After going 5-1 last postseason at Xcel Energy Center and arguably outplaying the Blackhawks in Game 6 of the second round, the Wild's goal this season was to get home ice in the first round.
While that didn't come into fruition in the regular season, the Wild did effectively earn home ice this round against the Blues anyway by splitting Games 1 and 2 in St. Louis.
Now, it's up to the Wild to take advantage of it.
The Wild held an optional practice today in preparation for Monday night's Game 3 (7 p.m.)
Justin Fontaine practiced and is expected to return in Game 3 after a stomach bug caused him to miss Game 2. Jason Zucker didn't skate, but he says he is good to go despite taking an Alex Pietrangelo shot off his left thumb. He said there were no ill effects despite doing a five-minute interview with both hands in his pockets and walking out of the room with his left hand in his pocket.
A reminder, I will be holding a live chat at startribune.com Monday at 2 p.m.
I will also be on Rosen's Sports Sunday on Ch. 4 Sunday night at 10:30 and will be on KFAN Monday at 10:15 a.m. and at 4:55 p.m.
Just like last postseason, the Wild's expecting an electric crowd. If you don't have tickets, the Wild hopes to release a few at 3 p.m. Monday. The Wild will also be holding a pregame party outside Gate 2 from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Lots of VIP's signing autographs, including three-time Wild 30-goal scorer Brian Rolston.
The Wild was a great road team in the second half, going 15-2-2 under Devan Dubnyk.
It has largely been a below-average home team since starting the season 7-1 in St. Paul.
The Wild were 19th in the NHL with a 22-13-6 home record, including 15-12-6 in its last 33.
It was 0-2-1 in its last three (could have avoided St. Louis if it got another regulation win) and 4-5-1 in its last 10 at home.
"The last month is out the window for me," coach Mike Yeo said today. "For me, this is different. That said I don’t think we’re just going to be good here at home. But I’m not nervous about the game tomorrow because of the way we played against Winnipeg in here either. Let’s see how good we are at home. We were a real good playoff team at home last year. I know our home crowd was a big factor in that.
"It’s amazing how loud our crowd is and the energy that’s in the building and the excitement that brings to our players, but that said we also can’t expect that we’re going to come home and play well and have the positive result. That’s still a good road team, a good test so we’re going to have to be ready at our best."
The Blues were the NHL's third-best road team at 24-12-5.
Yeo will have the luxury of last change, although it's not like there are too many mismatches with the Blues. When your third pair is Barret Jackman and Kevin Shattenkirk and your lines are Jaskin-Backes-Oshie; Steen-Lehtera-Tarasenko; Schwartz-Stastny-Berglund, my guess is Ken Hitchcock isn't freaking about matchups.
"When you get the matchups you want, it can make a difference, but at the end of the day, you have to score, you gotta make plays against whoever you’re going against," Zach Parise said. "If you can get one or two mismatches throughout a game you try to take advantage of that.
"They have solid lines and six good D. So regardless of who you’re playing against, you have to make plays. They don’t give you freebees."
Yeo didn't give too many hints about his fourth line other than to indicate that just because Erik Haula shadowed Nathan MacKinnon at home in Round 1 last year doesn't mean he'll insert him into the lineup this year to shadow Vladimir Tarasenko.
Tarasenko, who had no shots on goal but six shots blocked in Game 1, registered a hat trick in Game 2.
I asked Yeo about Haula vs. Tarasenko being a possibility.
"I would say that the first two games, you’re right, we lost those two games because of what MacKinnon did," Yeo said. "And that was more 5-on-5 play. Obviously the guy that you’re talking about (Tarasenko), he’s a very good player and he’s going to find a way to make plays. Game 1, I don’t think that it was a real factor and so I don’t think you have to rush to too many huge conclusions after one game. Looking back at last game, he’s a very good player. He’s going to find ways to make plays and he’s a challenge no matter who is on the ice. You can’t just put one guy and shadow him because he’s got other guys out there that would take you out of your system.
"But I look at the game 5-on-5 and I think that I had him having two scoring chances. He’s a good player and he’s going to find a way to get those plays. And he’s a different player than what you’re talking about. Last year, it was a very specific speed matchup that we were looking for. This is a guy who can create off the rush, but this is a guy, you look at the way he scored the goal last game. Off the rush, his shot, his ability to make plays. But he’s also willing to go to the hard areas. So it’s a different challenge."
So translate all that, sounds like no on Haula, which like would show just how much less Yeo trusts Haula this year (other than penalty kill) compared to last year.
So, what would the fourth line maybe look like in Game 3?
"Obviously we have options. If Fonzie comes back, then we have the option to go with what we did in Game 1 (Bergenheim-Brodziak-Fontaine). I thought those guys did a good job, too (in Game 2, meaning Cooke-Brodziak-Schroeder). I certainly don’t think that fourth line has been a cause of any problems. I think it’s brought us some good shifts. And like I said, we look at that game last game and when you get in the playoffs, you have to make sure, are you making adjustments, are you doing them because it’s something that’s not working, something that needs to be changed or is it something that you can do better? I think that’s our focus right now."
Dubnyk is looking forward to his home playoff debut.