It’s only been four days since the Minnesota Wild closed out the 2014-15 National Hockey League regular season, but that’s an eternity in hockey years — especially for a team primed for the opportunity to chase Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The Wild begins the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs tonight, but will wait just a little longer with an 8:30 p.m. against Central Division champ, St. Louis Blues.
“Finally, it’s been a long week,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said to start off his media availability after the team’s morning skate at Scottrade Center.
The Wild closed out the regular season with a 4-2 loss in St. Louis on Saturday, April 11. But don’t expect that contest to look anything like tonight’s tilt. In that game, both clubs rested key players. Tonight, the teams will fire the opening shots in the seven-game-series battle.
Yeo isn’t the only one chomping at the bit go get the series underway. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk makes his postseason debut tonight against St. Louis. Up to this point of his career, the 28-year-old has only been able to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs on television, something he did last night.
“This past week has felt like a month,” Dubnyk said. “It was exciting to turn on the TV and see the games get started yesterday. Now it’s nice to get back in that gameday routine this morning as well and get at it tonight. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Everybody is excited in here.”
Anticipation hovered above the ice at Scottrade Center like a storm cloud at the Wild’s morning skate. The arena was lined with Blues rally towels and the electricity from the daylight hours will carry into the evening in St. Louis’ home barn.
The Wild was a beast on the road to end the regular season. The club won 12 straight, tying the NHL record for consecutive road wins, before losing to St. Louis in the finale. The team will take that positive outlook into the game tonight and try to improve its record in the opening contests of series. The Wild enters Game 1 with an all-time record of 1-7 (including five OT losses).
That record doesn’t have anything to do with this incarnation of the team and what’s past is past. Clearly, the team wants to get off to a good start to the series, but it’s shown an ability to rallying when trailing.
“I think we have a better resiliency and part of it is we have a little bit more offense in our lineup,” Yeo said. To be able to come back is for sure an attitude. You have to be able to trust your game, and stay with your game.”
This club is a much deeper squad than the lineup of the two previous trips to the playoffs. Looking to add to the club’s depth on the fourth line will be Sean Bergenheim. His past postseason performance is a big reason he gets the nod in Game 1.
“It comes down to Bergenheim’s production in the playoffs,” Yeo said. “The way he was scoring the goals are the ways that we would need to score goals in this type of playoffs series against this type of team.”
The Wild has three players who all could’ve brought something different to the ice in Ryan Carter, Erik Haula and Jordan Schroeder. And Matt Cooke is possible for Game 2. So, Bergenheim is ready for his opportunity to get back into the playoffs and contribute to wins.
“I know I’ve got to go out, as everybody on this team, and do my best,” Bergenheim said. “Previously it’s worked for me and that’s what I’m going to try to do. I think, more importantly, it’s what we do as a team. That’s the most important thing.”
Both the Wild and Blues have depth, the reason they were able to navigate the toughest Division in the NHL. Though St. Louis has home ice and the last change, Yeo believes that either team is not afraid of putting anyone out on the ice.
“You probably don’t have to chase your matchups quite as hard,” Yeo said. “We’ve got six D and four forward lines that we’re comfortable being on the ice with anybody. For us to try to hide guys, or we lose guys, or we play guys too much because we’re trying to chase a matchup, that’s not going to happen tonight.”
So often in a series, it is role players who tilt matters. Yeo believes the club can rely on anyone to contribute.
“We’ve got some skill, and the confidence of our group knowing that we have guys that are capable of going out there and scoring,” Yeo said. “And different guys that are capable of doing it, is a big factor in that trust of just allowing you to just continue to play.”
Allen In Net For Blues
Rookie Jake Allen will get the Game 1 start for St. Louis. Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said it was his play down the stretch that helped with the decision to start him over Brian Elliot, who participated in the NHL All-Star Game this season.
“It’s a decision we couldn’t be wrong with, to be honest with you,” Hitchcock said on the team’s website. “Jake has gotten really hot down the stretch, which was really good for us because we needed it, but just his overall development, and then the way he played in the last month, we wanted to give him a chance to go in the playoffs.”