Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo hasn’t caught much of the rest of the happenings around the National Hockey League during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Just like Sweet Brown, the bench boss ain’t got time for that.
“I’m 90 percent focused on my team and 10 percent on St. Louis,” Yeo said before the Wild’s Game 4 tilt with the St. Louis Blues at Xcel Energy Center. “There’s not a lot of room for anybody else out there.”
Minnesota holds a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Round 1 series against the Central Division’s regular season champs. Regardless, the Wild isn’t concerned with the overall series, just tonight’s contest. It’s a message that Yeo and the players have preached all season.
“We don’t go into the game saying, ‘Oh, it’s nice we have a 2-1 lead,’” Yeo said. “We put all of our thoughts and focus into the idea that we have to play the game a certain way. We have to bring certain things into the game tonight. You do that and you’re giving yourself the best chance.”
Minnesota has been able to bottle up some of the Blues’ top players. David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Paul Stastny combined for 159 points during the regular season. In three games, the Wild has kept them off the scoresheet.
Charlie Coyle has been tasked with added defensive responsibility this season, moving from wing to center. The team’s stout defense leads to offense. The Wild has been strong in transition and the offensive zone through the first three contests of the series.
“We just have the mindset to come in and be tough to play against. And that’s starting with playing well defensively — not giving them much, keep them to the outside, pressuring them, be physical on those guys and make it tough on them,” Coyle said. “That leads to our transition going into their zone, making plays and generating offense down there.”
However, the Weymouth, Mass., native believes the Blues will come out better for Game 4, similarly to the effort it gave after a loss at home.
“I don’t think they were even close to happy with their game in the last one, Game 3,” Coyle said. “I think they’re going to come out flying and play more physical. For us though, we’re just going to focus on our game and do what’s brought us in the previous games — staying out of stuff after the whistle, don’t engage.”
Lost in the Blues’ post-whistle shenanigans has been Minnesota’s physical play. The Wild has out-hit St. Louis 89-84 in the series.
Still, the Wild expects the series to continue on its tight-checking course. Though Minnesota has outscored the Blues, 8-5, three of those goals have come with goaltender Jake Allen pulled for an extra attacker.
“It’s a big game for both teams. I think it’s going to be a tight-checking game,” Wild Captain Mikko Koivu said. “Defensively both teams are playing good so there’s not a lot of room out there. You need to earn each and every chance you get.”
Though the Wild has home ice and a slight edge in the series, it’s just that — slight.
“I don’t think there’s any breathing room,” Koivu said. “It’s another game at home, we want to keep winning at home and keep playing good. That’s the mentality we have — if you’re starting to think otherwise it’s not going to end up good. We know that. We just need to prepare the right way and take care of ourselves.”
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk earned his first career playoff shutout in Game 3. The netminder credited the skaters in front of him for limiting the Blue’ scoring opportunities.
“It’s a long series and when we play like that it’s tough to get chances,” Dubnyk said. “If we play like that against anybody, they’re not going to be able to generate a lot. It’s obviously not the easiest thing to do, especially against a team that’s as good as St. Louis, but all we can do is to try and continue that, to try and work the same way we did last game and see what happens.”
Like the rest of the team, the netminder said the Wild’s focus has to remain on themselves. Of course, playing in his first Stanley Cup Playoffs, he can’t help but notice how great of an experience it is and wants it to continue.
“It’s crazy to think, being backup in Arizona to start and now I’ve got a picture on the side of the arena,” Dubnyk said. “We’ll try to keep it going.”
Blues Line Shuffle
While the Wild’s focus is inward, they’ll notice that the Blues are moving things around. St. Louis is expecting to shuffle its forward lines back to groups that have been together at various points of the season. According to the Blues’ website, expect these combinations for Game 4:
Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko
Dmitrij Jaskin - Paul Stastny - Patrik Berglund
Chris Porter - Steve Ott - Ryan Reaves
Pregame Party Updates
The Wild’s Game 4 against the Blues doesn’t start until 8:30, but fans can get the party started a little earlier. Minnesota will host a pregame party from 6 - 8 p.m.
Here are some details of how you can party down:
Outside Gate 2 – DJ, Bud Light Mega Bar, food, Happy Hour pricing, face painters, fan photo station and the Hockey Lodge merchandise trailer. FOX Sports North will be broadcasting live and the FOX Sports North Girls will be on hand for autographs and photos. KARE 11 will be giving away “Lord Stanley’s Cup Diddly-Umptious Bracket Bar” chocolate bars along with other partner games and giveaways.
Additional Items Inside Gate 4 (game ticket required) – Autographs by NHL Alumni (Paul Broten, Jack Carlson, Gordie Roberts and Butch Williams) from 7-8 p.m. Bud Light Fan Zone opens at 6 p.m. with Happy Hour pricing. FM 100.3 KFAN’s Brandon Mileski will be broadcasting live from 6:30 – 8:15 p.m.
If you’re not going to today’s pregame party, we hope that Wild fans (heck, even Blues fans) recycle all of your beer (or soda) cans and bottles in honor of Earth Day. Xcel Energy Center and the Wild are leaders in sustainability and here’s how they are making a difference, not just on Earth Day, but every day.