The Minnesota Wild take on the Colorado Avalanche in Game two of their Stanley Cup Playoffs Divisional Series. Those wails of anguish you heard from Minnesota Wild fans across the world Thursday night have faded. The optimism is still there though, tempered just a bit. Tonight is a must win for Minnesota. Period. If the Colorado Avalanche take a 2-0 lead in this best of seven series the Wild will have a huge hole to climb out of. I’ts been done before but, do you really want to roll those dice again hoping they come up sevens over and over and over?
The Wild played a very good game on Thursday. Not great but very good. They showed they can score on Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov both at even strength and on the power play. They got scoring from the first, third, fourth lines, and from a defenseman along with two assists from other D-men. That was the good.
The bad was an inability to get the puck out of the defensive zone at three critical times. All three of those times ended up with the puck behind Wild goalie Bryzgalov. The first of those three resulted in a huge momentum change as it cut the Minnesota Wild’s 4-2 lead to a single goal. The second tied the game with 13.4 seconds to play and the third won the game for Colorado. Unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable. This is a team that is known for its defense and responsible actions with the puck. Three errors on simple plays in the third period–three basic plays–those are little things that lose games. This has to change tonight.
Minnesota spent a good deal of time working on defensive tactics and issues in practice on Friday. It’s not as though the Wild had a complete defensive breakdown, they just need to tweak a few things. Another issue for the Minnesota Wild is the physical aspect of Stanley Cup Playoff games. They were outhit 41-28 by the Avalanche for the game. It started in the first period and continued all night long. Minnesota must ramp up the hitting. They need to increase laying the body on some of Colorado’s young guns such as Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan O’Reilly, and Gabriel Landeskog. They need to also ramp up the physical pressure on the vets like Paul Stastny and Jamie McGinn too. On the forecheck the Minnesota Wild need to get even more aggressive and physical. This is Stanley Cup Playoff hockey and it high time the Minnesota Wild figuratively and literally hit the Colorado Avalanche in the mouth and take game two of this series and then head back to St. Paul with their heads held high.
The forward lines will have the same personnel as last game with one change in line makeup. Erik Haula has been moved/promoted from the 4th line to 3rd line center based on his performance in game one. That moves Kyle Brodziak down to the 4th line center position. While he did score a goal last game, his brutally bad giveaway on a clearing attempt in the 3rd period led to a power play goal and a huge momentum swing toward the Avalanche. He was also on the ice for four of Colorado’s five goals, finishing with a minus three rating on the night. The forward lines for the Minnesota Wild tonight, at least to start the game, are:
Defensively, the Minnesota Wild need to find a delicate balance tonight between being more physical while punishing the Avalanche puck carriers and not over committing physically, losing the style of defensive play and great stick work that is this groups signature. The most important thing for the Wild defenders, whether a D-man or forward, is to make accurate, clean, and SMART passes/clears out of the defensive zone. That was the knife to the heart last game and can’t continue tonight. Minnesota Wild defenders need to be aware of every opposing player closing on the net, especially from the weak side tonight. They let Stastny do that to them twice last game, and he scored both times on his only two shots of the night. Awareness, toughness and accurate clearing passes are at the top of the list for Minnesota Wild D-men this evening. The defensive pairings for the Wild tonight are:
Ilya Bryzgalov will get the start in net once again tonight.
Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said the loss in game one can’t be pinned on the play of Bryzgalov. That said, he does need to elevate his game tonight. Four goals in regulation is unacceptable, and you cannot put all four on the rest of the Wild players on the ice. Over his 39 career Stanley Cup Playoff games, Bryzgalov has a save percentage of .906 and a goals against average of 2.86. Not bad but not great numbers. His record in those 39 games is 17-20, a .435 win percentage. To put it simply the Minnesota Wild need a monster game from their goalie tonight. The Wild have shown they can score against the Colorado Avalanche. Now they need to show they can stop the Avalanche from scoring on them.
This is another 8:30 Central Time start at the Pepsi Center in Denver. The game will be broadcasted in Minnesota on Fox Sports North (FSN) and nationally on the NBC Spots Network (NBC-SN) check your local listings for channel numbers. Be sure to follow the GonePuckWild.com writing team on Twitter as they live tweet the game at @FSGonePuckWild, @dakota_case, @GerDevine, and myself @DrainScott. Check out our Facebook page for updates as well. I’ll be back after the action tonight with a recap and analysis of what is hopefully a series-tying game two. Until then, this is Scott Drain still shouting from the mountain top, “LET’S GO WILD – BEAT THE AVALANCHE – LET’S GO WILD!!!