Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo started off his Easter Sunday press conference confirming that the Wild would indeed be starting a goaltender tomorrow.
Down in the bowels of Xcel Energy Center, where it was considerably cooler than the blissful summer-like temperatures gracing the State of Hockey, Yeo played coy as to who would be between the pipes tomorrow night, much to several media members dismay.
While we’ll have to wait to know which direction the bench boss will go, he did indicate that he’d be confident in either Darcy Kuemper or Ilya Bryzgalov.
“He made some good saves in the game last game,” Yeo said of Bryzgalov. “I don’t think we should forget about that. We weren’t playing our game in front of him and this is a guy that has played a lot of really good hockey for us… This is a guy that has playoff experience and has shown the ability to bounce back. Then on the flip side, you’ve got the other guy who came in a played really well. He looked confident.”
Kuemper — who relieved Bryzgalov in the second period after Colorado took a 3-1 lead, stopping all 14 shots faced — said he felt good the moment he stepped in and hopes to keep contributing to the team.
“Playoff hockey, you dream about playing in that,” Kuemper said. “To get back in there and get a chance to get in that action was a lot of fun. I was excited to get that opportunity.
“If I do get the start, I’m really excited. It’s a big game for the team and I want to do my part and I’m sure everyone is going to do their part to try and come out with a win.”
Regardless of who is in net, the Wild is focused on doing its part and playing its game for a full 60 minutes. They hope being back in the State of Hockey will help.
One of the main benefits of being at home is getting last change. The Wild will be able to dictate more easily which lines match up against Colorado’s. The popular guess is Matt Cooke’s shutdown line will be taking on Colorado’s top line in Nathan Mackinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stastny. Cooke said if that’s what Coach wants, he’s ready.
“Obviously we’ve got to manage the puck the right way,” Cooke said. “The more time we can spend in the offensive zone, it improves our chances. We’ve got to be quicker to take away time and space with those guys. They’ve proven that with time and space they’re going to make plays.”
Yeo didn’t say who would get the task of playing that top line, but he’s confident that any of his lines can get the job done when playing the Wild’s game.
“The way that our lines are assembled, I’m not afraid of anybody playing against anybody if we’re on our game,” Yeo said.
“It’s obviously a possibility that we’ll assemble a line that we’ll assign the task of making sure they’re going out there and doing the job against those guys. I feel comfortable, when we’re playing our game … we’ve got four centermen that I’m not afraid when we play against different teams, they’ve done a good job against them. For me it’s just a matter of resetting and getting back to our game. Getting home, I think, will give us that opportunity.”
Though the Wild brings a 2-0 deficit in the series back to Xcel Energy Center, it knows there are plenty of positives to take away from the first two contests in Colorado. It’s just a matter of recognizing those positives and making them a more consistent part of the game.
Yeo emphasized that the Wild isn’t far off the mark. The team is generating chances and doing some good things. They know they can do better, now they have to prove it. Mikko Koivu added to the sentiment, noting that the Avs have been a little bit better in the first two games, now Minnesota needs to flip the script and return the favor.
“I don’t think we’ve been able to do that for 60 minutes yet,” Koivu said of playing their game. “In a playoff game, that’s what you need. You need to be able to keep that for 60 minutes against a good team, like they are. There’s been a lot of good things and we can’t forget that either. It seems like when you lose a game there’s nothing good about it until after you sleep your night and get back to the rink.”
Part of that, Yeo hopes, is being a little bit more aggressive and playing a tighter game, much like Cooke indicated.
“It’s good that we’re trying to be defensive right now, but we’ve got to get more aggressive in our mentality, because right now there’s too much gap,” Yeo said. “We’re giving them too much ice. We have to do a better job of making sure they’re coming through tight layers, making sure that when they touch the puck they should know that we’re around.”
While tomorrow will mark the first home game of the playoffs for Minnesota and an important game in the series, the Wild isn’t looking back or at any of the distractions. For the team, the game ahead is the key focal point.
“Our main focus is Game 3,” Matt Cooke said. “We can’t look any further than that. We can’t go back. Two losses are two losses. They make the series seven games for a reason. Game 3 is the most important game.”
From The Governor
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has declared Monday "Go Wild! Day." Fans throughout the State of Hockey are encouraged to wear Iron Range Red, Forrest Green, Harvest Gold and Minnesota Wheat to show support for the Wild as it host the Colorado Avalanche in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“As Minnesotans, we are proud to live in the great State of Hockey,” said Governor Dayton, who was an All-State high school goalie in Minnesota, and is an avid hockey fan today. “The Wild had two tough games in Colorado. Now they’re playing two games in Minnesota, where they can even up the series. Go Wild!”
The Governor himself plans to wear his Minnesota Wild jersey to work at the State Capitol on Monday and encourages Minnesota fans to seek permission, as necessary, from their employers, teachers, or supervisors to ensure their team gear is appropriate for work and school.