ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Wild assembled at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport on Wednesday preparing for their flight to Chicago understanding the uphill climb they face in their first-round playoff series against the top-seeded Blackhawks.
After Tuesday’s 3-0 loss at home, splitting the two games in Minnesota with Chicago, the Wild know the challenges they face. Their focus is on Game 5 Thursday in Chicago, knowing they can’t look at the complete 3-1 deficit they need to overcome.
“We can’t sit here and dwell on what’s happened and we certainly can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said. “This is where we’re at. We got ourselves here, so we’ve got to get ourselves out of it.”
It was the same concept from the players. They aren’t looking beyond Thursday, knowing that without winning Thursday’s game, subsequent games won’t even be a factor.
“You’ve got to narrow your focus,” center Matt Cullen said. “We’ve got to focus on our power play, we’ve got to focus on getting our energy level back to where it was a couple games ago. I think we see that when we do that, we can win and be very successful. For us, you just got to focus on that, focus on the small things that you have to do to be good. The rest will take care of itself.”
Minnesota can look directly at the power play as “what might have been” in the series. The Wild were 0 of 6 on the power play in Tuesday’s loss and are now 0 of 15 with the man advantage in the series, the only team in the playoffs yet to score on the power play while having the fourth most power play time.
On Tuesday, Minnesota had 68 total shots compared to just 46 for the skilled Blackhawks. But with Chicago blocking 26 shots and the Wild firing wide 17 times, Minnesota only ended up with 25 shots on goal, one more than Chicago.
“Probably if you would have told us before the game that we would have had 68 shot attempts, we would have signed up for that,” Yeo said. “Certainly when you’re squeezing the stick a little bit as we are, and as some of our players are right now, you hang on to the puck a little bit longer. You give them that extra half-second to get into that shot lane. Or maybe you’re trying to be a little too precise with your shot and the next thing you know, you’re missing the net. We just have to kind of clear the mechanism so to speak, and refocus and push all that stuff aside and just go into that game tomorrow with the right focus.”
The Wild finished the season 16th in the league on the power play, converting 17.9 percent of their chances. In a tight series, and facing the league’s best defensive team and second-best offensive team in the regular season, Minnesota needs to convert its power-play chances.
Yeo described Tuesday night’s game as “hanging there for us.” Even after the team lost goaltender Josh Harding to an injury and rookie Darcy Kuemper gave up a goal on the first shot he faced, the Wild still had their chances to turn the tide in the game and gain momentum in the series. The power-play kept them from changing the outlook of the series.
“We can talk about execution and missed opportunities, but we have to do something on our side,” Yeo said of the power-play unit. “As a coaching staff we have to make some adjustments here. Again, I’m not going to get into it whether its personnel, whether it’s tactical, but we have to do something on our part to give our players a good chance to succeed there.”
Center Kyle Brodziak said more movement is need. Playing on the power play now, Brodziak said he can draw on his experience playing on the penalty kill to demonstrate what is needed on the power play.
“Speaking from a penalty-kill perspective, the hardest power plays to defend against are the ones that are moving because it’s almost impossible to keep track of everyone when there’s so much movement, and that’s when it throws guys out of lanes,” Brodziak said. “And I think that maybe at times we got a little too stationary and it becomes a little too easy to get in those shooting lanes. Yeah, the more movement, not only puck movement but guys have to be working, and then you create those 2-on-1s against guys and that’s where you’re going to open up lanes and be able to get more clear shots.”
Now Minnesota hopes to recapture a bit of history. The Wild are 7-3 in franchise history in playoff elimination games and have twice won series when facing a 3-1 deficit as they do Thursday. Even this team, when facing a must-win situation in the regular-season finale, put forth one of its most complete efforts of the season in beating Colorado.
“It’s got to be good,” Brodziak said of the team’s attitude. “We can’t be hanging our heads. It’s desperation time now. There’s no room for sulking or anything like that. Our backs are up against the wall and now we’ve got to fight for our lives.”