When starting netminder Niklas Backstrom
came up lame after reaching for a puck during warm-ups before the Minnesota Wild took on the Chicago Blackhawks in the opening contest of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, backup goaltender Josh Harding
was in the middle of his pre-game stretching routine and didn’t see Backstrom rising gingerly off the ice.
Wild Captain Mikko Koivu skated over to the 28-year-old and said, “Hards, get in net.”
Get in net Harding did, and put together a stellar 35-save performance in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. Harding’s battle against multiple sclerosis this season has been well documented, and last night he battled the Blackhawks to overtime. The Wild came up just short, 2-1, against the Presidents' Trophy, awarded to the team with the best regular-season record, winning Hawks.
After the tough opening game in Chicago, the Wild returned home last night and today had an optional skate with only the defensemen who didn’t play in last night’s game participating at Xcel Energy Center. The one goalie on the ice was Darcy Kuemper, who was recalled from the Houston Aeros today.
Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said that Backstrom is considered day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Backstrom is going to be evaluated today and Yeo didn’t know if he’d be ready to play Friday when the Wild is back in Chicago for Game 2.
“If it’s Josh moving forward we have a lot of confidence in him,” Wild Assistant Captain Zach Parise said.
While Minnesota was still on the ice during warm-ups and Backstrom was getting helped into the Wild locker room, Parise offered some words of encouragement.
“I said it’s his time now,” Parise told the media today. “I thought he rose to the occasion and played great.”
Harding has been in this position before and knows how important it is to be ready to go if a situation like last night’s should arise; however, not in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“You don’t have time to get nervous,” Harding chuckled. “But then again you don’t have time to prepare like you normally would.”
Bumping Up the Physicality
During his media availability today, Yeo said that he’d like the team to play with more of a physical edge, especially in the offensive zone.
“(We need) to make their ‘D’ pay a price,” Yeo said. “Our forecheck wasn’t enough of a factor.”
One thing that the Wild bench boss thought the team could improve: putting pucks behind Chicago’s defensemen. In a seven-game series, it is so important to make the opposing team’s blueliners pay a price physically to retrieve pucks below the goal line.
Yeo said that Minnesota was a little too passive on the attack. While they want to do a better job of finishing checks, they don’t to run around and get caught out of position against a dangerous Blackhawks offense. The head coach thought the club needs to bring a little more ‘nastiness’ in Game 2, but continue its solid defensive game plan.
“We need to do a better job of protecting the puck down low,” Parise added. This season, the line has been a puck possession juggernaut, but was unable to establish continued offensive-zone time down low against the Hawks.
Parise agreed with his coach’s sentiments and thought his line, with Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle, had too many ‘one-and-done plays’ instead of maintaining possession of the puck and trying to create opportunities on the offensive zone cycle. Come playoff time, sustaining pressure in the O-zone is paramount on the road because the crowds can help shift momentum—especially in a place where the home crowd can have an impact like Chicago’s United Center.
However, the Wild played a stingy defensive Game 1 and Parise added, “We didn’t give the crowd a lot to cheer about.”
Coming into the Game 1, it was well known that Ryan Suter would see more ice than a jeweler. But the Norris Trophy candidate set a new franchise record, logging 41:08 last night and showed no signs of slowing down.
“I don’t know how he does it,” Parise marveled. “He gets to the bench after a two-minute shift and he’s not even breathing heavy.”
Parise joked that Suter ‘looked like he didn’t even play’ last night. The forward is one of the most high-energy players in the NHL and commented he is jealous of Suter’s stamina.
“I’m a good glider,” Suter joked with the media today.
The blueliner said that he feels great after logging a shade over two periods of hockey. If his time on ice wasn’t enough last night, he had the energy to play mini-sticks with his son this morning.
“I wake up at 8 o’clock and I’ve got to play hockey, I’m the goalie,” Suter said.
Not much older than Suter’s son, Jonas Brodin saw a lot of action last night, too. The 19-year-old logged 34:20 of ice time, which beat the Blackhawks leader by seven minutes. With all the fanfare the youngster is receiving, he’s staying grounded; although he’s not playing like a rookie on ice, he’s still one off it.
“He’ll wait to get his food till after the older guys, which a lot of young guys do, but I told him to get in there,” Suter said. “ He’s got a great attitude; he’s a great guy.”
Thrown Into The Fire
“(The Blackhawks) have a great deal more playoff experience,” Yeo said. “(With the way the Wild played) it didn’t look that way.”
Nine Wild players skated in their first Stanley Cup Playoff game last night, including recently recalled defenseman, Marco Scandella. The blueliner played big minutes against Chicago’s top-two lines. Scandella and defensive partner, Jared Spurgeon also making his NHL-playoff debut, combined for 49-plus minutes of ice and 11 blocked shots.
Also making his playoff debut was Cal Clutterbuck, who scored the game’s first goal. He was on a line with Kyle Brodziak, also getting his first taste of playoff action, and together played a large roll on the Wild’s penalty kill. Brodziak especially played a strong two-way game, logging 23:49 time on ice, 3:14 of which was shorthanded.
No real update to report on Jason Pominville, as he is still considered day-to-day. The forward has missed three games with an upper-body injury after receiving a Justin Brown elbow against the Los Angeles Kings on April 23.