It’s been a long wait — and the end is still another day away.
The Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks will get underway tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. State of Hockey time. But puck drop feels like it's inching closer at the pace of a child learning to walk for the first time; minor steps forward seem like huge accomplishments.
“Well, at least we get to travel there today,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo quipped to open his press conference Thursday.
As the Wild preps to take on the Blackhawks for the third postseason in a row, Minnesota has more experience to their name than any previous playoff meeting.
While it’s a new year and a new series, the club feels it can pull from last year’s experience, to a degree.
“We know this team. There’s nothing new over there really,” Charlie Coyle said. “They’ve got their core guys. They don’t play much different than they played the last couple years, maybe some minor changes. So we know what to expect over there. For them to knock us out of the playoffs the last two years, it kind of leaves a bad taste in your mouth and you don’t forget things like that so it’s going to be another good battle.”
Though Minnesota may have those left over feelings from the past two series losses to the Hawks, it has also learned a lot from those, and their additional, experiences.
As Nino Niederreiter put it, one of the most valuable lessons the Wild has gleaned over the last three years is to focus on it’s own process more than ever.
“We’re still a very young team and know how experienced they are,” Niederreiter said. “But we’ve started getting to know how hard the playoffs are. We’ve got to stay in our process and take it day by day. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose the first game; we’ve just got to keep building and stay in the process.”
As important as it is to stay within it’s own game, another key is keeping emotions in check — which can be difficult when so much is on the line.
“Teams are pushing harder at this time of year,” Coyle said. “Things ramp up. But it makes it fun. It’s competitive, it’s a lot of energy and a lot of emotions — you’ve got to control all that. I think that’s one of the things you learn, to control your emotions. That’s huge, to just keep them in check.”
Coyle also added that having been through a few postseasons also helps players know what to expect, to find some comfort and confidence playing in an intensified environment.
“It’s such a different game; it’s so much more intense and everything is so desperate, there’s much more desperation in every aspect of the game,” Zucker said, echoing Coyle’s sentiment. “You learn a lot, you learn how to play and manage the game at different times of the game.”
While the Wild is still termed a young team, it is largely the same “kids” who were there three years ago when Minnesota first took on Chicago in the playoffs. Coyle, for example has played in 24 playoff contests along with blueliners Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon. Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund have each played 19, while Zucker has played in 11 — to name a few.
Now on the cusp of the second round of their third consecutive playoffs, calling them young is almost a misnomer. They haven’t experienced a Stanley Cup Finals or a Western Conference Finals, but they’ve been through the adrenaline inducing, up and down bungee jump that is the NHL postseason.
“They’ve experienced winning playoff rounds and losing playoff rounds,” Yeo said. “I think they’ve taken what they needed to out of those experiences to recognize the difference between what they did in one to the other. Those guys have a pretty good understanding of what’s needed and, more importantly, they’re not considered, on our part, and they don’t consider themselves young guys. They just consider themselves as important parts of our hockey team.”
Pep Rally 2.0
Tomorrow the Wild will host a pep rally at the IDS Center Crystal Court in downtown Minneapolis from 12-1 p.m.
Nordy and former Wild captain Wes Walz will be in attendance along with FSN’s Tom Chorske and Kevin Gorg, as well as Kevin Falness of the Minnesota Wild Radio Network.
The first 500 fans will receive rally towels starting at noon and one lucky fan will also take home a Zach Parise autographed jersey. Fans are encouraged to wear their Wild colors tomorrow and every playoff day after.
Check here for more details.
Don’t worry fans, the pregame parties are also back for Round 2.
Prior to Games 3 and 4, fans can arrive at Xcel Energy Center early outside Gate 2. Once again a DJ will be providing music and there will also be a two-story Bud Light Mega Bar.
For more details about the pregame parties check here.