One of the first drills during today’s Minnesota Wild practice at Xcel Energy Center was geared towards the team’s defensemen. A pair forwards swung low at the blue line, picking up speed like a racecar coming around the curve, and attacked two D-men. The blueliners had to backpedal hard, pumping their legs like pistons, in order to maintain the appropriate gap between the hard-charging forwards.
For the Wild D-corps, minding the gap will be one of the many keys to overcoming its Stanly Cup Playoffs nemesis, a skilled and speedy Chicago Blackhawks team. Minnesota doesn’t want to get into an up-and-down firewagon game with the Hawks.
“I don’t think that suits us particularly well. At certain times you can’t help it, the game does sort of evolve into that,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “They do a good job in their transition game and do a good job stretching you out looking for the long plays.
“That tends to open up the game one way or another.”
One way to close down the Hawks transition game is by taking away ice — one of the reasons the Wild was working so diligently today.
“They’re a skilled team and if you give them time they’re going to make those plays,” defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. “I think with our group of forwards, with the speed they have, if we can have a good gap it’s easier for them to come back and get the transition game going our way.”
Of course, the club knows the Blackhawks’ game well. Chicago has eliminated the Wild in the previous two postseasons. Last year, Minnesota looked primed to steal a game at the United Center, but the Hawks turned the game on a dime with big plays. Minnesota is wary of its opponent’s ability to get out on the rush especially in front of their home crowd.
“They’re good at home. I think we need to find a way to win in their building there,” defenseman Jonas Brodin said. “They have lots of skilled players. They’re a good team. We are a good team too. It’s going to be a fun and tough series.”
Anchoring the blue line will be Ryan Suter. In the team’s first round win against the St. Louis Blues, the 30-year-old averaged a tough 26:05 minutes per game. Yeo called him a “freak genetically” and said his positioning is a reason he’s able to log more ice than Frosty the Snowman.
“I think body position is so big now because you can’t cross check the guy out of there, pitch fork them out of there,” Suter said. “I think you have to have better body position before he gets there, try to meet him outside the crease. That’s something we have to work on for sure.”
Sometimes, though, the best defense is a good offense. The Wild can keep the Hawks from getting out into the open ice by playing a puck-possession game of its own.
“I think it’s important for us to control the game a little more than that,” Yeo said. “A big way you can do that is with the puck.”
Pominville Out Sick
Forward Jason Pominville didn’t skate today. Yeo said that he was feeling “under the weather” and took the day off. Jordan Schroeder skated on the wing with Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise.
Show Your Spirit
Minnesota Wild launched a “Wild Playoff Spirit” contest for schools across the State of Hockey. Elementary, middle or high schools in Minnesota can enter by uploading a photo of their class or school demonstrating their Wild playoff spirit.
Two winning schools will be chosen. One school within the Twin Cities seven-county metropolitan area that demonstrates the best Wild spirit will win a pep rally with Wild mascot Nordy and receive official Round 2 Playoff Rally Towels For more information about the contest, go here.