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Wild excited for challenge of facing Blackhawks

Tuesday, 03.05.2013 / 12:00 AM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

Occasionally in the regular season the excitement of taking on a unique challenge can motivate a team far more than simply thinking about the obvious opportunity to secure two more points.

Case in point -- the Minnesota Wild and what they're up against Tuesday night at United Center.

The Wild are the next challenger that will attempt to hand the Chicago Blackhawks their first regulation loss of the season. Oh sure, the Wild would take a win in overtime or a shootout because, first and foremost, they want the points, but the opportunity to snap Chicago's record-setting streak of 22 consecutive games to start a season with a point is the motivation now, the challenge they want to overcome.

"You love that challenge," Wild coach Mike Yeo told NHL.com. "Any competitor, any athlete loves that challenge. This is a pretty great one. They've got it all going right now. We recognize what kind of challenge this is going to be. The great competitors love that opportunity."

The Wild are no different, except for the fact that they are one of just three teams this season that can speak from experience what it is like to take down the Blackhawks.

No, it wasn't in regulation, but Minnesota beat Chicago in a shootout, 3-2, on Jan. 30.

They know what it means to beat the Blackhawks. They also don't think it matters.

"What they're doing is nothing short of amazing, but the fact that we beat them a month ago, I don't think means whole lot," Yeo said. "This is a new challenge completely."

OK, how?

Well, for one, Chicago is 13-0-2 since losing that night in Minnesota and the Wild are just 7-6-1, meaning the Blackhawks are in a zone and knocking down opponents one after another while the Wild are far more vulnerable even though they have gone 5-2 over the past seven games.

Minnesota's recent success leads to the second reason, which has everything to do with how and why the Wild have begun to find themselves and their identity in the last couple of weeks: They have kept their energy and focus on what they need to do to play the right way to make it work, so they aren't concerned in the least with what the opponent is up to -- streak or no streak.

This explains why, despite acknowledging the motivation his team gains from the challenge of trying to beat the Blackhawks, Yeo didn't want to dive too deep into a conversation about the other team.

"The biggest challenge [Tuesday] is going in to play a team that is on fire and not losing sight of what we do when we are playing well," Yeo said.

"That's the challenge for us," he later added. "It's more about us continuing to become the team we want to become. The next step is to be able to go into a building like Chicago's and focus on ourselves, play our game and play it confidently. To become a top team we have to be able to do that consistently."

If that's the message Yeo is trying to get across inside the dressing room, it's working.

"We know everyone is talking about them [the Blackhawks] and rightfully so," Wild forward Zach Parise told NHL.com. "They're the best team in the League, no question, so they deserve all the talk and accolades that they're getting. For us, I think it's just us more concentrating more on ourselves, what we can do and how we can counter the way we're playing.

"They play really stingy D. That's the part that goes under the radar for them. They don't give up a lot of shots or a lot of good chances."

Minnesota plans to counter that by playing its simple, aggressive game. If that means dump and chase all night long, they'll do it.

"There are really no secrets to our game," Wild forward Matt Cullen told NHL.com. "We just started doing things better and doing things the right way."

The Wild have to be as solid without the puck as they were in a 4-2 win over Edmonton on Sunday, when they did not give up a shot on goal in the second period and wound up outshooting the Oilers, 43-21.

Granted, those were the 20-point Oilers and these are the 41-point Blackhawks, but the Wild have to play the same way regardless of the opponent, regardless of the challenge.

"We're not giving up too many chances, definitely not too many quality chances," Parise said. "We're more in sync."

The Blackhawks can knock them right out of sync if the Wild try to get too creative, too cute.

"It's an added challenge," Cullen said. "It's like when you play the defending champs; there is always that extra incentive, the challenge to get them. They're the best team in the League now, rolling and playing their best hockey, and it's a good opportunity for us.

"It's a good test, a good challenge, a good measuring stick at this point of the season."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

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