EDMONTON, ALBERTA – Even when the play has drifted away from the Wild’s zone in its best-of-five, qualifying-round series against the Canucks, it’s been hard to forget about who’s guarding the team’s net.
That’s because goalie Alex Stalock is constantly communicating with Wild players, supportive dialogue that’s emerged as the soundtrack of the series without fans in the seats inside Rogers Place to drown out the chitchat.
“Al is very vocal,” winger Marcus Foligno said, “and I think it kind of gets us fired up. From Day 1 since I’ve met him, he’s one of the most outgoing guys, so he’s just like that on the ice. It’s fun to play in front of a guy like that.”
When the Wild is on a power play, players don’t need to look up at the scoreboard to see how much time is left.
Stalock, who started Game 4 of the series Friday, will regularly call out updates so his teammates know when to expect someone exiting the penalty box — reassurance that pressure isn’t imminent.
And while instructions like these may be normal for a chatterbox like Stalock, not every goalie is as loquacious.
Take Stalock’s counterpart at the other end of the rink, Jacob Markstrom, who is a much quieter presence in the crease for Vancouver.
“[Stalock] works so hard day in and day out,” Foligno said. “But he’s smart. He lets guys know, defense know. It’s an easy game back there for our ‘D’ when they have to go and retrieve pucks. He plays a lot of pucks, too, and then he does such a great job with that as well. You tend to see a little bit opposite ends with Markstrom and Al. But for us, we’re happy to be playing for that guy.”
They may be competitors on the ice, but that doesn’t mean the Wild and Canucks have avoided each other in other parts of the bubble.
The Wild actually has had to walk past Vancouver’s setup daily to get to its meal rooms, and coach Dean Evason has chatted with Vancouver bench boss Travis Green outside of games — the two both played for Team Canada at the 1997 World Championships.
“Obviously, we’re not giving each other secrets, but, yeah, you can still talk to somebody,” Evason said.
“It’s not like the old days. But, again, once the puck’s dropped, you’re competing and you’re battling to win the hockey game.”
And despite catching glimpses of the opposition off the ice, Foligno said the Wild hasn’t paid close attention to the Canucks to gain more insight into how banged up they are from the series.
“It is what it is,” he said. “Everyone’s kind of seeing each other and, you’re seeing everyone.
‘There’s only one way out, one way in our hotel, so everyone has pretty much the same time on game day to be at the rink and it is what it is. You gotta put your head down, keep walking and then bring it to the ice.”
Brother vs. brother
Carolina knocked out the New York Rangers on Tuesday in their play-in series, meaning there was one less Staal brother in the tournament with Marc Staal (Rangers) getting sent home and Jordan (Hurricanes) advancing to the next round.
“I have talked to them both,” Wild center Eric Staal said. “It was fun watching, but to see New York eliminated as quickly as they were was tough for Marc. Obviously, he’s a competitor and a guy who wants to win a Stanley Cup before his career is over. We’ve been around for a little while.
“As time marches on, you only get so many cracks so I was disappointed for him to see them lose.
“But give Carolina credit. They played really well. They’re looking really good right now. It’s time for Marc to recharge and, for whenever we start again, I’m sure he’ll be prepared and ready to go.
“But it was fun watching the both of them compete. I think Carolina looks like a really solid team right now.”
Defenseman Ryan Suter (undisclosed) did not play in Game 4 after missing the final 6 minutes, 51 seconds of Game 3 on Thursday.
Evason did not have an update on Suter’s status after Game 3, and the team didn’t hold any media availability ahead of Game 4.
Without Suter, the Wild subbed in Matt Bartkowski. He suited up next to Brad Hunt on the third defensive pairing, while Carson Soucy was promoted to the top duo alongside Jared Spurgeon.
This was Bartkowski’s first NHL game since Dec. 31, 2018, when he drew in for the Wild against Pittsburgh.
Bartkowski had 19 games of playoff experience with Boston and Calgary.
The Wild also kept Nico Sturm on the fourth line after he made his NHL postseason debut Thursday. He scored the Wild’s fourth goal Friday. That meant Ryan Donato was scratched for a second straight game.