Tonight, a literal must-win: Win and play Game 5 Saturday in Chicago. Lose, and the season's over in hours.
With the Wild attempting to stave off elimination tonight, coach Mike Yeo has scrambled three of his four forward lines and taken veteran Jordan Leopold out of the lineup for Nate Prosser, who will make his playoff season debut.
The lines tonight are expected to be:
So the news here:
1. Coyle goes from center, where he has been since the All-Star break, to the right wing on what has the makings of a real good line.
2. Haula comes back in for Ryan Carter.
3. And Vanek is put with two workers.
Vanek was good in Game 1 but made a bad mental mistake by not touching down a puck in the neutral zone on a hand pass. Twelve seconds later, he loses a board battle and Devan Dubnyk gives up an awful goal. Wild get out of that period 3-3 after rallying from a 3-0 deficit, and there’s a chance it wins that game.
Vanek is bad in Game 2 and doesn’t dump the puck with 25 seconds left. That results in an offsides, then a turnover that results in Patrick Kane making it 2-0 (the winning goal) with 19.9 seconds left. Get out of that period down 1-0, and maybe the Wild wins that game.
Vanek couldn’t have been worse in game 3. Despite saying the day before the Wild needs to get “back to our game” and get the puck low and go to work, Vanek stopped inside the blue line a half dozen times turning pucks over.
Read between the lines here, but here’s Yeo’s explanation as to why Vanek is with Niederreiter and Brodziak: “Giving Thomas two bigger bodies, two guys that should be capable of playing down low in the offensive zone, should be capable of moving for him, buying a little ice for him, getting to the net. And also having the work ethic to hound and recover pucks. I’d like to see that line be effective below the top of the circles. It’s not a team that has given us a lot of free ice from the top of the circles out, so how we play below the top of the circles, how we get down low, how we move our feet down, this is going to be important.”
Yeo wasn’t even being subtle: Two guys capable of moving for Vanek, buying a little ice for Vanek, getting to the net, having the “work ethic” to recover pucks, then noting how the Blackhawks have not given the Wild free ice to play at the top of the circles (where Vanek kept trying to play in Game 3), then again saying they need to play down low and moving their feet (something Vanek refused to do in Game 3).
Not good when yet again a coach has to revolve a game plan and lineup and personnel moves around one player that’s not playing within the team’s identity. But this was the danger in the Wild signing Vanek.
Here was my feel-good story on how much has changed between Round 1 and 2 and how we can start dissecting Wild players individually
Here's my notebook on how tough it is to get shots through in this series, faceoffs, Patrick Kane, etc.
On how he came up with the line combinations, Yeo joked, “Dice, BINGO balls. Obviously you’ve got to make some changes. Charlie is a guy who’s had success with Mikko in the past – big, strong guy, right shot as far as executing through the neutral zone into the offensive zone as well. And obviously a guy that can get to the net. That’s a line that’s had success for us in the past. Obviously that takes him out of center position, but the way Brodzy played last game, there’s no reason why he can’t go in there and do a lot of what Charlie was doing. I think Charlie last game too, the way things were going in the faceoff circle (0 for 7) was frustrating and was kind of hurting his confidence a little bit in the game too, so that could be part of it.”
On Prosser playing for the first time since April 11, Yeo said he hopes it won’t take him long to get to his game alongside Matt Dumba. Yeo said, “He’s a guy that generally knows what his game is and he’s a competitive guy, he’s a guy that helps us on the penalty kill, he’s a guy that helps us defensively, gives us everything he got night in and night out. He’s been a big part of getting us to this point and obviously hasn’t been able to get into the lineup yet in the playoffs, but we were anxious to see if he could come in and do a lot of things he did for us in the regular season.”
Prosser said, “I’m pumped up. Obviously we’re in a little bit of a hole – everyone knows it. But I’ve just got to go out and do what I can to get a win tonight.
“I just want to bring my battle level first and foremost. Make sure my intensity is at the highest it can be from shift one all the way through the rest of the game because I know the skill set a lot of these guys present. I just want to make sure I’m able to get after these guys a little bit and be physical and get under their skin a little bit.”
On not playing in a month and how hard it’ll be to just enter the playoff two rounds in, Prosser said, “It’s not the first time I’ve done this – I’ve done this a few times. Hopefully I’m just able to find my comfort zone right away and the group of guys will collect me in and there will be a lot of smiles tonight. I’ve just got to be ready to go. I’ll have a good warm up and get my legs going and make sure my head is into it right away.”
On how hard it has been to not be playing despite a solid second half before spraining an MCL, Prosser said, “A lot of it was out of my control. At times it could be frustrating, but I want to be here for the guys. It’s the playoffs and it’s all about the team. I wanted to make sure I brought my positivity and make sure I brought my work ethic to practice and made sure I was ready to work on the ice and off the ice for workouts and made sure that when I do get my number called, I’m ready to go and that’s tonight.”
On tonight’s game, Yeo said, “You look at the goals that they’ve scored for the most part, they’ve been off turnovers – a lot of turnovers through the neutral zone for us, first goal of the series off a turnover where we’re forcing a play in the offensive zone, so I think tactically for us we have to attack their gameplan a little bit better. We have to understand what they’re doing, the areas where they’re strong and the areas where they’re not and make sure we attack the areas where they’re not strong a little better than we have. We looked at video this morning, the chances we generated some really good opportunities last game. definitely not the type of game where you usually get shut out in, but that said, we have to find a way to create a few more of those situations, we have to be find a way to be better in a few areas to get a few more of them.
“For all the firepower they have in their lineup their rush chances have come off our turnovers. It’s not like they’re forcing plays that aren’t there. They have good recognition of when to attack and when to get in on the forecheck. Probably the difference in the series is they’re taking what we’re giving them as opposed to the other way around.”
Chris Stewart tried to give it a go this morning, but he was inhibited with his right arm on the ice. Justin Fontaine (groin) skated but won’t play.
Yeo said of Stewart, “I wasn’t real hopeful he’d be able to play tonight anyway. It’s obviously not as serious as it could be since he’s still considering it. Fonzie, same thing. Getting closer but definitely both are not in tonight.”
On tonight’s game, Yeo said, “We’ve been in similar situations before. Unfortunately sometimes bad things happen, but how you react to them is far more effective than trying to figure out why. We have to react to it the right way, get ready for the next game and control what’s in our control right now.
“It won’t be easy, we know that they’re a great team. It’s not just a matter of us saying ‘OK, here’s what we want to do’ and then going out there and doing it. You’ve got to make sure you’re ready to stay with it. You might do it one shift and it might not work, you might do it another shift and it might not work, but if you do t for 60 minutes the odds are better than very good that it will work.”
On the whole play with patience thing, Yeo said, “I don’t think the word patience is the right word. We have to keep attacking. We have to defend, defending is what prevents you from losing hockey games. We have to make sure that we don’t lose. At the same time you can’t win if you don’t attack. We have to attack their game plan a little more than we have. We have to attack smarter in certain situations.
“When we have the opportunity to attack we have to go. We have to take advantage of it because they don’t give you a lot of opportunities. But we also have to find a way to create some more opportunities and that means getting in on the forecheck a little bit more, it means playing in the offensive zone a little bit more. Not being one and done when you get in the offensive zone. You not going to get in the offensive zone and in the first five seconds they have a big breakdown. It’s how we use our puck strength, our movement down in the offensive zone. It’s how we have a good F3, it’s how we hunt and recover pucks. We force them to make mistakes. That’s generally and typically when we’re on top of our game and we didn’t see a lot of that stiff last game. I think we use that as a pretty good example of showing our guys that when we’re doing those things we can be effective.”
Coyle said of moving to right wing that going from right wing to center is a tougher transition. “There’s more you have to worry about, more responsibility down low. I got a few shifts there last game with Mikko and I think it’s going to be better for me on the forecheck, more freedom. I know with Mikko back there, a great two-way player, to be that F3 when he needs to be, so I have no problem, don’t think twice about getting in there, playing the body, playing physical and creating things for the other linemates.”
Mike Emrick and Ed Olczyk went to the Twins game last night and sat right behind Eddie Rosario’s family when he hit his first career homer on his first career at-bat. Emrick told me it was just thrilling seeing their reaction.
I’ll be on Yahoo! Puck Daddy’s Marek vs. Wyshynski podcast at 1:20 p.m. and on the NHL Arena cam on NHL Network at 5:40 p.m.
Also, Matt Cooke made the Jimmy Fallon Show’s NHL superlatives last night. Here was his: