Even at the lowest point of the season after losing six straight games in early January, the Minnesota Wild has been able to blur its vision of the larger picture, like looking into a 3-D Magic Eye image, so smaller details become pronounced.
Down 3-0 to the Chicago Blackhawks and on the edge of elimination in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Wild knows what it’s up against. However, the Wild isn’t gazing wide-eyed at the enormity of the hole. Instead, the team’s focus is narrowed solely on a single purpose: Game 4 tomorrow night at Xcel Energy Center.
“We’ve got to focus on tomorrow, that’s plain and simple,” forward Matt Cooke said. “The picture is tomorrow, it’s not any larger than that. Doesn’t matter further than that.”
Minnesota came out of the gate fast against Chicago in Monday’s Game 3. However, when the Wild wasn’t able to get anything past goaltender Corey Crawford, the club began to press.
“I thought we started great last game. We had three or four scoring chances in the first three minutes. It didn’t go in and I think we changed,” Cooke said. “We worry too much about scoring the first goal, and we started to take chances which led to us not playing Minnesota Wild hockey, which then brings in frustration.”
After falling behind late in the first on a Patrick Kane power play tally, the Wild had plenty of chance to even the score. Minnesota fired 22 shots on goal in the final two periods but was unable to crack Crawford. The Blackhawks defense collapsed and helped alleviate second chance opportunities.
“The last two periods we pushed hard and just came up short,” forward Kyle Brodziak said. “That’s why it’s extremely important against a team of that caliber that when you have those opportunities you have to take advantage of them.”
While a majority of the attention has been paid on how the Hawks have handled the Wild, the club believes it has better. Minnesota wants to make better decisions with pucks when on the attack, especially in dangerous areas around the blue lines. Forward Zach Parise doesn’t think the team needs to change its system, just execute on its opportunities.
“I don’t think that’s the solution,” Parise said about making changes. “It’s about being better in different areas and doing a little more in the offensive zone and try to break through.”
The Wild can’t try to press the situation against the Hawks, who have showed its ability as counter-punching specialists.
“When we weren’t grabbing the lead in the second-half of the first period, that’s when we started to turn pucks over at the offensive blue line as opposed to continuing to get puck behind their defensemen,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said.
“I think that we started to get impatient that we didn’t grab the lead even though we had a great start. That’s counter-productive to creating offense and it’s counter productive to being successful against a team that counters as well as they do.”
Patience is a virtue against Chicago and the Wild has been a model in perseverance all season.
“It’s about going out tomorrow and winning that first period. And if it’s tied after the first, you win the second. We all want to get that goal and make that difference. But be patient and let it come to us,” Parise said. “That’ll help us. Not try and win the game in the first 10 minutes and not try to erase a 3-0 deficit in the first 10 minutes. Win shift and win periods. Hopefully that will add up to winning games.”
Keeping things in focus is something the club has done all season. So, despite being in a hole that looms like the Grand Canyon, the club is keeping things in perspective.
“You don’t want to look at the big picture at this time right now,” Brodziak said. “It’s important for us to come to the rink tomorrow to try to win one hockey game. When you look at the big picture it might seem a little daunting, but I think the only way to go about it is take it one game at a time. Tomorrow night’s the first game, we’ve got to come out with our best and try and get a win and go from there after.”