Heading into the Second Round series with the Blackhawks, the Wild had a new hope in this year’s installment of the matchup.
The club felt their alliance was stronger than in years past, as did many around them, strong enough to make a real move against Chicago. The anticipation was building to Death Star proportions.
But in Games 1 and 2 of the series, when the puck finally dropped, Chicago — led by a dark-helmeted Corey Crawford in goal — put the Wild in an extremely familiar position: down 2-0 in the series as it shifts back to the State of Hockey.
The Blackhawks Empire struck, forcing the Wild to regroup and form a new strategy. On Monday, the team held a meeting to address the wookie in the room.
“It just wasn’t our game, that’s all,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “The approach that we took right from the drop of the puck wasn’t the right one. We looked at why and tried to figure out why. Now is the how. What do we do now for tomorrow? To me, number one, it’s got to start with some excitement. I know it’s frustrating to be down 2-0. But at the same token, the fact of the matter is, it’s not like we played our game.
“There’s not a lack of motivation with our group, there’s not a lack of confidence. It was just a lack of focus.”
While the Wild certainly knew what to expect in the opening acts of the series, it felt it got away from its game — that it had to play perfectly in order to beat a lethal Hawks squad.
As a result, in the modified words of Admiral Akbar, it was a trap.
“The way Chicago plays, it’s a different game than St. Louis,” Thomas Vanek said. “It’s such a fast, long pass game. Where I think we kind of got trapped into thinking we had to play the same way as them to beat them. But we’ve got to get back to our game.”
The mental effort to return to its own game won’t necessarily be made easier by playing on home ice. While the team won’t have to infiltrate Jabba’s Palace, the Wild can’t expect to be handed Han Solo without having to dodge a few Rancors or Sarlacc Pits.
“I don’t think we should just assume that just because we’re coming back home that all will be right in the world,” Yeo said.
“As much as anything else, as far as we prepare, it’s the thoughts we put in our head today — how we want to play the game. Not the result that we want to have. … That’s the challenge of the playoffs; dealing with the emotions, keeping your focus and preparing to play the game — preparing to do the little things that are required. Not preparing for the end result, because that won’t come unless you do those things.”
Today was the first step in that process — taking a day off the ice to mentally refocus, as a Jedi must hone its own skills both physically and mentally.
“Obviously it’s our third year playing these guys and we really want to beat them, but we can’t let that affect us,” Jason Zucker said. “We have to play our game, whether it’s Game 7, Game 1 — it doesn’t matter, we’ve got to play our game.”
With a renewed focus, the Wild looks to once again show the meaning of resiliency as it has all season and in past playoffs, using it’s own type of force.
“We’ve done it before,” Nino Niederreiter said of needing to bounce back. “I feel like that’s going to give us confidence. But at the same time, we’ve got to sharpen up in areas and we’ve got to play smart tomorrow night.”
May the fourth be with you, State of Hockey.