ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Nathan MacKinnon and his equally skilled Colorado linemates Gabe Landeskog and Paul Stastny were too fast for Minnesota in the first two games.
In losing twice to the Avalanche, the Wild found themselves flat-footed at the wrong times and letting their young, potent opponent dictate the pace and flow.
So how to change the direction of the series? Going home is a good place to start.
After MacKinnon, Landeskog and Stastny combined for four goals and six assists Saturday in Game 2, the Wild will now have the benefit of the last change in Game 3.
That means coach Mike Yeo can match Matt Cooke, Erik Haula and Nino Niederreiter with the MacKinnon express, a mix of grit and speed that could help the Wild stem the tide a bit.
”I’m a third-line player for a reason and I feel like that’s the best way I’m able to contribute,” Cooke said Sunday. He added: ”Obviously I want that matchup.”
Here are five more things to know about the series as it shifts Monday for Game 3:
WHO’S IN WILD NET?: The Wild have switched goalies for Game 3 of their playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche, giving Darcy Kuemper the start instead of Ilya Bryzgalov.
Coach Mike Yeo confirmed the change after the pre-game morning skate on Monday. Yeo pulled Bryzgalov for Kuemper midway through the second period on Saturday when the Wild fell behind 3-1 and he stopped all 14 shots he faced. Bryzgalov had given up eight goals on 45 shots in the first two games.
That wasn’t the only move Yeo made, though. Kyle Brodziak was taken out of the lineup. Justin Fontaine was added to the third line to play with center Haula and Cooke. Dany Heatley also replaced Stephane Veilleux, but Yeo didn’t specify which line Heatley would be on.
Fontaine and Heatley were scratched for the first two games at Colorado. Brodziak has never been a healthy scratch before in his six seasons with Minnesota. He missed the last regular season game due to an undisclosed injury and two games in the 2010-11 season because of an illness.
Brodziak scored in Game 1 but also had a key turnover that led to an Avalanche goal. Yeo said the deficit in the series prompted the decision.
”It’s not just about Brodzy. It’s also about other guys and their performance,” Yeo said.
Heatley had 12 goals and 16 assists in 76 games this season while his playing time diminished, but Yeo raved about his professionalism.
”He’s had a great attitude for his teammates,” the coach said.
VARLY MEANS VICTORY: Semyon Varlamov led the NHL this season with a whopping 41 victories, but the Avalanche won Game 1 without a strong showing by their goalie. Varlamov was much better in Game 2.
”We were a little nervous in the first game. Some of us never played in the playoffs. It was pretty tough to start. When you’re nervous you sometimes try to do different things,” Varlamov said.
Coach Patrick Roy didn’t need the relief, though.
”A lot of people thought a lot about the first game but, hey, he played well enough to win,” Roy said. ”I had no doubt in my mind he was going to play a really solid game. He was sharp. He made the key save. I have so much confidence in him and faith in him.”
BACK HOME: The Wild finished 26-10-5 at Xcel Energy Center this season, the seventh-best record in the league. For fans who haven’t celebrated a series victory by this team since 2003, anticipation for this first home game will be high. The shift in vocal support from one side to the other always has the potential to impact a playoff series.
”You can feel it, just the atmosphere, when you walk into that rink,” Yeo said.
OLD PALS: MacKinnon, like many NHL stars, spent two years at Minnesota prep school Shattuck St. Mary’s, which is in Faribault about 50 miles south of St. Paul. MacKinnon said several of his friends from those days will be coming to the game.
THE MATH: Teams that win the first two games in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoffs series have an all-time series record of 287-45, a winning percentage of .864. That doesn’t bode well for the Wild, but the Avalanche would of course be unwise to rely on the law of averages to advance them to the next round.
”We just want to remain focused,” Roy said. ”Can’t make a conclusion after only two wins. Now all we’ve earned is a chance to win Game 3 tomorrow.”