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Wild's third line to try to slow MacKinnon and Co.

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo would not tip his hand Sunday regarding potential lineup changes and adjustments in preparation for Game 3 against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, but it's safe to say he's working on a plan to slow down and limit the effectiveness of Colorado's top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Nathan MacKinnon.

Colorado leads the Western Conference First Round series 2-0 as it shifts to Minnesota, where Yeo will have last change and the chance to match up against that line how he pleases. Although the Wild coach wouldn't divulge his plan, it's been his third line tasked with the tough matchups all season.

"We were able to get those guys out there quite a bit in the first game," Yeo said. "It's obviously a possibility that we'll assemble a line that we'll assign the task of making sure that you're going out there and doing the job against those guys."

It's probably the Wild's third line that matches up best with MacKinnon -- the Calder Trophy candidate who has made several highlight-reel plays using his elite speed the first two games of the series -- and company.

Erik Haula, who is Minnesota's fastest skater, centered the third line Saturday. Veteran Matt Cooke, acquired last summer to match up against opponents' top lines, was on the left side, and Nino Niederreiter, a big, mobile forward who is not afraid to play a physical game, was on the right wing.

"Obviously, I want that matchup for me and my line and for our team," Cooke said. "It's tough when you're on the road and, especially, if you're going to change away from it, then you're going to play the change game the whole game. It's going to mess up momentum and flow. Right now, we're going to get the last change, and if that's the way coach wants to go, I'll be ready."

The trio did not see extensive playing time together during the regular season, but finished a combined plus-34 this season.

"I'm a third-line player for a reason," Cooke said. "I feel like the best way I'm able to contribute is when my line is going out against the top line and being equal or a plus. Then our team has a great chance of being successful."

MacKinnon, Stastny and Landeskog combined for 10 points in a 4-2 win in Game 2 on Saturday at Pepsi Center, scoring all four Avalanche goals. Stastny and MacKinnon each had three-point games in Game 1, when Landeskog scored a goal. Colorado skaters have 25 points in the first two games of the series, and the MacKinnon-Stastny-Landeskog line has 17 of them.

"We need to play within our structure and play hard on them," Haula said. "[We need to] slow them down through the neutral zone; that's probably something everybody has talked about the past two games. If it comes down to that, it'll be one of the things that helps out."

Cooke said stronger neutral-zone play, as well as more control of the puck, would go a long way toward slowing down MacKinnon, who has six assists and has set up Landeskog and Stastny for six of Colorado's nine goals in the series.

"I think it's time and space. If we turn the puck over, we can't have a good gap, we can't have a good F3, and [MacKinnon] gets the puck in a position where he can run up some speed," Cooke said. "If we're doing the right thing in playing the puck, then we have a tight gap and he doesn't have room to get ramped up and come at us with speed. We have a good F3 and we can pressure him before he gets going. More of that falls on us as opposed to him."

Goalie Darcy Kuemper is likely to start Game 3 for the Wild, though Yeo wouldn't confirm it Sunday.

Kuemper entered Game 2 in the second period in place of Ilya Bryzgalov, who allowed three goals on 14 shots, and stopped all 14 shots he faced to keep Minnesota in the game. It was Kuemper's first game action in 24 days after he sustained what was accidentally revealed by Cooke on Sunday to be a concussion in late March. Kuemper was 12-8-4 in the regular season for Minnesota.

"He came in and played really well [in Game 2]," Yeo said. "Looked confident, he's looked good in practice and he's another guy that's played well for us this year."

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