The Minnesota Wild knows the atmosphere inside Xcel Energy Center will be electric as its first round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the St. Louis Blues moves to the State of Hockey.
Tied 1-1 after opening the series in St. Louis, the team that has gotten on the board first in each game has gone on to win the contest. With the vitality of the home crowd, the Wild wants to get off to another good start and get the home fans engaged early.
“They’re going to be loud; let’s give them a reason to be loud here tonight to start the game,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “I think we should come out with a lot of energy; I think we should come out finishing checks, going in straight lines, hopefully getting some shots and getting after them.”
While setting an early tone is important, it can carry into the latter stages of the game both physically and mentally. The Wild wants to be prepared for a physical contest, but keep its emotions in check.
“We have to be ready from the drop of the puck, we have to be ready for what follows through the course of the game both good and bad, and every situation,” Yeo said. “That said, you don’t want to go over the line, but let’s get close to the line.”
Though getting the game’s first marker has been important, it doesn’t mean the team will want to change its outlook. If the team doesn’t capitalize on early chances, it must stick to its game plan.
“It’s always important, but you never know what’s going to happen or who’s going to score first,” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. “You can’t worry about that too much. It’s more important to start the game the right way, play the game the right way.”
Along with the home ice crowd, the Wild will get the last change. The strategy of matching line combinations often depends on the situation. The game of cat and mouse between the bench bosses is not only played on the ice, but also in the pregame comments.
“A lot of it that depends on the situation of the game,” Yeo said. “Probably when you’re ahead you probably match a little more strictly, at least towards a defensive approach anyways.
“Some of it might be a defensive matchup, some of it might be a forward matchup, some of it might be you might be looking to try and take advantage of a matchup that you think could be favorable on the other side.”
Between two evenly matched, deep lineups, it becomes a little more difficult to try and set up mismatches. So, the onus goes to the players on the ice to perform as much as it depends on the coaching staff to get the favorable line combinations.
“It’s two very even teams, two strong teams that are deep,” Yeo said. “It’s a tough matchup both on the offensive and defensive side. That’s just what makes it so important, the importance of every shift — going out there and making sure you’re ready to be on top of your game.”
Fontaine, Bergenheim Back In
The Wild will reunite the fourth line of Kyle Brodziak, Justin Fontaine and Sean Bergenheim from Game 1. Fontaine missed Game 2 due to illness and Yeo wanted to use a penalty killer on the fourth line, so Matt Cooke replaced Bergenheim. The team’s bench boss expects a good effort from the checking line, regardless of who’s on it.
“I thought that Brodziak line, whether it (Bergenheim) and (Fontaine) or Cooke and (Schroeder), I thought both of those lines had some real good shifts in the offensive zone, forechecking, turnovers, going in straight lines, finishing checks,” Yeo said. “That’s the kind of stuff we’re looking for, especially at home here.”
Yeo said that Fontaine’s play along the wall helps the fourth line get up the ice in transition quickly. The forward is ready to get back in and make a difference tonight. He believes that even though he’s in a checking role, the entire team will need to stay disciplined on home ice.
“I feel good. It’s exciting coming back home,” Fontaine said. “I think we just focus on staying out of that side game they want us to play and trying to get us off our game, distracting us. I think we just continue focus on our play and get them frustrated when it’s not affecting us.”
Pregame Party Changes
Today’s Minnesota Wild Playoff Pregame Party is still on as scheduled from 4:30-6:30 p.m., but a few adjustments have been made due to the weather:
Outside Gate 2 – Live DJ, Bud Light Mega Bar and Happy Hour specials. Hockey Lodge just inside Gate 2 will be open.
Inside Gate 1 – Autographs by NHL Alumni (former Wild captain Brian Rolston, Chris Dahlquist, Joe Dziedzic, Lee Goren and Jeff Nielsen) from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. The FOX Sports North Girls will be on hand for autographs and photos as well. Playoff Survival Kits and Happy Hour specials available above the box office. Hockey Lodge open and FOX Sports North will be broadcasting live.
Inside Gate 4 – Bud Light Fan Zone opens at 5 p.m. with Happy Hour pricing. FM 100.3 KFAN’s Dan Barreiro will be broadcasting live from 3 p.m. – 6:45 p.m.