The Minnesota Wild expects the series with the St. Louis Blues to be tougher than a cheap steak. St. Louis plays a bruising style, but physical hockey is pretty typical come April. For the Wild, it will be important to stick with its own recipe for success.
“The biggest thing is we can’t let it deviate what our game plan is,” forward Kyle Brodziak said. “We’ve had strong focus all year of playing the same way. We know it’s going to be physical, but I think that it makes it that much more important for us to execute our game plan and to be skating.”
Though the Blues have garnered the reputation as a big, aggressive club, Minnesota believes it has the players to push back.
“That’s the way they play,” center Charlie Coyle said. “They’ve got some big guys over there that like to play that way and bring that physicality, but we want to play that same way. Play with our speed as we usually do and counteract that with the same thing: be physical, play with an edge out there and just give it right back.”
Coyle is one of the team’s bigger forwards and will try to use his size and strength in the tough areas on the ice. Though he says you can’t predict the way a series will play out, he expects there won’t be much room with both teams playing a solid, defensively structured game. That means players will need to be prepared to grind it out.
“I think that’s the mindset right there: it’s going to be just up and down, battles on the wall, battles everywhere on the ice,” Coyle said. “It’s going to come down to those little individual battles, outworking them and outcompeting them. It’s just the will to come out with those.”
Playing a tough game will be especially important for the club’s fourth line. Brodziak and the checking line has been the Wild’s tenderizer — its gritty play pounding opponents on the forecheck. The line can play a salty game, rubbing the oppositions’ top players the wrong way. However, with the physicality, it will be important for the entire team to control its emotions, like a chef cutting with a serrated knife.
“Especially early on, the emotions are a lot higher,” Brodziak said. “It brings out a little more of a physical nature to the game, when the emotions get up like that.”
In a best-of-seven series it seems like emotions would spill over from game to game like water out of a boiling pot. But controlling the heat and temperament is vital.
“You can’t let your emotions get the best of you,” Brodziak said. “The more physical it gets, it’s going to be harder to do that. But I think we’ve got a group in here that’s pretty capable of controlling our emotions.”
While the Wild’s game is more built on speed, positioning and skill, the club will have to get its hands dirty against the Blues. Finishing checks is a part of playoff hockey, but the players don’t want to run around and get out of position.
Like popping leftovers in a microwave, things will heat up quickly between Central Division rivals. While the impact might not be apparent in Game 1, it could play a factor the longer the series cooks.
“It’s not something you continually go out of your way to do, you still want to play the game the right way,” Brodziak said. “But when the opportunity is there you have to make sure you take it. Hopefully over the course of the series it will have an effect.”
Five On Fourth
The Wild has plenty of options for the club’s fourth line. Today, Sean Bergenheim skated on the checking line wing with Brodziak and Justin Fontaine. However, Yeo kept his lineup card close to the vest in regards to the lineup and was non-committal to who would be in Game 1.
“I’ll give you a hint,” Yeo smiled. “It’s one of five guys.”
The team can go with a speedier winger like Jordan Schroeder or Erik Haula, or a bigger, more physical player like Bergenheim or Ryan Carter, who skated with the line yesterday.
“It’s something different for every player,” Yeo said. “It’s kind of a luxury for us, we have different players with different identities. One player can change the dimension of the whole line.
“All those players have their strengths.”
Yeo said that he didn’t expect Matt Cooke, who missed yesterday’s skate with discomfort, to be ready for Game 1. However, the bench boss said he believes that Game 2 is a possibility for the veteran forward. The club will see how the opener plays out and will make adjustments based on that performance.
Kuemper Out Sick
The Wild practiced with two goaltenders today, Devan Dubnyk and Niklas Backstrom. Darcy Kuemper was sick and didn’t skate with the team.
“We sent him to the doctors to see what’s going on,” Yeo said. “Most likely we’ll keep him away from the group.”
The club will wait on a diagnosis, but if Kuemper isn’t able to suit up behind Dubnyk in Game 1, Backstrom will backup.
Pep Rally and Viewing Party
Tomorrow, the Minnesota Wild will host a lunchtime pep rally viewing party at Xcel Energy Center for fans to gather and cheer on the team for Game 1 against St. Louis.
The Wild Pep Rally is from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. at Rice Park in downtown Saint Paul. The first 250 fans will receive a free grilled hot dog or hamburger along with chips and a beverage. SuperMom’s Cookies will be provided compliments of 2015 Wild playoff presenting partner SuperAmerica. In the event of inclement weather, the pep rally will be cancelled.
Thursday evening, the Wild will host a free viewing party of the Wild-Blues playoff game telecast on the new videoboard at Xcel Energy Center. Gates 1 and 2 will open at 7:30 p.m. The first 1,000 fans will receive an official playoff rally towel. Fans are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item to benefit Second Harvest Heartland or make a cash donation to benefit the Wild Foundation upon entry. Concessions will be available.
Survival of the Kit-ist
The Wild has created an official Playoff Survival Kit for fans, with proceeds benefiting the Minnesota Wild Foundation. Kits include: the official playoff rally towel the Wild traditionally sets on each seat at playoff games at Xcel Energy Center, a squeezable foam "stress puck," a pair of Wild-branded sunglasses, a window cling, can koozie, face paint, Jack Link's Jerky, and ice blue throat lozenges to soothe voices that might be hoarse from cheering.
Kits are $20 and may be purchased at various team playoff events including the Wild Pep Rally on Thursday, April 16 at Rice Park (11:30 a.m.- 1 p.m.) and that evening at the playoff viewing party at Xcel Energy Center (gates open at 7:30 p.m.). A limited number are available.