Everything is ramped up in playoffs: The focus and intensity of the players, the speed of the game and the rowdiness of the crowds. Even the size of the media covering the Minnesota Wild swells like the Mississippi River in the spring. Ah, playoff time.
The Wild was a resilient bunch during the regular season and played well down the stretch (with the exception of its final game of the regular season against Nashville, of course), but there is a striking change in playoff hockey. Like the first warm days of spring, Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs marks a new season. Of course, no one knows this better than Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo.
“It all starts over as far as I’m concerned,” Yeo said. “When you’re in the playoffs and the pressure is on, the intensity picks up the emotion picks up, I don’t know that we’re going to look too far back to October or November. That’s something that we’re going to have to deal with in the moment.
“I’m confident we have the group, the leadership, the guys who have had enough experience to help us with that stuff, but at the same time, but again what you did before doesn’t matter. This is a new test.”
After yesterday off, the Wild prepared for the first challenge, a best of seven series with Central Division champs, the Colorado Avalanche. The club practiced at Xcel Energy Center before heading to Colorado tomorrow.
Today, Mikael Granlund was back at center on the second line between Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson. Yeo said that it’s fair to say that Granlund will be ready for Game 1.
“Obviously we want to get him in the lineup,” Yeo said. “He wanted to play against Nashville; we didn’t let that happen.
“We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but he looks good and feels good.”
While heading into the postseason is like hitting the reset button in some regards, the Wild hopes it won’t take long to reignite the chemistry between Granlund and his linemates. The club has one more practice for Granlund to get acclimated, but the forward is familiar with his wings, especially Pominville. The center missed time earlier this season with an upper-body injury, but Pominville thought he didn’t miss a step.
“I think his timing was pretty good right away and got in a groove,” Pominville said. “I think it will be no different, where he’s smart enough to prepare himself and take care of himself and be ready to play when the time comes. Hopefully it’s sooner than later. If it is for Game 1, I’m sure his timing will be fine.”
Granlund didn’t go into detail about his possible return, other than saying he felt good. With Granlund back on the second line, Erik Haula was moved between Stephane Veilleux and Cody McCormick.
Granlund’s other wingman, Moulson, is excited to be a part of the post season for the second-straight year. The 30-year-old was traded twice during the season from non-playoff clubs, the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres.
“It’s been an extremely long season; I don’t think I’ve lived in a house with my family since October,” Moulson said to the PONDcast. “This is what makes it all worth it, having a chance to win that Cup.”
Moulson helps round out the Wild’s top two lines, which gives it more depth offensively than last year’s squad. That will be needed against Colorado, the fourth-highest scoring team during the regular season (2.99 goals per game). The matchup will be a classic battle of contrasting styles. The Wild was the seventh stingiest team in the League (2.42 goals allowed per game). Defenseman Ryan Suter averaged nearly 30 minutes per game during the regular season. Expect that average to go up during the postseason against a talented Avs club.
“They have a lot of dimensions they can beat you with,” Suter said. “They have a lot of skill up front, their guys can make plays but also play hard and play the right way.”
While some things reset during the playoffs, the difference will be whichever team can establish its game and impose its will on the series.
“The identity of the two teams, the style of the two teams is probably not the same,” Yeo said. “Are we able to go out to and control the game and play it in the manner that we want to play it? Or are we lured into the way that they want to play the game?
“That’s the test.”
And it starts fresh on Thursday.
Kuemper Returns to Practice
For the first time since suffering an upper-body injury on March 31 during pregame skate against the Los Angeles Kings, Darcy Kuemper practiced with the team. It was his second time facing shots since the injury.
“I felt pretty good actually,” Kuemper said. “For missing a little bit of time I didn’t feel that rusty.”
Kuemper said that he feels close, but is still taking things one day at a time.
“He had a good day today,” Yeo said. “I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. This was his first step and we’ll see how things go tomorrow.”
If Kuemper is unable to return, John Curry will back up Ilya Bryzgalov.
Everyone loves a good playoff beard, and what better way to start your postseason stubble with a good old fashion shave off. The Wild is hosting a Shaveoff event to start the Minnesota Wild Beard‑a‑Thon® to benefit the Minnesota Wild Foundation. The event is from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. tomorrow at Gate 1 of Xcel Energy Center. Find out more here.
NHL.com is hosting a Stanley Cup Playoffs Bracket Challenge over on its website. Follow this link to post your bracket. I think we all know the team the Lighthouse picked, but we don't want to post our picks and jinx it.