The Minnesota Wild hasn’t lost back-to-back games in regulation since it acquired Devan Dubnyk on Jan. 14. Tonight, the club looks to do something it never has: win a playoff game at the United Center. The Wild will try to split the series in Game 2 against the Chicago Blackhawks in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Forward Erik Haula will enter the lineup for an injured Justin Fontaine, who suffered a lower-body injury in Game 1. Haula hasn’t suited up for a playoff contest this year.
Last season, Haula had a huge performance against the Hawks. The forward scored three goals and added two assists in the Wild’s second round loss to Chicago in six games.
“What it came down to was, number one: speed, Haula’s speed, we want that to be a factor,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said about his decision to call Haula’s number. “Number two: some of his past performances against this team this year and more so last year in the playoffs.”
The Finn will center the fourth line, moving Kyle Brodziak to the right wing and Matt Cooke on the left.
“I am excited,” Haula said. “I’ve been working hard, but it’s not about me. It’s about me coming in and helping. It’s not about what happened before and what not. It’s about this team and playing as well as we can tonight.”
It’s been a trying season for Haula. After last season’s playoff success, he bounced in and out of the lineup, skating in 72 games and posting 14 points (7-7=14). However, the 24-year-old is using it as a learning experience.
“It’s been a teaching lesson,” Haula said. “Mentally it’s not been that easy at times. I’ve had great help from my teammates, family and friends, coaches and stuff. I’ve just been plugging away and working as hard as I can and bring my best.”
Brodziak has skated at center for the majority of his career. However, he doesn’t see moving to the wing as an issue. Plus, the fourth line now has two capable pivots in the faceoff circle.
“The only real difference I guess would be positioning in the D-zone,” Brodziak said. “Whether it’s neutral zone forecheck of offensive zone forecheck, the structure is going to be the same. I think coming into the D-zone might be a little different, depending which guy I am. Overall, it’s not that big of a change.”
One thing the Wild would like to alter is the start of the game. Minnesota was in a three-goal hole after 20 minutes in Game 1.
“We’ve learned a lot from that first game,” forward Zach Parise said. “We want to come out and establish that pace right away, to play the game we want to play, and then go from there — just try and win the first period.”
The team has been good at rebounding after a loss. After losses in the first round against St. Louis, Minnesota outscored the Blues, 7-1, in two wins.
“An understanding that every game has a life of it’s own,” Yeo said about the team’s ability to regroup. “Being able to hit the reset button and put the previous result behind you and start focusing and preparing the right way for the next game.”
Minnesota wants to use its speed better in Game 2. The Wild was effective in the second and third periods when it got its legs moving. However, against the Hawks, there’s a balance between attacking and being mindful defensively.
“You can’t press the issue and force the issue against this team,” Yeo said. “At the same time, you can’t be sitting back either. We’ve got to make sure we’re establishing our game, getting to the pace of play we want to be getting to. So it’s a combination of both.”