ST. PAUL, Minn. — Mike Yeo walked into the postgame press conference about 45 minutes after his Minnesota Wild beat Calgary, 2-1, in overtime on Tuesday night looking solemn and straight-faced.
Yeo didn’t look at reporters immediately upon entering the room. The emotion in the second-year coach couldn’t be seen but was later felt in his words and actions. The cool-down period after games often isn’t enough time for Yeo to get over the emotions of the game. In his one-plus year with Minnesota, he’s had many pointed and passionate press conferences.
Tuesday’s wasn’t like many of those previous occasions, many of which came last year when Yeo presided over a precipitous fall in the standings while the Wild dealt with injuries and the inability to score. The scoring issues remain, even after adding Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and many talented rookies in the offseason. But the way Minnesota weathered the frustrations and their own emotions during Tuesday’s game left Yeo proud and poignant.
“If we thought that we were just going to sign a couple players and all of a sudden we’ve arrived, open the gates and here we are, a playoff team, it’s not reality,” Yeo said in opening his press conference. “It’s hard. You have to do a lot of things to be a winner, to find yourself at that point. There’s great teams you’re competing against. There’s teams that have been there and they’ve done it year after year, and you have to beat them and you have to beat them out. You have to deal with the emotions, the physicality, the toll that it takes night after night and this is what we’re learning.
“To me, personally, I thought that this was a huge step for our club. The first period I thought that we were a little bit afraid. Not afraid of Calgary but afraid of laying it out there and not getting the result that you want. And then the second and third period, that’s the fight that we need this year.”
The Flames, who had just beaten the Wild, 3-1, in Calgary on Saturday, scored first. Minnesota’s scoring woes continued and the Wild had to kill off two big penalties, first a five-minute major for Charlie Coyle and then a four-minute, double minor on Jonas Brodin. But in doing so, in allowing just one total shot in those nine minutes on the penalty kill and then getting a big tying goal from Jason Zucker with 4:19 seconds left in regulation, Yeo saw the effort he knows Minnesota needs to compete each night. Parise scored the eighth overtime game-winning goal of his career on the power play just 27 seconds into overtime.
“In a game, if that’s what you have to deal with, you deal with it,” Yeo said, pounding his hand on the podium. “In a season, you have to deal with something, you deal with it…That’s the battle; riding the emotion, finding a way to come back to the rink the next day and to be great.”
It hasn’t been easy. The lowest-scoring team in the league, Minnesota looked to be headed to a situation they’ve endured all too many times. Following a lackluster first period, the Wild outshot Calgary, 11-5, in the second but had nothing on the scoreboard to show for it. Minnesota was outshooting the Flames, 25-21, when Zucker finally broke through with his second goal in four games since being recalled. Only one shot in overtime was needed as Parise set up right in front of Calgary goaltender Joey MacDonald, took a pass from Mikko Koivu and decided to flip it backhand past the goaltender for his eighth goal of the season.
Parise said he didn’t know where his shot slipped past MacDonald. He didn’t care. The Wild finally found the back of the net. Minnesota’s power play, which started the season 5 of 24, had scored on just three of its last 40 chances before Parise scored in overtime.
“Trust me, it’s hard to do,” Parise said of getting over the frustration of not scoring. “It’s been that way for a little while where we just game after game you start to ask yourself, ‘What can we do different?’ And that’s not the solution. I don’t think we need to do anything different. The puck will go in for us. When it’s not, that’s when it gets hard and you’ve got to make sure you’re not questioning what you’re doing and make sure you’re not cheating. So I think tonight, despite how frustrating it was getting, we didn’t cheat and that was important.”
It’s not as if Tuesday’s game couldn’t have added another level of irritation. Parise had a goal waved off in the first period after a review. He snuck another backhand shot past MacDonald that appeared to cross the line, but Calgary defenseman Mark Giordano swiped it away at the last minute. Referee Steve Kozari pointed for a goal, but a review showed the puck didn’t completely cross the line before Giordano’s saved the puck.
A couple of other prime scoring chances were thwarted as shots hit the goalpost and frustration could have mounted for the Wild’s shooters.
“I’m not going to lie, it is pretty frustrating,” Koivu said. “I don’t think there’s much more we can do when you hit the post, you hit the crossbar, you miss empty-netters, sometimes it is like that. You just have to stick with it. You have to keep doing the things that’s getting us those chances and sooner or later it will go in. You just have to believe in that. It’s not always fun, but that’s what makes it fun. It’s not always easy and when you get wins like this, that’s a good feeling at the end.”
And it made Yeo emotional, self-admittedly, to see his team respond.
“That’s the fight that we need every night” Yeo said. “If you get seven shots and one of them hasn’t gone in, get eight. If you’ve gone 0 for 7 on the power play, score on the next one. That’s what it is. To me that’s what winners do and that’s what they did tonight.”