well. I think that that’s a line that would have that capability if he were to be there.”
Bergenheim said, “If I’m playing, I’m playing. I’ll be happy about it and I’ll do my best…I want to play in the playoffs and help the team. If I’m not, then I’m just going to keep on working every day and wait for my opportunity.”
On his success in the playoffs, Bergenheim said, ““I think it’s been the most fun I’ve had playing ice hockey. It is the playoffs. I enjoy it, for sure. I think I’ve had success before and partly it is because of the style I play.”
With so many forwards here, Bergenheim said, “Obviously it’s been tough that way, not being in the lineup some of the nights. Now we’re in the playoffs, we’re a team, everybody, if you’re in the lineup or not, you’re going to do the best you can every day to help the team whatever the role is.”
Asked if he may consider Erik Haula or Jordan Schroeder for Game 3 (in other words, going with gritty guys on the road, speedy guys at home), Yeo said, “We’ll see what the first two games look like. I don’t have a plan beyond Game 1. We have a pretty good idea of where we want to go with that. Once we get into Game 1, it’s a matter of adjusting, seeing what’s working and what’s not working and identifying if it’s not working because you’re not doing it well enough or because you need to make a change.”
Cooke said he pushed hard Monday and it was nagging. Yeo said yesterday the discomfort wasn’t related to Cooke’s previous sports hernia, but Cooke said, “It’s all related. The first injury caused the second injury. I’m just dealing with it all right now. General soreness, tightness.
“I knew I was going to be in for this process. I pushed it pretty hard to get back and get on the ice a lot and skate a lot to make sure my conditioning was where it was supposed to be. It felt pretty good in the two games that I played. But it’s still going to be, I’m still in a situation that throughout the playoffs, I’m going to have to gauge how it recovers.”
Cooke said he’s available for Game 1, but it’s Yeo’s decision.
Yeo said, “I don’t think he’s ready for tomorrow. Certainly I don’t see why Game 2 would not be a real strong possibility.”
Goalie Darcy Kuemper missed practice today because he’s sick. The Wild sent him to the doctor to figure out what’s up and Yeo said the team will probably keep Kuemper away from the group. Niklas Backstrom is expected to back up Devan Dubnyk if Kuemper doesn’t meet the team in St. Louis.
Big game Thursday.
The Wild has lost seven consecutive Game 1’s and have fallen behind 2-0 in each of its last three series.
Of the eight series the Wild has been in all-time, it trailed 0-2 (’14, 1st round), 0-2 (’14, 2nd round), 0-2 (’13, 1st round), 0-3 (’07, 1st round) and 0-4 (‘03, 3rd round) in five of them.
Of the 10 times the Wild has played the first two games on the road, it is 2-8.
That's it for me. I have a flight to catch. Talk to you from St. Lous. Big Devan Dubnyk profile in Thursday's paper.