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Wild hope for improved home play against Blues

by Dan Myers /

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild hope they can transfer their recent road success to home ice when their Western Conference First Round series against the St. Louis Blues shifts to Xcel Energy Center on Monday.

The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1.

The Wild are expected to have a full complement of players available. Forward Jason Zucker blocked a shot with his hand in Game 2 and was in visible pain on the bench, but stayed in the game.

“I feel great, no problems. I’ll be ready to go for sure,” Zucker said. “I have no ill effects from anything at all.”

Forward Justin Fontaine missed Game 2 because of illness but skated Sunday and said he is ready to return. He is expected to play on the right side of Minnesota’s fourth line, centered by Kyle Brodziak.

Who will be on the left side is still up in the air. Sean Bergenheim skated there in Game 1 but sat out Saturday and was replaced by Matt Cooke. It’s possible Ryan Carter or Erik Haula, who have yet to play in the series, could also draw in.

“Obviously we have options,” Yeo said. “If [Fontaine] comes back, then we have the option to go with what we did in Game 1. I thought those guys did a good job, too. I certainly don’t think that fourth line has been a cause of any problems. I think it’s brought us some good shifts.”

Minnesota has won 13 of its past 15 games away from St. Paul, including a 4-2 victory Thursday in Game 1 at Scottrade Center. But the Wild are 5-6-1 in their past 12 at home, including losses in each of their final three games here in the regular season.

“The last month is out the window for me. For me, this is different. That said I don’t think we’re just going to be good here at home,” said Wild coach Mike Yeo. “But I’m not nervous about the game tomorrow because of the way we played against Winnipeg in here either. Let’s see how good we are at home. We were a real good playoff team at home last year. I know our home crowd was a big factor in that.”

Wild forward Charlie Coyle said it comes down to execution. On the road, Coyle said there is a stick-togetherness in the Wild’s game that may be lacking when the team is at home.

“[On the road], it’s going to be a tough game and we have to come out with that edge and we know that,” Coyle said. “I think coming home, sometimes we expect it to come for us. We have to make things happen from puck drop. We’re in the mindset now; it’s playoffs, we can’t afford to take a shift off, a period off. We have to get to that level right away and make things happen.”

Minnesota was very good at home during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, winning all three games at Xcel Energy Center in a Western Conference First Round series win against the Colorado Avalanche. The Wild won Games 3 and 4 at home in the Western Conference Second Round against the Chicago Blackhawks before losing Game 6 -- and the series -- in overtime of Game 6.

Yeo said he hopes that experience at home is something the Wild can draw upon this time around.

“It’s amazing how loud our crowd is and the energy that’s in the building and the excitement that brings to our players but that said we also can’t expect that we’re going to come home and play well and have the positive result,” he said. “That’s still a good road team, a good test so we’re going to have to be ready at our best.”

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