The day after winning a thriller of a game in overtime and closing the series to 2-1 in the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Minnesota Wild held an optional practice today at Xcel Energy Center. Along with the recently recalled guys from Houston and the skaters who didn’t play last night, Jason Pominville
was on the ice.
It was the second time the forward has participated in a practice since suffering an upper-body injury from a Dustin Brown elbow on April 30. Pominville hasn’t played in the five games since the hit.
Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was not on the ice for today’s practice, but spoke to the media afterwards. He said that Pominville is still considered day-to-day.
The two goaltenders on the ice were Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper. Defenseman Mathew Dumba and forward Carson McMillan, who were recalled from Houston today practiced with the team. Zenon Konopka was the only player not practicing that didn’t play last night. Players who skated last night and participated in practice: Marco Scandella, Jason Zucker, Stephane Veilleux, Justin Falk and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
Mentors Making A Difference
Also on the ice today was veteran forward Matt Cullen, who set up Jason Zucker’s overtime winner from his belly. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are about second effort and attention to detail. The 36-year-old, who won a Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes, knows this better than most.
It’s also important to stay even-keel. The roller coaster swings of emotion can do the most talented teams in if it derails their focus. Despite the highs of last night’s thrilling win, the Wild is still down in series.
“We haven’t done much. We’ve won one game and we’re going to keep perspective on that,” Cullen said. “Guys are going about their business. It’s the nature of the playoffs; you have to put that behind you pretty quick. You can’t be in here and running around like an idiot because you won one game.”
Cullen has been imparting his wisdom to Zucker in the postseason. It is common for veterans to mentor younger players on the rigors of the NHL.
“The first one (for me) was Ted Drury,” Cullen remembered his mentors. “I was lucky to be with guys like (Paul) Kariya and (Teemu) Selanne, who helped me quite a bit.
“I learned a lot from Rod Brind'Amour in Carolina. He’s probably the best leader I’ve ever played for.”
Overall, all of the rookies on the Wild’s roster have benefited from the veteran presence in the locker room.
“(Zucker) has had Cullen, Coyle has had Koivu and Parise, and Brodin has had Suter,” Yeo said. “These are pretty good mentors. They’ve done a great job at helping these guys prepare and teaching and mentoring; just making them feel comfortable.”
Preparing For Pushback
The Wild played a much more physical game last night against the Hawks. The team finished checks and engaged in scrums after whistles. It was much better at establishing its forecheck and generating offensive chances, while limiting Chicago’s. You can bet that there will be pushback from the Blackhawks in Game 4, literally and figuratively.
“I’m expecting them to come play and play a more physical game, a grinding game,” Yeo said. “It’s certainly not hard to read the clips and see they are going to have a shooting mentality and a crashing the net mentality.
“Both teams recognizing the importance of (Game 4), the intensity level is going to be high.”
Minnesota knows the task of muzzling Chicago’s response will not be easy.
“Part of the challenge for us next game will be to brace against their pushback,” Yeo said. “We know that they are going to come hard and I’m anxious to see how we respond.”
After a bad Game 2, the Wild responded with its best game of the series back in the State of Hockey. Answering the call is what a seven-game series is the norm.
“That’s the nature of the playoffs,” Cullen said. “Each team tries to respond after a loss and a tough game.”
Obviously we’re a little Wild-biased here, but Brodin not finishing in the top-three voting for the Calder Trophy sure feels like a snub.
“I’m disappointed,” Yeo said. “We’re here battling in the playoffs and it’s hard to say that we would be if he’s not on our team.”
Yeo might have a little stock in Brodin, too. But he’s not the only one who believes Brodin should’ve been recognized for the award.
Brodin, however, was not too concerned about not being voted a finalist, as he is more concerned about preparing for tomorrow’s contest.
To truly appreciate Brodin’s game, you can’t just look at numbers. His impact, playing big minutes against the top line of opposing teams, is something that you have to witness to understand. Unfortunately with a smaller sample size in the shortened regular season and only playing against western-half of the NHL hurt Brodin’s chances. Seriously, how did he not get the votes with a #Brodin4Calder infographic floating around the interweb?
The great thing about hockey is that individual awards are secondary to team success, and the one trophy every player wants is the one that’s passed amongst teammates. Brodin and the Wild continues the push for that prize, the Stanley Cup, in Game 4 against the Hawks tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. State of Hockey Time at Xcel Energy Center.