I feel like a kid on a long car ride asking repeatedly, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”
I’m sure you feel the same way.
Let’s get this series started already.
Two more days until Wild-Blackhawks, Part 3.
Good afternoon from Xcel Energy Center’s press box. A reminder, I’ll be doing a podcast with columnist Jim Souhan today at 5 p.m. at the Liffey in St. Paul. Come on down or listen at souhanunfiltered.com, iHeart radio or iTunes.
If you didn’t read it, here was my latest of many Nino Niederreiter profiles I have written.
Just an fyi: follow Rachel Blount on Twitter (@blountstrib) Thursday. She’ll be covering the Wild’s practice here in Minnesota before it departs in the afternoon and I’ll be tweeting away, I’m sure, from Blackhawks practice in Chicago.
By the way, make sure you follow @schustee (Blake Schuster) on Twitter. He’ll be covering Games 1 and 2 with Souhan (@souhanstrib) and I from Chicago. Also, some Blackhawks scribes to follow are @MarkLazerus, @TramyersCSN, @ChrisKuc, @BrianHedger and @ESPNChiPowers.
The only bit of news from today’s Wild practice is Jason Pominville, whom I mentioned last week was playing sick along with at least Devan Dubnyk, did miss practice today because he was “under the weather,” according to coach Mike Yeo.
Jordan Schroeder took his spot on the Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund line today. As long as Pominville is OK by Game 1, the Wild’s lineup to start the series is expected to be the same as its Games 5 and 6 lineups against St. Louis. That would mean Schroeder, Erik Haula, Sean Bergenheim, Ryan Carter and Nate Prosser would start the series as scratches.
The big question going into this series is whether there will be a different outcome.
The Wild had a great second half, a great second half on the road. It has the goalie, more experience with the youngsters, good balance, depth up the middle. Lots of reasons why it should be different, but will it be?
“Nothing’s different right now,” Yeo said. “They’ve beaten us two years in a row and so it’s up to us to prove that something is different. It’s up to us to make something different. In other years we’ve gone in and we’ve said we’ve played pretty well against them. Last year we went in thinking we were pretty good against them, but nothing was different. I think it’s up to us to find something and make something different.”
On the Hawks, Yeo said, “One of the real challenges with them is it’s real tough to get a team like that to break. Part of that is their experience, what they’ve gone through, the fact that they’ve won. Maybe in different series you feel like you can frustrate a team or you can get in their head pressure-wise. I don’t think they feel a lot of those things. I think that maybe in-game from time to time there might be some of that, but I think it’s a team that regroups well. I think it’s got great leadership, great coaching. There’s many moments in the game where they’re able to withstand a lot and bend but maybe not break. But also very opportunistic where if you’re not extremely strong at those times, you open up just a little bit and that’s where they kill you.”
So it’ll really be imperative not to get into a track meet with them, in my opinion. I think it’s important the Wild tries to go in there and play it’s normal patient, frustrating, stick to it, gameplan, kinda like the way the Wild played in that building April 7 when it finally pounced with two quick goals by Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund in the third period.
The Wild’s fast and deep, BUT, it doesn’t have the starpower that the Hawks have and if you get into that type of game, more times than not the Hawks will outskill you.
One player who could produce more is Thomas Vanek. He hit a crossbar and set up a couple plays for Charlie Coyle in the first round, but he had no goals and 10 shots in six games. Defensively, he was good, Yeo said.
But I felt he could be stronger on the wall and shoot more. I really feel this Zucker-Coyle-Vanek line could be an X factor against Chicago because you know the Hawks will really focus on shutting down the Granlund and Koivu lines. Zucker led the Wild with three goals in five games against the Hawks this season.
“Actually, I thought Charlie and I for the most part were pretty solid,” Vanek said. “I don’t think we got the bounces necessarily to score a big goal. But overall, I thought out line played a good role. Sometimes you don’t get the points and you think your series wasn’t that great, but overall I thought whatever line we were matched up against we did a good job. Offensively, I thought we could have contributed more, especially in Games 1 and 3. We hit some posts. But it’s a long playoffs and with the way our team is, we don’t rely on one or two teams to score. We score in bunches in lines. That’s what I told Chuckie – ‘We just need to stay positive and our turn will come.’”
On the Chicago series, Vanek said, “If you want to advance, we need depth and I think we have that. Obviously it’s frustrating when you don’t get on the board especially considering for the most part I thought we were pretty good. But our moment will come and we’ve just got to keep playing our game and making sure we’re good defensively which I thought for the most part we were. Offensively, we’ve just got to do a better job of putting them in.”
Against the Hawks, Vanek feels there could be more chances than the defensively-suffocating Blues.
“Against St. Louis, the focus, especially for our line, wasn’t to be creative,” Vanek said. “It was to be good defensively. We played a lot against the Lehtera, Stastny line so it was making sure that we made it hard on them. At the same time, we countered hard on them a few times, especially when Zucker got to our line. But again, the focus wasn’t to create much, it was more to make it tough for them. But Chicago is different. They have four lines that can score and they can create. Creating is going to be more of a premium in this round.”
This quote is kind of funny. Asked if he measures success by points, Vanek said, “I think when the goals go in, you measure it by points. When they don’t, you try to be positive and look at the chances. Against St. Louis, there weren’t many chances; the premium was on defense and checking. I thought our line did good. We shut them down and played well for the most part. Offensively we created a few chances and they just wouldn’t go in for us. Chuckie got one finally. But I told him, we just need to stay positive and our time will come.”
Asked if there’s pressure on him in his first postseason with the Wild to make a difference, Vanek said, “Sure. You want to be a difference maker this time of year. The St. Louis series was tough. There wasn’t much there. There were a lot of guys with open net goals. The score didn’t necessarily reflect the series sometimes. But Chicago is two-time Stanley Cup champs. To me, they’re still the best team in the league. For us, it’s a tough task but I think we’re up for it. For our line, we have to create like we have been and even more.”
Asked if he wants to prove people wrong after last postseason with Montreal, Vanek said, “Each postseason is different. Last year was tough for me. I got there at the deadline and found my niche early on and got away from that. I think you bring that experience of playing a little bit less and make sure you’re sharp, where last year I don’t think I was as good as this when my ice time was a little bit limited. I wasn’t as good as I should’ve been, but I’ve learned a lot from that series and that’s what I take away from it.”
Vanek said he’s motivated to win a Cup, something you appreciate as you get older in your career and you’ve had previous playoff success without getting to the pinnacle.
“That’s my message to young or old,” Vanek said. “I’ve been on three teams now where I went to the conference final and haven’t once advanced to the Cup. It’s hard – don’t take it for granted because you don’t know when you’ll get that chance again. We have something good going here, so let’s make sure we leave it all out there.”
Devan Dubnyk is getting excited for this round. He was in a typically jovial mood today, and I’ve got to say, he was awesome in practice.
“It’s all new stuff for me,” he said. “I tried as hard as I could to just treat it like I’ve been treating all the games and I felt pretty good about being able to do that. Same thing going forward. It’s good to get that first taste and that first series win out of the way. Keep moving forward.”
On his playoff beard, he jokingly asked, “Are you impressed with what’s on my face right now? I don’t think anyone’s impressed with what’s on my face. I’m enjoying it. It can just keep getting greasier.”
On how to beat Chicago, Dubnyk said, “I think just staying with how we play and the strengths of our game is our defensive game and our speed. A lot of our defense comes from puck possession in the offensive zone and being aggressive and using our speed to make turnovers. It’s all over the ice for us. Both teams are real good puck possession teams. It was the same thing with St. Louis. We’re going to continue to work on that and make sure we’re pressuring and not giving a lot of time and creating turnovers.”