The Minnesota Wild returns to the State of Hockey for Game 3 hoping a change of scenery brings a different outcome after falling behind 2-0 in the best-of-seven series against the Colorado Avalanche.
With the Wild trailing and the series shifting to Xcel Energy Center, the club will make some notable lineup changes in tonight’s make-or-break contest.
Goaltender Darcy Kuemper will start his first-career Stanley Cup Playoff game. The 23-year-old has made appearances in three playoff games, all in relief, including stopping all 14 shots he faced in Game 2 on Saturday. Wild starters don’t speak to the media on gameday, but here’s what Kumper said to the Lighthouse yesterday:
“Playoff hockey, you dream about playing in that. To get back in there (in Game 2) and get a chance to get in that action was a lot of fun. I was excited to get that opportunity. If I do get the start, I’m really excited. It’s a big game for the team and I want to do my part and I’m sure everyone is going to do their part to try and come out with a win.”
Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo has liked the way the young netminder has looked since returning to practice after suffering an upper-body injury on March 31. His performance in Game 2 also gave the bench boss a reason to believe he’s ready for the spotlight.
“He’s looked really good and really confident in practice and obviously in [Game 2] he showed a lot of the same,” Yeo said. “There’s no question, when he is on top of his game, he has that ability to take that positive feeling and really have it translate out onto the ice into his game, so let’s make sure we play a good game in front of him and give him a chance to keep that going.”
Minnesota will insert Justin Fontaine and Dany Heatley into its lineup, hoping for a spark from both forwards. For Heatley, it will be his first appearance in this postseason, while Fontaine is set to play in his first-career Stanley Cup Playoff game.
“We feel that we’re getting a guy who’s positionally sound, and surprisingly competitive and strong on the puck,” Yeo said about Fontaine. “As much as anything else, it’s his composure, it’s his ability to make plays on the wall, against a team that’s really pressuring along the wall. If we can execute in those situations, then we might catch them out of position.”
Heatley brings a veteran presence into the lineup, having played in 66 career playoff games. He also is the Wild’s career-leading postseason scorer (15-42=57). Though he’s been scratched for the first two games, Yeo said that Heatley has been “an unbelievable pro” while he’s been out of the lineup and used the time to continue to work.
“He’s played well against these guys this year,” Yeo said. “A lot of experience in the playoffs. We’re adding a guy, if I’m not mistaken, has more playoff points than anybody on our team.”
Coming out of the lineup will be Kyle Brodziak and Stephane Veilleux. It is the first time that Brodziak has been a healthy scratch with the Wild. Fontaine will move to the third line with Erik Haula and Matt Cooke. Cody McCormick will center the fourth line with Heatley and Nino Niederreiter.
“You’re down 2-0 in a series, quite often that happens, you’re going to make some changes and that’s where we’re at,” Yeo said. “This is not just on Brodzy; it’s about other guys and their performance. I thought both Cody and Haulsy have played well.”
Yeo didn’t say what his top two lines would look like, although, in Game 2, the Wild shifted things around for the third period, placing Mikael Granlund with Zach Parise and Jason Pominville, while Mikko Koivu centered Matt Moulson and Charlie Coyle. Amongst the top six forwards, things could remain like that or revert back to the way it was at the start of both games. Minnesota didn’t participate in line rushes during the morning skate, so we’ll have to wait until warmups before we know for sure.
One thing we do know is that Minnesota must find is a way to slow the Avs’ top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stastny. They combined for 17 points (7-10=17) in the first two games. With the series shifting back home, the Wild will have the last change before faceoffs, thus the ability to match lines. Yeo said that the situation would dictate which line confronts Colorado’s guns, but the club’s bench boss isn’t afraid to put any line against them.
“They’re feeling good and it’s up to us to take them away from them,” Yeo said. “I’m not going to let matchups dictate the game. I want our guys focused on ourselves.”
Regardless of Minnesota’s strategy when it comes to matchups, the Wild will need a complete effort from everyone in the lineup in order to pull the series closer.
“You need everybody,” Yeo said. “We’re going to need our top lines going, we’re going to need them going and strong in their roles. We’re going to need our third and fourth lines going and strong in their roles, too.
“That’s playoff hockey.”
The Lighthouse expects Xcel Energy Center to be rocking tonight, and what better way to warmup for the festivities of Game 3 than a pregame party? From 4 to 5:30 p.m., outside of Gate 2, the Wild will host a pregame party with live music, games, activities and, our favorite, $4 beer specials courtesy of Budweiser.