It was a common phrase yesterday, and it was muttered time and again today — facing elimination in Game 6, the Wild has its back against the wall.
This isn’t the first time Zach Parise has faced this situation. Two years ago, while with the Devils, New Jersey faced a 3-2 series deficit to Florida in the first round entering Game 6. Not only did they win that night, the Devils went on to face the Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The lesson from that experience is simple: it’s not easy to get to four wins.
“The toughest thing to do is close out a series,” Parise said. “When you’re on the other side you’re expecting the best game out of the team that’s down 3-2. I think that’s what we expect from ourselves, to have our best game. It’s never an easy thing to do to win four. We’ve got to make sure we can get our third one.”
Parise isn’t the only member of the Wild who has been there. Assistant Coach Darby Hendrickson and Hockey Operations Advisor Andrew Brunette were members of the 2003 Minnesota squad that faced a Game 6 elimination game in the first round against the Avs, no less, and went on to win the series.
Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo has leaned on those two — as well as Assistant Coach Darryl Sydor who has won a Stanley Cup twice in his playing career — to offer guidance to the locker room this morning.
“I purposely asked those guys to make sure that they’re taking the time to talk a lot of guys this morning because of that experience,” Yeo said of Hendrickson and Brunette.
“We’ve got a lot of people that have reached the end, that have reached the pinnacle and been in the highs of those moments. In order to come through in those moments, you’ve had to come through some other parts, some parts like we’re facing right now. To have those guys around, it’s a great resource for us.”
As it has been for every home game this series — or maybe just every game in general — the anticipation for tonight’s puck drop is growing like a parking lot puddle in the middle of this current deluge plaguing the State of Hockey.
But as the bench boss noted, games like tonight are easy to get up for.
“Obviously, knowing what’s at stake, knowing our season is on the line and having a chance to go out and play in front of our crowd with the opportunity to push it to Game 7 — as a competitor you have to love those challenges,” Yeo said.
“It’s just a hockey game,” Mikael Granlund added. “It’s going to be a huge challenge for us. These are the games where you really are tested. Your back is against the wall. We just need to play our game and try to do all you can for the win.”
Though it’s a big one, it is simply a hockey game. As Granlund put it, the Wild has to do what it did in Games 3 and 4 — play its systems, focus on its game and battle hard.
Granlund’s “it’s just hockey” mentality seemed to emanate from the group, who looked loose in morning skate and the ensuing interviews.
“We were loose and excited and ready to play,” Parise said. “We’re confident here. We’re confident playing at home. We want to extend this series.”
Yeo likes where his group is at and is confident in its abilities to get the job done, but he won’t be surprised if there are a few pregame butterflies.
“I would have to expect some nerves to creep in a little closer to game-time,” Yeo said. “There’s going to be some butterflies for sure. What we’re looking for, let’s just make sure we go all into this game. We cannot have any fear of what we’re afraid of losing. We cannot have any thought of the negative part of what’s at stake here. We have to make sure that we’re going all into this game. We’re going to throw our best effort out and give ourselves the best opportunity to win a hockey game.”
With the game on home ice, the fans can certainly aid that effort. The players have lauded Xcel Energy Center’s energy and ability to get loud all series, now its time to do it again.
Speaking of the fans, tonight’s outdoor pregame party has been cancelled due to the weather. The Bud Light Fan Zone at Gate 4 will still open at 5:30 for fans with tickets to the game, where the KFAN pregame broadcast will be live (6:30-7:30), the FOX Sports North Girls will be in attendance, Minnesota NHL Alumni will be available for autographs and much more.
A Note From The Avs Locker Room
Matt Duchene who has yet to play in the series due to a knee injury is a game-time decision tonight.