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Wild Bracing For Blues Forecheck, Physicality

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

ST. LOUIS -- The last time the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues played, a 3-2, Wild overtime loss at Scottrade Center on Halloween, it was a tale of two games.

There was the opening 10 minutes, during which the Blues physical, pressurizing forecheck pushed them out to a 2-0 lead, and the Wild didn't play up to its normal pace.

Then Minnesota got to its game, tied the score at 2-2 before intermission on goals from forwards Jason Zucker and Erik Haula, followed by 45 minutes of scoreless hockey broken by a David Backes overtime goal.

When the Wild was successful against St. Louis, it got to the up-tempo style that normally buoys Minnesota's game.

That will be the objective when the Wild is back at Scottrade Center on Thursday: to play through the Blues' physicality and forecheck, while playing a physical game of its own and sticking to the script that allows the Wild to be successful.

"The way we play, we have to get back on pucks quick, and break them out so they can't get in on the forecheck like they like to do," Jared Spurgeon said. "It feels like we haven't played in a while, but we're going to have to get out and, it's a big game for us."

The physicality the Blues play with does not preclude them from playing fast, and likewise, the speed the Wild plays with does not mean it can't play physical.

"They play faster than people realize, too," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "Their defense is really going to beat us up ice, and they counter very effectively off turnovers."

"We've got to be ready to play physical, too, we just have to do it in our own way. It's a matter of staying away from the stuff after the whistles, and just when the puck drops we have to be ready to compete."

The Wild's version of that game is using its speed to win footraces to loose pucks, a way to attack how St. Louis can throw teams off their game.

"We don't run around and try to kill guys, but we're going to play fast, we're going to play hard, and that's usually a good counteraction to how a lot of teams play," Jason Zucker said.

With how the Blues forecheck though, it's a recipe to disrupt breakouts, and slow down how fast the Wild can move through the neutral zone.

"As a unit of five, we have to do a good job," Spurgeon said. "With the forwards coming back it gives us the ability to stand up and have good gaps, and also when you have pressure on them they might not have as good dumps, and [Dubnyk] is very good at playing the puck. That will help us out as well."


Zach Parise, who will not play on Thursday in St. Louis, was a participant in morning skate, and stayed on after to get in extra work.

Parise could return as early as Saturday when the Wild plays the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I don't expect this to be a huge, lingering, long-term thing, but it's just a little bit of a maintenance thing right now," Yeo said. "Obviously he's out tonight, and we'll see how he feels after he gets off the ice here today.

"We want to just make sure that he gets the rest that's required here, and gets himself back feeling closer to 100 percent."

Without Parise, the Wild juggled its forward lines in practice on Wednesday prior to leaving for its four-game road trip.

Thomas Vanek took Parise's spot on the left wing next to Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville — a spot Vanek previously filled when Parise missed eight games with a sprained MCL — and Charlie Coyle took Vanek's old spot with Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker.

"It's nice to come in with some kind of a plan, some kind of semblance of what you would like to see, and give it a chance to gel, and see where it goes," Yeo said. "But you have to be ready to adjust, whatever it is. We'll evaluate it as the game is going on, and it would be a good sign if we could just keep things rolling, and keep the groups together that we start with."

Defenseman Marco Scandella will start out on the top power-play unit in Parise's place.

"It would be nice if we stayed that way, but we have a couple of other ideas that we may jump to," Yeo said. "Hopefully we get a few power plays, and see how it works."

Here is the Wild's projected lineup:

Charlie CoyleMikko KoivuJason Zucker

Thomas VanekMikael GranlundJason Pominville

Nino NiederreiterErik HaulaJustin Fontaine

Chris PorterJarret StollRyan Carter

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon

Marco ScandellaMatt Dumba

Nate ProsserJonas Brodin

Devan Dubnyk

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