It’s do-or-die. It’s win-or-go home. It’s a must-win scenario. The Wild’s back is against the wall. The team is on the brink of elimination.
However you want to put it here we are again, in Game 6 with the season on the line. For the second time in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Minnesota returns to home ice for Game 6, trailing in the series 3-2, this time against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Undoubtedly, there’s a lot of pressure on the club.
“I’m excited,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “I would say there’s pressure on both teams and if you don’t embrace that, then there’s something wrong. You don’t coach or you don’t play to play in exhibition games or game 23 of the regular season. You do all that stuff to get yourself to this point. These are the games you dream of. With that, we’ve all got to find a way to be at our best tonight.
“We have to go all-in with our game. We can’t play with any fear. We have to make sure that we’re not afraid of anything that we might lose. The only thing that should be entering our thought process is what’s a possibility of being gained.”
As a reminder the Wild went through this just two weeks ago, winning Game 6 in the First Round, 5-2, with a four-point effort from Zach Parise. Two nights later, Minnesota won its lone road game of the postseason thus far with a 5-4 overtime win off the stick of Nino Niederreiter.
They’ve done it before. They know what it takes.
“We know the high of winning and I think that’s going to drive the team going into this game,” Cody McCormick said. “I think everybody here is going to be well prepared for it.”
All season long Minnesota has risen to different challenges, to different obstacles along the road. After losing six straight to end the 2013 calendar year, the Wild won 11 of its next 17 games into the Olympic Break, posting an 11-4-2 record in that span. Late in the season, it was almost leapfrogged out of the playoff picture, but strung together a 6-1-1 finish to the season for the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
On multiple occasions the Wild has faced similar pressure and it’s been able to pull through, a trend Yeo credits to the character in the room.
“We seem to welcome a challenge,” Yeo said. “For me, I think any great competitor, that’s what you want. You find a way to really enjoy those moments and find a way to play well in those moments. That’s what we’ve seen from our group … Our survival instincts have been much stronger than our killer instincts. Certainly it will be tested again tonight.”
So, as the Wild looks to push the series to seven games, Keith Ballard will rejoin the fold. After taking a hit from behind from Brandon Bollig in Game 4 — Bollig was suspended two games for the move — Ballard is feeling healthy and ready to go. He noted that he felt fine right away, but the team wanted to remain cautious given Ballard’s history with head injuries.
“We were trying to be pretty smart about it,” Ballard said. “There’s no chance that I would play if I had symptoms. I’ve been through that before and been down that road a couple times. The more you kind of learn about these things and the more information that’s coming out, the long term effects — they’re not worth it to put yourself in that situation.”
Moulson was also on the ice the morning but will sit out another game. Yeo noted that they wanted to get a good skate in with him first and will re-evaluate where he is if the opportunity presents itself once again.
In some other good news, Darcy Kuemper will return to the bench tonight. The young netminder — who left Game 7 against the Avalanche early due to an upper-body injury will back up Ilya Bryzgalov tonight. Yeo said Kuemper had a good skate yesterday, so this decision was in the works for a few days.
Sorry For Partying
Once again, the Wild is hosting a pregame party for fans outside Gate 2 from 5-7:30 p.m. The party for will include a live DJ, pig roast, Happy Hour prices (Wild.com’s favorite) and NHL alumni autographs. Because what’s a Wild playoff home game without one?
And as you take part of the pregame festivities, be sure to bring your voice tonight. The team has noted that it feeds off the energy in the building.
“When they’re that loud, it’s hard not to,” McCormick said. “They’re second to none in the league so it definitely feeds into the dressing room and helps the guys.”
So get loud and keep it up all game long. Seriously.