EDMONTON, ALBERTA – The rows and rows of empty seats could have wrecked the vibe. The listless backdrop looked more suited for after hours than the main stage of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But the atmosphere inside Rogers Place during the Wild’s Game 1 victory over the Canucks on Sunday wasn’t subdued — not when the team was cheering and chattering throughout the 3-0 victory.
“It’s not quiet down by us,” Wild coach Dean Evason said. “There’s still excitement. Everybody’s going. They’re talking. Guys are cheering people when they’re on the ice. So to have that communication throughout the bench and making sure that we have our changes properly and to have the energy when there isn’t that buzz in the crowd, if your buzz can be within, obviously it gives us energy to go out and play the hockey game.”
There were shouts of encouragement, like “That a boy, Al” when goalie Alex Stalock made a save and “Come on, Donny” when center Ryan Donato took a turn in the spotlight. And after winger Ryan Hartman was high-sticked while on the bench by the Canucks winger Micheal Ferland and a penalty wasn’t called, someone bellowed, “Are you kidding me?”
The commentary felt unique because it’s usually drowned out by crowd noise and in-arena production, but the chitchat wasn’t new for the Wild.
“Oh, no, that’s normal,” center Alex Galchenyuk said. “It’s just you could hear it more louder than usual. On the bench we always keep it lively, and it’s been like that since I got here and especially I think in the playoffs, it’s going to ramp up even more.”
It was so chirpy that Evason and assistant coach Bob Woods still had to yell to relate line changes down the bench.
“It was an intense hockey game, one that the guys were into,” Evason said. “The communication throughout our bench was awesome. Everyone says how quiet it possibly could be without fans there. It’s not quiet. It’s not quiet down below. The guys, they’re excited when things happen.”
Set your alarms
Game 3 of the series has been set for 1:30 p.m. Thursday, a much earlier start than the 9:30 p.m. Sunday and 9:45 p.m. Tuesday opening faceoffs.
The fourth game will be Friday, likely a late start at Rogers Place.
Marcus Foligno’s fight Sunday was the first of the winger’s NHL career in the playoffs but second this season against the Canucks.
Foligno also fought Zack MacEwen on Feb. 6 in a 4-2 victory for the Wild.
“He’s a leader in our room,” Evason said. “There’s captains and assistant captains, and there’s people that lead in different ways. His energy, his physical presence, leads our group and gives teams confidence.
“When a guy can be that physical and that committed in all areas to do the right things, it filters down and guys feed off that. ‘Moose’ has done that ever since I got here, and he’ll continue to do it.”
The Wild didn’t have the last change in Game 1, but that didn’t seem to matter.
Captain Mikko Koivu saw quite a bit of Vancouver’s top line featuring Elias Pettersson, and center Joel Eriksson Ek went head-to-head against Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat regularly. But however the matchups shook out, the Wild was well-equipped.
“We weren’t flipping lines off and on,” Evason said. “We just asked everybody to compete when they were out there against certain people, to do the job, and our group committed to that.”
Dandy on defense
The Wild was the second team to shut out its opponent in the qualifiers after Columbus blanked Toronto 2-0 earlier Sunday, and that feat didn’t just reflect clean play from Stalock or the defense.
“We have a lot of experience,” defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. “Playoff hockey is a different beast than regular season. It’s not always fancy. We did a good job of getting pucks deep and sort of grinded out their ‘D’ and then when [Vancouver] did get it, our forwards did a great job coming back to let us stay up and have good gaps.”
Evason has ties to British Columbia, playing his junior hockey for Kamloops in the Western Hockey League.
He later went on to coach the Kamloops Blazers and the Vancouver Giants before eventually making it to the NHL as an assistant with Washington.
“I have absolutely wonderful memories,” Evason said. “Obviously, Kamloops, I had a great experience playing there, coaching there, coaching Vancouver as well. Absolutely love B.C., and there’s no question I got some good texts and some angry texts as well [after Game 1].”