ST. PAUL, Minn. — Known as the Minnesota Wild’s iron man by playing in every game and skating nearly 30 minutes a game, Ryan Suter doesn’t tire easily.
Heading into the 13th game of their playoffs and facing another elimination game, Suter and the Wild have no time to rest. Suter knows there will eventually be time to rest. There will be time to heal injuries, not that Suter would admit to injury or being tired.
There are physical challenges involved with being in Minnesota’s position as one of the final eight teams in the NHL playoffs. But the Wild are focused on the task at hand, which is staying sharp as they host the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday facing a 3-2 deficit in the series.
"I think it’s mental," Suter said of the challenges. "Every single guy in their locker room has issues right now. But it’s a mental thing and you have to overcome that if you want to win, that’s why it’s the hardest trophy to win in the world."
Suter went down hard and missed the end of the second period of Game 3 in Minnesota, but he returned for the third period and assisted on an important goal in the Wild’s win.
After leading the league in ice time during the regular season with 29 minutes, 24 seconds of average time, Suter is doing it again in the playoffs, sitting third among all skaters with 28:57 of average ice time in the playoffs.
There might be injuries, but the unwritten rule is to not speak of it and play through if at all possible.
"You hear stories about the guys that have won before and the things that they go through," Suter said. "I think that’s why it is so hard. That’s why it’s so fun to be a part of because you know the reward at the end."
Minnesota is pushing through its most extensive postseason action since 2003 when it advanced to the Western Conference finals. This season marks the first time many of the Wild players have played in the second round of the playoffs.
They’re all learning about the challenges of an extended playoff run.
"Definitely harder than regular season, but I think you also get used to it," captain Mikko Koivu said. "I think it’s more mental, preparing yourself for another game again. Physically, I think pretty much every team, every player, is pretty much in the same spot where every player’s a great athlete and I think we’re used to playing a lot of games so it’s more mental, mentally, and getting ready for the next one and the next challenge."
Minnesota’s next challenge is staying focused after a disappointing Game 5 loss, the first time in the series a team scoring first hasn’t won the game. Tired or injured, the Wild have to stay sharp with another elimination game next.
"That’s playoffs, that’s what makes it great," head coach Mike Yeo said. "I said this last time, it’s the hard that makes it great, you’re going to have days where you’re ticked off and feel like crap, but then you battle through it, you persevere and you push through it and you find a way to respond to the challenge in front of you and there’s no better feeling than that."
Minnesota won two straight elimination games in the first round against the Colorado Avalanche and have twice erased 2-0 series deficits during the playoffs. The Wild have responded throughout.
Returning home — where Minnesota is 5-0 during the playoffs — could again provide a boost. The Wild have outscored teams 16-5 at the Xcel Energy Center. In seven road games, they’ve been outscored 28-18.
"I think we like the challenge," Suter said. "We always seem to make things harder than it needs to be. I don’t know if that’s a good thing to do, but it seems throughout the year that’s kind of been the way we’ve gone about it, making things harder. We’d be up three of four goals then let the other team back in it. That’s how it’s been, that’s how it is now and tomorrow is do or die."
And the "do or die" aspect is the shot of adrenaline to tired and sore bodies.
"I’m sure when it’s all done, time for some rest," Suter said. "It’s mental. I’m excited. I want to win. Everyone in that locker room, we keep pushing each other. There’s no time to be tired right now."