Mike Yeo has fielded the “What’s wrong with you guys at home?” question for weeks now.
So he especially knows it’s up to Wild players, not Wild fans, to bring their “A” game into Xcel Energy Center for Sunday’s pivotal Western Conference quarterfinals matinée. But with the Wild having a chance to deliver a knockout punch of the St. Louis Blues on home ice, the Wild coach also hopes his team feeds off the home crowd’s, uh, energy, exuberance and Sunday Fun Day pre-party lubrication.
“Hopefully our fans are having a couple of Bloody Marys with breakfast to get in a good frame of mind,” Yeo joked Saturday.
The Wild, by winning two of three games in St. Louis, has put itself in the enviable position of having a chance to advance to the second round for a second consecutive postseason and avoid a win-or-go-home Game 7 in St. Louis on Wednesday if it takes advantage of its home barn Sunday. If the Wild advanced, it would face Chicago in the next round after the Blackhawks eliminated Nashville on Saturday.
But recall that the Wild, the best road team in the NHL since Jan. 15, had the 19th-best home record in the regular season and got trounced 6-1 by the Blues last time out in Game 4.
Veteran Jordan Leopold said the Wild needs to bring its “road game” to St. Paul.
“We got our butts handed to us in Game 4 here at home,” Leopold said. “Fortunately it was early in the series. It wasn’t a clinching game. It was a good time to have that lesson. For that sake, we’re going to be ready to go.”
In its history, the Wild has won three series, all in Game 7. The team’s longtime personality is that of a team that rarely does things the easy way. So the theme around the Wild on Saturday was don’t blow this opportunity and make things more difficult.
“We don’t want to be going back to St. Louis,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “We have a chance to close it [Sunday] and we need to do that.”
To do that, the Wild needs to step on the accelerator because it knows the Blues, who won the Central Division for a reason, will come in desperate.
“The last thing Minnesota wants to do is have this thing come back to our building,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “… We’ve got to make sure they get to look that in the eye. That’s our goal; just bring it home.”
In Game 3, a 3-0 Wild win that even Hitchcock said could have been 6-0, the Wild stuck to its gameplan throughout, exited its zone efficiently, dominated the neutral zone and established its speed because of that. The Blues were overwhelmed.
In Game 4, the Blues responded by chipping pucks, establishing their forecheck and taking advantage of a Wild team that was atypically loose in its own zone. The Wild was overwhelmed.
“I know that if we’re going to get the result that we want, we’re absolutely going to have to earn it,” Yeo said. “… It’s an exciting opportunity, but it’s only that. It’s only an opportunity unless you take advantage of it.”
The Wild is confident it can, especially because it’s getting contributions from multiple players. One of the Wild’s strengths during its torrid post-Jan. 15 run was the balanced scoring it received.
That has continued in the playoffs. Six of the Blues’ 13 goals in the series have come from one player — Vladimir Tarasenko. By contrast, the Wild has also scored 13 times in the series from 10 different goal scorers.
“That’s what you need in playoffs,” leading scorer Zach Parise said. “You look at every team that goes far, there is a heroic third or fourth line that scores big goals for the team. It’s not easy to score in the playoffs. It’s a tough thing to do and sometimes you get matchups that you just have no room out there and you need everyone to be able to contribute.
“That’s a reason why we were a really good team in the second half, just the balanced attack that we have. It makes it tough to defend and alleviates a little pressure on everyone.”
The Wild could use more of that Sunday because the Blues vow to bring their best game.
“One of the toughest things to do is close out a series,” said Leopold, the third-most experienced Wild player with 76 playoff games. “They’re going to be scratching and clawing to tie this thing up. We have to bring our best game, too. It’s a challenge, yes. It comes with preparation [Saturday] and coming back with the same mentality [Sunday].”