Afternoon from the Xcel Energy Center press room, where I’m dragging after my early-morning flight back from Chicago.
I’ll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. and again at 10:15 a.m.-11 a.m. Tuesday.
I feel like the story I wrote for Tuesday’s paper is one I’ve written once or twice or three or four times before. This is the fourth time in the past five Wild playoff series that it has faced an 0-2 hole, including the previous two years as well to Chicago.
Last year, the Wild won Games 3 and 4 in both the Colorado and Chicago series when down 0-2. It went on to beat the Avs in seven games and lose to the Blackhawks in six.
We’ll see if the Wild can figure out how to repeat history.
“I think the experience is always good when you’ve been through that and you know from the experience,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “A lot of guys have been here for that. But at the same time, you need to create those experiences again. It’s a new year, a new series, so we can’t just think that it’s going to happen. It’s about the preparation right now and making sure we’re ready to go for when the puck drops and play the way we can. We can’t look too far ahead of ourselves. I think that’s what we’ve been good at the last couple months and that’s what we need to do right now.”
The Wild didn’t practice Monday. Instead, coach Mike Yeo had a team meeting and video session to go through the laundry list of mistakes the Wild committed in Sunday’s 4-1 loss. The Wild didn’t play its game, something Yeo and player after player repeated today. Thomas Vanek said the Wild got lured into playing Chicago’s style with the long stretch passes instead of getting pucks deep and going to town on the Blackhawks’ D.
Remember, that’s how it was successful in the first half of the second period in Game 1 when it rallied from a 3-0 deficit to tie.
The Wild got sloppy, careless with the puck and the Blackhawks feasted on the mistakes.
Yeo wouldn’t talk about potential lineup changes today. Remember, he made a few before Game 3 against the Avs last year like throwing Justin Fontaine and Dany Heatley into the lineup and they seemed to have the desired effect. Could we see Jordan Schroeder? Could we see Ryan Carter? Who knows?
Yeo did say he thinks Chris Stewart, who has no goals and only nine shots in eight playoff games, is OK from crashing hard into the end boards in the second period. He returned to the game.
Yeo wouldn’t talk about any players individually today when asked. Stewart has no goals. Koivu has one goal on 11 shots. Vanek has no goals on 15 shots. Ryan Suter is really struggling and is minus-4 in the series.
Vanek, a minus-4 Sunday, was one of the many guilty parties with forced passes. 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.
On the lack of goals from himself, Stewart and Koivu, Vanek said, “We’re all three big guys, we have to get more to the front of the net. 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.”
Koivu, on if he feels pressure with the lack of goals (none in 13 playoff games against Chicago now), said, “There’s always pressure, I think, in hockey, in sports, in general. You can’t think that. You can’t go into a game and think I’m going to score a goal. To me it starts playing good defensively and making sure you do the things you’re supposed to do individually to help the team. The goals will come after that. It’s a lot of things need to happen to score a goal. But if you’re starting to think about that, the pressure and just think about scoring a goal, I’m not a believer it’s going to happen like that. You need to work as a unit and do the right things to get there.”
Yeo said, “The approach that we took right from the drop of the puck was not the right one, and so it was about, we looked at why and tried to figure out why and now is the how. What do we do now for tomorrow. To me, number one, it’s got to start with some excitement. I know it’s frustrating to be down 2-0 but at the same token, the fact of the matter is it’s not like we played our game. If we’re going to be frustrated with anything we should be frustrated with ourselves a little bit here. It would be far more frustrating if we played two good games and came out on the short end. When you look at it, we’re one of eight teams still competing here and so we’ve still got a heck of an opportunity that we have to get excited about that challenge tomorrow.”
Asked what the why was, Yeo said, “It’s the way we played the game. It was the way we turned pucks over. The list of things is really long, and the ingredients that go into us being a good team, and the things that we do that makes us a very tough team to play against were missing.”
On playing at home, Yeo said, “I don’t think we should just assume that because we’re coming back home that all will be right in the world. That’s a good team over there and I’m expecting them to come in with a real strong effort tomorrow and I’m expecting a hard game. As much as anything else it’s how we prepare, the thoughts we put in our heads today, as far as how we want to play the game, not the result that we want to have. Obviously, we want to win. We wanted to win last game, too. But that’s the challenge of the playoffs and dealing with the emotions and keeping your focus and preparing to play the game, preparing to do the little things that are required [and] not preparing for the end result because that won’t come unless you do those things.”
Here’s some excerpts of some player interviews today:
On if Chicago’s speed has caught the Wild off guard after the Blues series: “It’s a different series, we know they know how to win hockey games and we know how good of a team they are. We gotta make sure we focus on us and yesterday I feel like we were thinking too much about them instead of playing our game and the hockey we know how to play. I think we played the game in their favor and we gotta make sure we bounce back tomorrow and play our game.”
What do you mean by “thinking too much about them?”
“We didn’t get the pucks in deep, we know we have to,” Niederreiter said. “I feel like we had too many turnovers at the blueline and we weren’t sharp enough in the defensive zone. Like I said, we gave them presents; pretty much two breakaways and we don’t usually give any team those kind of chances. That the way we lost.”
You’ve played well with backs against the wall: “We know we have done it before so I feel like that’s going to give us confidence. At the same time, we have to sharpen up in those areas and we have to play smart tomorrow night. We’ll see what’s going to happen after that.”
Jason Zucker “We need to get back to our game. Obviously, Game 2 wasn’t the Minnesota Wild. We didn’t play our game and it’s definitely not good enough. We have to make sure we come out in Game 3 and really play our game and battle hard.”
Did they get you out of your game: “I think it was more us. Our mentality, for whatever reason, from the start, we weren’t doing the right things. We put ourselves in that position.”
“Obviously, it’s our third year playing these guys and we want to beat them but we can’t let that affect us, we have to play our game, whether it’s Game 7 or Game 1, it doesn’t matter, we have to play our game and we didn’t do that last night.”
“We have great leaders in this room, a lot of guys have been through a lot of stuff and really help us out and the older guys really help the younger guys in a lot of different ways. We’re looking to them again, we have a lot of respect for those guys and confidence in them and they’re really going to help us out tomorrow.”
Responded to backs against the wall: “Yeah, I think so. Before Game 2, I thought for the last three months we’ve always responded pretty well. Last night obviously wasn’t the way we wanted to play the game and now we’re down two. We’ve got to regroup today and be a lot better tomorrow.”
What attribute to sloppiness and mental errors: “I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s because of the way Chicago plays. It’s a different game than St. Louis. They play such a fast, long pass game where I think we got trapped into it thinking we have to play the same way as them to beat them. But we’ve got to get back to our game.”
Do you need to be more physical? “I don’t know if it’s more physical. For us, physical is being down low, working the puck, using our dman. And I think we kind of got away from that.”
Think chicago’s speed caught you off guard after playing big, bad st. Louis? “I don’t know. Again, in the second and third period of the first game, I thought we got back to our game, getting pucks deep and creating chances. For whatever reason yesterday, we were trying those long plays like them and that’s not the kind of team we are.”
With Chicago’s top players producing, do you and your top guys need to match that? “Sure, again for us to produce is play our game. I think their game is those long plays like they showed yesterday. It’s a good team. Give them a couple chances and we saw what happens. 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.”
How do you, mikko and stewart get more shots? “We’re all three big guys, we have to get more to the front of the net. 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.”
What is the demeanor around here today? “I think that’s what we talked about today. 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. 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. Again, we have to get back to basics and play our game, get the puck deep and create from there.”
Do you have to play a perfect game against them? “Again, when we’re on our game, we’re tough to get countered. When we try those long stretch passes, that’s when they pick them off and go the other way and that’s not us. we have to come as a five-man unit through the neutral zone and not have two, three guys leaving the zone and try to play their game. that’s what I think we did yesterday and that didn’t work so well.”
Benefit being at home? “For sure it is because when we get the puck deep, the crowd gets into it, puts teams on their heels. Mike had a great meeting today, got us back focused and we’ll be better tomorrow.”
Message in the meeting: “Play our game (laughs). Again, you don’t beat teams by playing their way, especially not Chicago. If you play their way, it will look like we did last night. We have to find our game here quickly and I’m sure we will.”