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Wild Returns To Familiar, Unfriendly Territory In Colorado

by Mike Doyle / Minnesota Wild

Christian Folin was back home in Sweden when the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche faced off in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, the distance and time change didn’t keep him from following the electrifying series. Game 7 was on at around 6 a.m. local time and he had a comfortable spot to watch, as Nino Niederreiter scored the series-clinching goal in overtime.

“I was sitting on the couch and it was already bright out,” Folin said. “I remember watching the playoffs and it was a pretty wild building, so it should be a good experience tonight.”

Today, Folin will skate in his first National Hockey League road game as the Wild plays the second of its home-and-home series against the Avs in Denver.

Of course, Minnesota took the opening night contest in dominating fashion, 5-0, on Thursday in the State of Hockey. Folin and the Wild held Colorado’s offense in check, allowing only 16 shots on goal in the entire contest. Although it’s only the young blueliner’s first road game, and third career game, he expects the Avalanche will come out of the gate strong.

“The first ten minutes the home team usually comes out hard,” Folin said. “But we’re going to try and come out with speed tonight, too.”

The line that did the most damage against Colorado on Thursday, was the trio of Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund and Mikael Granlund. They combined for two goals and five assists. Although they aren't the biggest line in the league, they were able to control play in the offensive zone. They'll try to do the same tonight.

"We expect them to be sharp and bounce back," Pominville said. "We're not the biggest guys physically, maybe not the strongest guys, but we can skate and we can all shoot and make plays if we need to. It's trying to keep moving, never be stopped and standing still. If we do that we're a little more easy to play against."

The Avs, on the other hand, will want a complete overhaul in its effort. The club was not happy with its compete level in the opener. At home, after the pomp and circumstance of the pregame intros and fireworks, Colorado Head Coach Patrick Roy said he wants his team to get off to a good start. Roy thinks that if the club can begin the game with a few chances, it will boost their confidence after the last outing.

Roy also wants the Avs to be stronger in one-on-one battles and win footraces to loose pucks, two facets of the game that were absent in Saint Paul.

Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo knows that the Avs will bring a stronger game, especially at home. However, the bench boss is more concerned about the way that his club is preparing and the mindset in his own locker room.

Minnesota was a much improved road team in the second half of last season. After Jan. 1, the Wild went 11-5-4 away from Xcel Energy Center. Yeo thinks that the club’s younger players stepped up at the end of last year, getting comfortable with playing in hostile environments on the road.

The team’s bench boss thinks that being a successful road team comes down to attitude. The team needs to approach road games with the mentality that critical points are at stake, much like they do at the end of a season.

“Almost a feeling of necessity. Later on in the year, as the end of the season approaches, I think it’s easier to have that kind of urgency,” Yeo said. “But these ones are no less important. We have to understand that. I think that’s what good teams do.

“When I look back at when we were a good road team and doing the things we were supposed to be doing, we were not watching and waiting to see what the other team was going to bring to us…we were assertive and aggressive in our game.” 

The team can learn from last year, but prefers to focus on this season and tonight’s game. Although the contest is in the Mile High City, the Wild is very familiar with confines of the Pepsi Center after last year’s seven-game series. Even if it won’t play a factor in the contest, it’s easier to navigate the concrete corridors of the arena that can at times seem like a labyrinth to visiting teams.

“We know where to go, that’s for sure,” Yeo cracked. “But again, not a lot of thought is going back towards last year; not a lot of thought is going back towards last game.”

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