Wild head back to Colorado looking to replicate home-ice effort
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo took the podium to speak with the media on Friday morning following his team’s dominating Game 4 win against the Colorado Avalanche a night before.
Yeo had re-watched parts of Thursday night’s 2-1 win, though he avoided the final flurry of pressure Colorado applied in the last minutes of Minnesota’s series-tying win, perhaps to save his heart from the same suspense of watching it live.
A relaxed day-after included the Wild going with an optional skate and many players resting. Yeo was caught up on the NHL’s daily news, which included the announcement of the Vezina Trophy nominees for the league’s best goaltender during the regular season.
Each of the past four days, the NHL has announced three nominees for major awards. A common theme is a Colorado representative in three of the four awards announced so far, and it’s just one example of the difficult test still ahead for Minnesota.
"We’re still playing the team that won the division," Yeo said. "I look every day and the NHL’s announcing award winners, and every day there’s a Colorado Avalanche player that’s part of those nominees. It helps to remind us that we’re playing a very skilled group and, with that, I think that should help sharpen our focus."
No one needs to mention Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov’s credentials to Yeo and the Wild. Varlamov was one of the three Vezina nominees announced Friday, along with Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop.
All Varlamov has done is keep the past two games interesting, even as Minnesota controlled the play on its home ice.
The Wild won a pair of one-goal games this week at the Xcel Energy Center to even the series at 2. In the process, Minnesota outshot Colorado 78-34.
"It’s fun, there’s no doubt about that, and that’s why I want to keep it going," Yeo said. "To me, there’s nothing better than playoff hockey. And you have to enjoy every part of it. You have to enjoy those parts that are the struggles and those parts that are difficult because that’s what makes nights like last night so great."
The Avalanche won the first two games in Colorado, even with the Wild perhaps playing better in Game 1. Minnesota altered the series with two assertive performances at home. The challenge now is replicating the effort on the road.
"The big thing is, similar to what we said going into Game 4, asking the players for no assumptions," Yeo said. "Don’t assume the next game is going to start the same way. Don’t go in there with the expectation that we’re just going to be able to pick up where we left off. Make it happen with the little things, with the way that we play, with the way that we execute."
The Wild expect a pushback from the Avalanche at home. Minnesota forwards Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund talked about the desperation their team had the past two games. The desperation translated to unmatched intensity for two games.
When Minnesota returned home last weekend, desperation was the operative emotion with the team down 2-0. The series is tied now, but the Wild believe they can carry over their desperate, urgent determination.
"Yeah, I definitely think we can do that," center Kyle Brodziak said. "Last couple of games is a good confidence builder for our group to know that when we play the right way, the way that we’re doing and the way that we’re capable of, we’re a very good team and we’ve just got to find a way to get back to that level as quick as we can."
Momentum is on the Wild’s side. With the series now reduced to a best-of-three situation, Colorado still owns the home-ice advantage.
So, which one matters most with three games left?
"I can’t say, to be honest with you," Yeo said. "I would say next game is more important. Obviously the next game is going to be a big one. The team that wins that is going to be a little bit more in the driver’s seat here. They have two games at home and we’re going to have to win a game in their building.
"So, I would certainly like to try and make that be this game. That’s got to be our focus. We can’t get caught up in thinking, well, Game 6 back here or Game 7 or what the outcome of this series might be or might not be. We have to make sure that we’re preparing to play the game the same way that we did the last one."
Another performance like Thursday and it might not matter how many award nominees the Avalanche have.
Follow Brian Hall on Twitter