The story has been told before, but it bears repeating given the Wild’s tenuous predicament at the moment.
In his first meeting with Devan Dubnyk after a mid-January trade, Wild coach Mike Yeo told his new goalie that he doesn’t need to be a hero.
A hero? The Wild needs Dubnyk to perform miracles if the guys in front of him continue to cough up pucks and play mindless hockey against the uber-skilled Chicago Blackhawks.
The Wild looked like impostors in Game 2 in falling behind 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.
Sloppy turnovers, mental blunders, a complete lack of focus …. Everything about that performance was a whiff. The Blackhawks shifted to another gear and played their best game of these playoffs and the Wild slobbered all over itself.
“I think it’s just carelessness, and I had a couple myself,” Jason Zucker said. “I look back and I had no idea what I was doing.”
That sentiment applies to every Wild player on the ice Sunday night. Anyone who watched it had no clue what they were doing.
“It just wasn’t our game,” Yeo said Monday.
Here’s where we offer a disclaimer on the sky-is-falling hysteria around town. Let’s at least wait and see the Wild’s response in Game 3.
Lose at home Tuesday night and we can talk doomsday. The Wild is not going to win four in a row against the Blackhawks so Game 3 represents the closest thing to a must-win outside of an actual elimination game.
The whole tenor can change with one game, but that effort in Game 2 hardly inspired confidence. The Wild played frustratingly careless and casual against a team that pounces on every mistake like a bulldog on a T-bone.
That’s the difference between the two teams, as bright as a neon marquee, and it’s why the Wild will get run out of this series if it doesn’t tighten up.
The Blackhawks are blessed with finishers, snipers. The Wild has grinders. The Wild lacks true natural goal-scorers so everything revolves around structure, crashing the net and teammates working in concert.
The Hawks have players who can individually turn gaffes into gold with all-world skill. Go down the list: Kane, Toews, Sharp, Hossa, Saad. They’re all capable of doing it.
Make one mistake, a lazy pass here or there, and boom, one of their stars is putting the puck in the net. They’re like professional pickpockets on a crowded street — fast and ruthless, and they make you regret not being more careful.
The Hawks are so versed in postseason hockey that they know how and when to turn it on. By virtue of their record, the St. Louis Blues were a better team over the course of an 82-game regular season. The Blackhawks know how to win when it really matters.
Their stars thrive in this environment and, as Game 2 proved again, they usually capitalize on any little mistake.
That doesn’t mean the Wild’s formula can’t be successful against them. But the Hawks’ firepower is hard enough to contain without gift-wrapping scoring chances for them.
“We gave them presents,” Nino Niederreiter said.
That’s the perfect description for what took place in Game 2. The Wild giveth, the Hawks taketh.
The unanswered question is, was the Wild simply uncharacteristically sloppy, or do the Blackhawks’ skill players create that uneasiness with the puck?
The Wild better hope it’s the former, or else Dubnyk will need to wear a cape onto the ice. Dubnyk hasn’t played up to his normal standards, either, highlighted by his misplay on the game-winner in Game 1. But his teammates have hung him out to dry like a bed sheet on a clothesline too often in the first two games.
“We’ve got to get back to our game,” Thomas Vanek said.
That starts with their veterans and leaders. Vanek made two egregious mistakes that led to two killer goals in the first two games.
Ryan Suter has been alarmingly shaky and didn’t exactly go full-bore to the crease on a shorthanded breakaway that took a weird bounce off Dubnyk’s stick.
We also could include Chris Stewart, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville in the blame-game discussion, but truth is, the Wild needs a stronger effort from everyone in uniform.
Careless hockey is a bad formula against any opponent, but these Blackhawks are particularly unforgiving when handed a gift on a silver platter.