When he took a hot lap prior to puck drop in Game 3 in the first round of last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, Charlie Coyle already had chills.
With the lights low and the crowd crazed with a fever that only got stronger as the night wore on, the atmosphere was unparalleled — and that was before the National Anthem. Undoubtedly, Xcel Energy Center lived up to its name.
A year later, with Game 3 just one sleep away, the Wild is excited to experience that atmosphere again, getting a confidence boost that is hard to come by on the road.
“It’s crazy,” Coyle said. “Everything about playoffs, the intensity ramps up, goes up a notch. Our crowd just goes up a couple levels. I remember last year, it was so cool to come out and hear them so loud and supporting us. It was crazy. It was just a really cool atmosphere to be a part of.”
“There’s no way to describe it,” Nino Niederreiter said. “You just have to be a part of it.”
For those Wild players who weren’t exposed to the frenzy previously, their teammates have done their best to fill them in.
When netminder Devan Dubnyk was asked what he was told to expect he laughed, “mayhem.”
Be it mayhem, crazy or simply the unexplainable, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo knows that the crowd certainly helps fuel the team’s effort.
“We were a real good playoff team at home last year,” Yeo said. “I know that our home crowd was a big factor in that. It’s amazing how loud our crowd is; the energy that’s in the building and the excitement that that brings to our players.”
While the club is looking forward to all the benefits that go with home ice advantage and having the crowd on its side, it is also realistic; home ice doesn’t automatically translate to a win.
“Going back home doesn’t guarantee anything,” Yeo said in his postgame press conference follow Game 2. “They’re a good team. We have a lot of respect for them and we know we’re going to have to be at our best.”
Carrying a series split home is a positive. The team feels it played two strong road games, and while it would have liked to get that second win, it knows it has plenty to of good things to build off of as the series shifts to Minnesota.
With the excitement of returning home, the team needs to keep things in perspective and remain focused on bringing its best effort.
“We definitely have to erase our minds and get that intensity back,” Coyle said. “It’s not just going to come. We can’t wait for it. We’ve got to create it ourselves.”
Though the Wild knows it’s returning to an insane atmosphere and will get advantages it missed on the road, such as last change, home ice hasn’t been the kindest place to Minnesota of late. In March and April, Wild went 5-5-1 on home ice to finish out the regular season.
But the playoffs are a different storm to weather.
“The last month is out the window,” Yeo said. To me this is different.”
“I don’t think there’s anything I can pinpoint why we were better on the road than at home,” Zach Parise added. “I’m not sure why the year before it was kind of the opposite. Regardless, it’s a new season now. We know there’s going to be a lot of energy in here and we’ve responded well to that in the past.”
Last year, in six home playoff games, Minnesota surrendered one loss — a 2-1 overtime decision to the Blackhawks on an unfortunate bounce off a stanchion, which ended the Wild’s season. Despite the lone loss, the Wild certainly had a swagger about them when playing at Xcel Energy Center, something they can use this go-round.
“Thinking back, to know that we were pretty good in the playoffs last year, we know what we’re capable of playing in front of these guys,” Coyle said. “It’s a new game.”
Fontaine Feeling Fine
Justin Fontaine was a late scratch for Game 2 due to illness, but he is feeling better and was a full participant in practice today. He is expected to return to the lineup for tomorrow’s Game 3.
With Fontaine back, Yeo didn’t divulge who will be the healthy scratches amongst the forwards, but he did say there are lots of options, especially with how the different fourth line combinations played in both Game 1 and Game 2.
“I certainly don’t think that fourth line has been a cause of any problems,” Yeo said. “I think it’s brought us some good shifts. … When you get into the playoffs and you’re making adjustments, you have to make sure that you’re doing them because it’s something that’s not working, something that needs to be changed, or is it something that you can do better? That’s our focus right now.”