ST. PAUL, Minn. — In 2003, the Minnesota Wild faced a 3-1 deficit in the first round series against the Colorado Avalanche. Minnesota went on to win three consecutive elimination games to beat Colorado in seven games.
In the next, the Wild again were down 3-1, this time against the Vancouver Canucks. Again, Minnesota rallied to win the series in seven games. Two key members of the Wild in 2003 were forwards Andrew Brunette and Darby Hendrickson.
Brunette and Hendrickson learned how to control the emotions and survive elimination games by taking six straight in 2003 before a Western Conference finals loss to Anaheim. Still part of the organization, Wild head coach Mike Yeo had Brunette and Hendrickson, among others, speak to the players in advance of Monday night’s Game 6 with Minnesota facing possible elimination.
"I purposely asked those guys to make sure that they’re taking the time to talk to a lot of guys this morning because of that experience," Yeo said. "But not just the younger guys, the older guys too. Just even a reminder, just the chance to talk to a guy like that, Darryl Sydor, a guy who’s won two Stanley Cups. We’ve got guys on our staff, we’ve got a lot of people that have reached the end and reached the pinnacle and been in the highs of those moments, but in order to come through in those moments, you had to come through in some other parts, some parts like we’re facing right now.
"So to have those guys around for sure it’s a great resource for us and those guys do a great job every day just helping those, whether it’s the young kids, the older kids, just dealing with anything you can emotionally to make sure their focus is in the right place."
Brunette is a hockey operations advisor for the Wild and is often seen on the ice with players. Hendrickson and Sydor, who won the Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999 and Tampa Bay in 2004, are assistant coaches. Yeo and assistant coach Rick Wilson have also won the Stanley Cup as assistant coaches.
All of them will try to focus the players for Monday’s night’s Game 6 after Minnesota lost in overtime, again believing it had out-played Colorado, in Saturday’s Game 5.
The Wild didn’t take on the look of a tense, tight team in the morning skate on Monday, and forward Zach Parise agreed the team is loose heading into Monday night.
"We know it’s a you-lose-you’re-done situation," Parise said. "But we had a good skate this morning. We feel good about the way we’ve been playing. I don’t think we had that great of a game in Game 5. We were OK, so we need to be a lot better tonight. But just be a little sharper in some different areas."
Yeo too seemed loose and confident at the podium, joking at times with the media.
"These are the games you get up for," Yeo said. "Obviously knowing what’s at stake, knowing our season is on the line, having a chance to go out and play in front of our crowd with the opportunity to push it to Game 7, as a competitor, you have to love those challenges."
Yeo later added: "I would have to expect some nerves to creep in a little bit closer to game time. There’s going to be some butterflies, for sure. So what we’re looking for is let’s just make sure we go all-in to this game. Cannot have any fear of what we’re afraid of losing, cannot have any thought of the negative part of what’s at stake here. We have to make sure that we’re going all-in to this game. We’re going to throw our best effort out and give ourselves the best opportunity to win a hockey game."
The flag is ready: Yeo was asked about the having coaching challenges, one possible offseason discussion about review and whether coaches should be allowed to challenge calls.
Of course, the Wild lost in overtime on Saturday night after giving up a goal with 1 minute, 14 seconds left in regulation after Colorado appeared to be offsides prior to the tying goal.
"I’ll probably be in favor of it," Yeo joked about coaching challenges. "I don’t have to think about that one too hard. I’ve got a flag in my pocket right now."
Yeo said he hasn’t spent much time thinking about the possibilities, though.
"I’m always a little bit cautious when we talk about change," Yeo said. "I love our game. I love the game of hockey. I love the way it’s played."
Parise, too, joked about a changed opinion after Saturday’s game, but isn’t sure about the changes.
"Part of me says we should do it, just from different things that have happened," Parise said of challenges. "But we all make mistakes. We’re human. It’s a fast game. But I think maybe it’s something they have to look into. I know we had this conversation two months ago and I said no. Now that this has happened, maybe we shouldâ¦I don’t know. Part of me is saying you want to get the call right, but there’s that element that’s always going to be there of just human error. That’s the way it’s always been and I don’t know if they’re going to change that, or what."
Duchene to return: Colorado could have a key player back in its lineup for Game 6 on Monday.
Center Matt Duchene, who led the Avalanche with 70 points during the regular season, hasn’t played all series because of a lower-body injury. Duchene, who had 23 goals and 47 assists in the regular season, missed the final eight games of the regular season, but has been skating with the team for the past few days.
Duchene spent part of Monday’s morning skate on the second line with Ryan O’Reilly and P.A. Parenteau. Colorado coach Patrick Roy said Duchene will be a game-time decision. Duchene will be meeting with doctors later in the day and will participate in the pregame warm-ups to determine whether he’s able to return to the lineup.