ST. PAUL, Minn. — Even as big underdogs, the Minnesota Wild had plenty of chances to steal Game 1 on Tuesday in Chicago. The eighth-seeded Wild know that, and the Blackhawks know that, too.
Yet for as many golden opportunities as Minnesota had in the opening game of the playoffs, the Wild flew home down 1-0 in the best-of-seven series. As difficult as the loss was to swallow, Minnesota’s players and coaches tried to keep everything in perspective Wednesday as they prepared for Friday’s Game 2 back in Chicago.
“Everyone took it hard. There’s no question about that,” Wild forward Zach Parise said of the 2-1 overtime loss. “But I think we did a good job of by the end of the plane ride just understanding the circumstances, understanding where we are and that there’s still a lot of the series left to be played. Unfortunately, we didn’t come out with the first one. We have to shift our focus on the second one, what we can do better in the second game to come out with a win.”
Minnesota jumped out to an early 1-0 lead against the top-seeded Blackhawks, who boasted the best record in the NHL this season at 36-7-5. Few have given the Wild a chance to win the first-round series against perhaps the deepest team in hockey. Yet without starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom — who was injured in pregame warm-ups — and without forwards Jason Pominville (day-to-day) and Dany Heatley (out for the playoffs), the Wild forced overtime in Game 1.
Tuesday’s game showed that Minnesota can indeed hang with the likes of Chicago — on the road, no less. After a loss that has the potential to be emotionally draining, though, the Wild are doing their best to put Tuesday behind them and focus on Friday’s Game 2.
“You can’t get down; it’s one game,” said defenseman Ryan Suter, who logged 41 minutes of ice time in the loss. “That’s why you play the best-of-seven series. It’s one game. You can’t get down about it. Yeah, it sucks, but you have to learn from it and move on and be ready for the next one.”
Perhaps making the loss particularly frustrating was the number of good chances the Wild did have but couldn’t capitalize on. Forward Jason Zucker had one shot hit off the crossbar and another wraparound chance slip through the crease. Parise also had a great scoring chance in overtime but was stopped by Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.
Having those chances is one thing. Converting on them in Game 2 could be the difference between returning to St. Paul with the series even or coming home down 0-2.
“We had a lot of good chances,” Suter said. “That’s what you to have; you want to have chances to win games and we did that. When it comes to overtime, a little play here and a little play there is a difference, but the big thing is you want to have those chances, and we did.”
Added Minnesota head coach Mike Yeo: “We have to go in with desperation for sure, but our goal is to get the split and that’s what we’re focused on.”
Several of the Wild players are new to the Stanley Cup playoffs, but others have had plenty of experience in these situations. Matt Cullen won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes, and Parise played in the Stanley Cup finals last season with New Jersey before coming to Minnesota. Suter has playoff experience with Nashville as the Predators made the postseason five times during his tenure there. Yeo, too, has gotten his hands on the Stanley Cup as an assistant coach in Pittsburgh.
It’s now up to those veteran players to help the team’s younger players realize that while losing Game 1 stings, it’s still just one game.
“These guys know that’s Game 1,” said Yeo, who is in the playoffs for the first time as a head coach. “We went out on the road and we played a good game. You just have to reset and get ready for the next one and figure out what you did well and build off that and figure out what you need to do better.”