The Chicago Blackhawks will try to shut down the Mikael Granlund and Mikko Koivu lines in Round 2, meaning there’s a chance the Jason Zucker-Charlie Coyle-Thomas Vanek line can be the Wild’s “X’’ factor.
Vanek, coming off a rough postseason last year with the Montreal Canadiens, had no goals, two assists and 10 shots in six games against the St. Louis Blues in the first round.
Wild coach Mike Yeo reminded Tuesday that Vanek had a quality season series against the Blackhawks and a solid second half, finishing with the Wild’s third-leading point total with 52 and tied for the third-leading goal-scorer with 21.
“Have there been a few times where he hasn’t been on top of his game?” Yeo said of Vanek. “Yeah, absolutely, and there’s a lot of players that are the same way. But what I see when he is playing his best game is … his feet are moving … he’s strong in his battles, he’s strong on the puck, the detail is there.”
While the points maybe didn’t come easy for Vanek in the first round, Vanek felt he and Coyle were strong defensively against tough matchups (Zucker replaced Nino Niederreiter on the line in Game 5).
“Offensively, I thought we could have contributed more, especially in Games 1 and 3. We hit some posts,” Vanek said. “But it’s a long playoffs and with the way our team is, we don’t rely on one or two [guys] 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.’ ”
Vanek came to the Wild after a playoff with Montreal that was highly scrutinized. All eyes are on him again.
“You want to be a difference-maker this time of year,” Vanek said. “The St. Louis series was tough. There wasn’t much there. … 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.”
In dog years?
At 41, Yeo is the youngest coach in the NHL for the fourth consecutive year.
“Don’t feel it. Some of these playoff series, I think coaching is like dog years,” Yeo said, laughing. “Age is one thing, but experience is another. I would like to keep gaining experience here in a head coaching capacity.”
Yeo joked, “The months of December and January [during his tenure] have taken their toll. … I just consider myself a young guy that keeps trying to learn.”
Same old team?
The Wild, knocked out by Chicago the past two postseasons, is striving for a different outcome.
The Wild was the NHL’s best second-half overall team and road team, and with goalie Devan Dubnyk and the Wild’s playoff experience, good balance and depth, there’s reason to be optimistic.
But Yeo said Tuesday, “Nothing’s different right now. They’ve beaten us two years in a row, 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.”
Right winger Jason Pominville, who has been playing despite an illness late in the series against St. Louis, missed Tuesday’s practice because he was under the weather. Jordan Schroeder took his spot with Zach Parise and Granlund.
If Pominville is ready by Game 1, it appears Yeo plans to go with the same Games 5 and 6 lineup that beat the Blues, meaning Schroeder, Erik Haula, Sean Bergenheim, Ryan Carter and Nate Prosser will start the series as scratches.
He said it …
• Dubnyk on his playoff beard: “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.”
• Wild defenseman Ryan Suter on if he’s tired of facing Bryan Bickell, the Blackhawks forward who has scored 15 goals in 23 games against the Wild since 2013: “He’s had a lot of success, but they have a lot of good players, guys like [Jonathan] Toews and [Marian] Hossa, [Patrick] Kane and [Patrick] Sharp. It’s not just one guy you’re tired of playing, it’s all of them. They all come after you.”
• Mike “Doc” Emrick and Pierre McGuire will call Games 1 and 2 of the Wild-Blackhawks series on NBC Sports Network with Eddie Olczyk joining for Games 3 and 4.