The Wild is familiar with this “2-0 hole” thing in the playoffs.
This is the fourth time in five years the Wild has put itself into a series abyss and third consecutive year against the Chicago Blackhawks. Down 2-0 twice last postseason, the Wild won Games 3 and 4 at home, going on to victory in the Colorado series.
So all hope isn’t lost. But this year was expected to be different, the year the much-improved Wild would be able to force at least a split in Chicago.
So far, nothing has changed. The Blackhawks’ lengthy roster of lethal finishers has yet again broken the Wild’s will with quick-strike conversions seemingly any time a Wild player goofs up.
The Wild’s disappointment was palpable Monday. Hoping to get its act together in Game 3 on Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center, the Wild used Monday as a day to recover mentally and learn from the plethora of glaring, uncharacteristic mistakes it committed during two games in Chicago.
“I think no one was too thrilled about coming here today, but we knew it would be good to look at our mistakes and kind of regroup from that,” veteran Thomas Vanek said. “We’re down 0-2, but we’re down 0-2 because we didn’t play well. We played our game for two periods out of the six.”
So Monday, coach Mike Yeo dimmed the lights and took his team to the movies, minus the popcorn. In lieu of going on the ice, the Wild held a long video session in which Yeo showed multiple examples of Sunday lowlights from the 4-1 loss.
“It’s one thing to say it, but we needed to see it,” Yeo said. “The approach that we took right from the drop of the puck was not the right one. We looked at why and tried to figure out why and now is the how.”
The “why” list is “really long,” Yeo said. “The ingredients that go into us being a good team, and the things that we do that make us a very tough team to play against, were missing.”
It really comes down to a simplistic approach. The Wild fancies itself as a speed team. In fact, both Blues coach Ken Hitchcock last round and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville have called the Wild one of the best rush teams in the NHL.
But good rush teams convert their rush chances as automatically as the Blackhawks did Sunday. Typically, when the Wild is successful, it gets pucks deep and goes to town with hard forechecks, cycling and dirty goals. It’s efficient leaving its own zone and controlling the neutral zone.
Vanek said the Wild got caught trying to play the Blackhawks’ way.
“You don’t beat teams by playing their way, especially not Chicago,” he said. “If you play their way, it will look like we did [Sunday] night. We have to find our game here quickly, and I’m sure we will.”
Going to the net
Vanek, a minus-4 Sunday, was one of the many guilty parties. Monday, he said constantly that the Wild needs to get pucks deep. His failure to do that late in the second period led to Patrick Kane’s winning goal with 20 seconds left.
“When we’re on our game, we’re tough to get countered,” Vanek said.
The Wild also badly needs production from Vanek, captain Mikko Koivu and Chris Stewart. In eight games, Vanek has no goals on 15 shots, Stewart no goals on nine shots and Koivu one goal on 11 shots.
“We’re all three big guys, we have to get more to the front of the net,” Vanek said. “Sometimes I think — I don’t want to talk about their game, but my game is about setting guys up more than I should. Sometimes I’ve got to take it myself and take it to the net or go to the net more and get those ugly goals.
“For us to produce is to get back to our team game, and that’s getting the puck low and getting our ‘D’ involved and getting pucks on the net and getting those dirty goals.”
When asked about Stewart’s lackluster play specifically, Yeo wouldn’t discuss any player individually.
“We have to make sure that we don’t have a bunch of guys coming into the game worrying about answering the questions of, ‘Oh, you haven’t scored a goal,’ ” Yeo said. “The goals will come if you do the right things, and the wins will come if you do the right things.”
But there is little doubt the Wild needs more from its best players. Another snapshot: In 13 playoff games the past three years against Chicago, Koivu has no goals, two assists and is minus-12. Defenseman Ryan Suter, who unmistakably struggled Sunday, has no goals, four assists and is minus-13.
Koivu gave his standard answer about lack of production, saying it starts with playing well defensively.
“Bottom line is we know that we can be better and we need to be better to beat that team,” Koivu said.
Since 2010, the Blackhawks have won two Stanley Cups. They’ve also been the ultimate closers. Five times since 2010, the Blackhawks have had 2-0 series leads. They’ve won each series, all before seven games and three times in five or fewer.
“It’s still early enough in the series where if you give them any sort of confidence, you give them any sort of energy where if they come out of Game 3 feeling really good about themselves, things can really snowball in the wrong direction,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We’ve got the momentum right now. We feel good about our game. We can’t give them too much to feel good about and to feel energized by.”