Yesterday’s overtime loss against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 1, after the Minnesota Wild led by a pair after two periods, was a gut-punch. However, it was far from a knockout blow, as the Wild was back on the ice at Pepsi Center for practice today.
While it was a devastating way to lose a game, the club couldn’t dwell on the loss with Game 2 coming up tomorrow. Minnesota seemingly was able to leave it behind them as they prepared for a shot to even the best-of-seven series tomorrow night in Denver.
“It’s not easy,” Wild Captain Mikko Koivu said. “That’s hockey. If it’s easy, you’re in the wrong spot, I think.
“Now it’s all about tomorrow and I think we feel pretty good about ourselves and our game.”
What made the Game 1 defeat an especially bitter pill to swallow was the fact that the team was up heading into the third and in control of the contest. It was Minnesota mistakes that allowed the Avs to get back into the game and eventually win in overtime. Often times, the difference in the playoffs comes down to one or two small plays. The margin for error is razor thin and execution is the difference between winning or losing.
“We have to have a mentality that every play is the difference in a hockey game, no question,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “But at the same time, you also have ‘the next play mentality’ or ‘the next shift.’”
In this case, the Wild will have a ‘next game’ mentality, and despite the disappointing end to the series opener, the attention was already shifted to Game 2. If you’ve followed this team closely all season, you’ll know its ability to bounce back in the face of adversity has been a key asset.
In order to have playoff success, a team can’t drown in the sorrow of a loss, no matter how difficult.
“That’s the challenge, right? That’s the playoffs,” Yeo said. “The word resilient has been tossed around a lot of times when we’ve talked about our group. You’re going to face adversity in the playoffs.
“We’re confident we’re a group that’s capable of that.”
Erik Haula’s confidence has grown leaps and bounds in his first season with the Wild. Playing in his first playoff game yesterday, the rookie scored on a beautiful rush, using his speed to cut wide, and then slid a backhand through goaltender Seymon Varlamov’s 5-hole. Today, he was moved up to the third line between Matt Cooke and Nino Niederreiter.
“Haulsy played a really good game, so he deserves a chance,” Yeo said. “Matching up against a speed team, I’m interested to see how he does there.”
Kyle Brodziak was moved to the fourth line in today’s practice between Cody McCormick and Stephane Veilleux. The Wild’s bench boss said that it doesn’t mean the line changes are set in stone, but will likely start that way for Game 2.
In Game 1, the Avs played extremely physical in the first period, especially in the opening 10 minutes. However, its pace slowed as the game dragged on. The Wild, especially the blue line, wants to match and surpass that physical play in Game 2.
“It gets us more engaged in the game,” Prosser said. “We’ve got to bear down defensively in our zone and have a better, aggressive mind set.”
Yeo also thinks that the Wild gave the Avs, especially its skilled forwards, a bit too much room to maneuver and get comfortable in the offensive zone, something they took advantage of.
“I think we had too much respect for them, personally,” Yeo said. “I look at situations where we’re in D-zone and we were on our heels when we’re usually on our toes, we’re jumping, we’re pressuring. We always talk about our structure, but it doesn’t mean anything if you’re giving time and space to great players.
“I know that we can pressure the puck harder; I know that we can take straight lines and go through guys harder; and that’s one area certainly we’ll look to be better at.”
While the Wild goes into Game 2 trailing in the series, there are still some positives to take from yesterday. If Minnesota limits its own mistakes, it has the series lead, but that’s not what happened. The power play scored while killing all four Colorado power play opportunities. The team weathered the Avalanche’s first period storm and responded in the second. With plenty of series left, the Wild looks to build upon Game 1.
“I thought we did a lot of things well and I thought there were a lot of positives to take [from Game 1],” Prosser said. “You’ve got to give them credit, but we’ve got to get back to our game right from the drop of the puck tomorrow.
“I’m confident we will and I think we’re going to play a hard competitive game.”