Charlie Coyle and his Minnesota Wild teammates have had one date circled on the calendar since the 2015-16 NHL schedule was released in June.
Not only will Feb. 21, 2016, be the first outdoor NHL game to be played in Minnesota as part of the 2016 Coors Light Stadium Series (3:30 p.m. ET; NBC), but it features the Wild against the Chicago Blackhawks; the team that has eliminated them from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past three seasons.
"We feel like we owe them. We owe it to ourselves to beat them," said Coyle, a forward. "They're always a top team. They've won how many Cups in the last so many years? They have experience so they know how to win; they know how to make the playoffs and go far in the playoffs. Definitely them knocking us out the last so many years, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, so it kind of gives you a little more motivation to get up for this game.
"Whenever we play them, we want to do to them what they did to us, obviously."
Coyle, traded June 24, 2011 with forward Devin Setoguchi and a first-round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft from the San Jose Sharks to Minnesota for defenseman Brent Burns and a second-round pick in the 2012 draft, has been seen the Wild qualify for the playoffs every season he has been with the team. Unfortunately, the Wild haven't made it past the second round because of the Blackhawks. Twice since 2012-13, Chicago has gone on to win the Stanley Cup twice after eliminating its Central Division rival.
Chicago defeated the Wild 4-1 in the Western Conference First Round of the 2013 playoffs, 4-2 in the second round in 2014 and swept Minnesota 4-0 in the second round last season.
Video: Feb 10, 2016 - Stadium Series Minnesota Timelapse
"I don't know if it was last season or the one before, but we won the regular-season series against them," Coyle said referring to the 3-1-1 record against Chicago in the 2013-14 season. "But they beat us when it counted in the playoffs. They're a team that's been there and they know how to win those important games in the playoffs. They find different ways to win. I don't think we psych ourselves out in the playoffs because we've lost to them before. It's just a matter of being the better team that given night."
Coyle, 23, and the Wild hope a win against the Blackhawks at TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota on a stage like the Stadium Series not only provides some sort of liberation from ghosts of playoffs past, but also is a springboard to a fourth-straight berth in the playoffs.
Sitting in 12th place in the Western Conference on Jan. 14, 2015 following a 7-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins the day before, the Wild went 26-8-2 to close out the season to earn the first wild card spot from the Western Conference into the playoffs and a series against the St. Louis Blues.
Minnesota limped into 2014 with a 20-17-5 record and was on a six-game losing streak following a 2-1 defeat to the Blues on Dec. 31, 2013, but the Wild rebounded with a 23-10-7 record to close out the 2013-14 season before defeating the Blues in six games in the first round.
This season, Minnesota (23-22-10) is sixth in the Central Division after a 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday. The Wild are 1-7-2 in their past 10 games, have lost eight straight, 13 of 14 and have three wins since New Year's Day (3-12-4). The losing trend resulted in coach Mike Yeo getting fired Saturday night.
"As of now, we're going through a little bit of a tough time, but it happens, everyone goes through it," Coyle said. "We've gone through it the last couple of years and we usually dig ourselves out and go into the playoffs on a high note. The ups and downs are usual but it's time to figure out what's going to get us going here and get back on the winning end of things."
Coyle, selected in the first round (No. 28) by San Jose in the 2010 NHL Draft, said the emphasis as a team and individuals should be the little things. Players need to step up and set an example for their teammates, who will hopefully replicate the same feats.
Coyle has a career-high 15 goals this season. He has 28 points in 55 games, including six points in his past nine games.
"I want to be an all-around good player, but one of the things was to put the puck in the net more and create more chances for myself," he said. "Last year, I had 11 goals after scoring 12 the year before but I think I'm capable of doing better than that. That's one thing I worked on -- trying to find the open areas and just put the puck on net. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes it goes in for you at the right times but you have to create that.
"We all have to give a more consistent effort night in and night out."