After a must-win Game 3, the Minnesota Wild took a much-needed day off. With the victory, the Wild pulled to within a game, 2-1, in the best-of-seven Second Round matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Today, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo and forward Matt Cooke spoke to the media. Cooke is eligible to play in Game 4, after serving a seven-game suspension following a hit on Tyson Barrie in Game 2 of the club’s Round 1 series with the Colorado Avalanche.
Yeo said that he expects Cooke to be in for Game 4 against the Blackhawks on Friday (8:30 p.m. State of Hockey Time), but, with a day off, hasn’t decided which forward will come out of the lineup. Yeo knows the type of game the forward needs to play to be successful—physical, tough defensively and responsible with the puck—and doesn’t want Cooke to shy away from that style in his first game back.
“He’s got to play his game; he’s got to play with confidence,” Yeo said. “(In the last few years) he’s not had a charging or a boarding or anything like that. He’s been able to hit and he’s been able to hit clean, and I’m sure that he’ll be able to do the same thing.”
With the Wild coming off a convincing 4-0 win, Yeo said that the decision to pull a forward out of the lineup would be difficult, but added that Cooke brings an element that might be missing—something the team needs against the Blackhawks.
Cooke could see time against one of Chicago’s top two lines, but matchup-wise, Yeo said the team hasn’t drawn a conclusion for Game 5. Yesterday, we saw a couple of different matchups, including Mikko Koivu’s line going against Jonathan Toews in the second and third periods.
Regardless of his role in his return, Cooke believes he can continue playing the way he did before the suspensions, when he went three years without discipline from the League.
“I still believe I'm in a good spot as far as the way I approach the game to go out and play physical without being riskful,” Cooke said.
Neither Cooke nor Yeo discussed the hit, discipline or reaction from fans and media, and have moved on. However, Yeo did acknowledge that Cooke was remorseful for the hit, which resulted in an injury to Barrie.
“He was hard on himself when it happened,” Yeo said. “We don’t want anyone to get hurt, he doesn’t want to hurt anybody and he doesn’t want to hurt the team.”
For Cooke, missing games during the most important time for a hockey player, the Stanley Cup Playoffs, wasn’t easy. The forward believes that his game is built for the postseason and was thankful that his teammates were able to advance for another chance to play.
“Last couple of weeks I think I earned myself an ulcer,” Cooke said about the tension of last series. “Not being able to play again in the playoffs would’ve been hard on me.”
Cooke’s return was the big storyline today, while the almost-a-big-story-turned-out-to-be-nothing play from last night was when Ryan Suter and Marian Hossa tangled near the blue line in front of the Blackhawks bench. Both players went down hard and resulted in Suter leaving for the remainder of the second period. The blueliner came back and played the entire third period. Today, players who are dinged up came in for treatment, and Suter wasn’t amongst the walking wounded.
“So that's a good thing,” Yeo said.
Yes, yes it is.
Yesterday’s contest was a tight-checking affair and Yeo doesn’t expect things to change Friday. With Game 3 being a possible turning point, the bench boss thought the club showed signs of tightness at times, but loosened up as the game went on. Minnesota will look to take some of that confidence into Game 4.
“What I want to see is us check at the same level, but pick up our execution,” Yeo said.
So, the club will get another game at Xcel Energy Center to try and even the series with the Hawks before heading to Chicago. The Wild looks to continue its home dominance, where it has outscored opponents in the postseason, 12-3, in four wins.
“It’s fun when you hear other teams talking about it now,” Yeo said. “Our building is really loud right now…the crowd gets going and it lifts us up.
“We need to keep feeding off that.”