The Minnesota Wild are back in Xcel Energy Center on home ice to take on the Colorado Avalanche in Game Three of their Stanley Cup Playoff Divisional Series. This is an early one tonight with a 6 PM Central Time puck drop. You can watch all the action on Fox Sports North (FSN) in Minnesota or nationally on the NHL Network (NHLN).
The Avalanche lead 2-0 in this best-of-7 series, and the Wild have their collective back against the proverbial wall tonight. Win and Colorado’s lead is halved, lose and you’re down 3-0 with an imminent exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the very near future. Minnesota has to play like a cornered feral beast tonight. This is the time to put it all on the line and leave it all on the ice. The Wild have had some big games this season but none bigger than tonight. It’s time for the 2013-14 Minnesota Wild to step up and rise to the challenge or fold like a cheap tent and face a long off season of painful questions and what-ifs.
Minnesota Head Coach Mike Yeo is juggling the forward lines and switching goaltenders for tonight. Expect a different look for lines three and four with the season on the line. Kyle Brodziak will be a healty scratch along with Stephane Veilleux. That means Dany Heatley and Justin Fontaine enter the lineup for their first action of the series and, for Fontaine, the first Stanley Cup Playoff game of his NHL career. He will join Matt Cooke and Erik Haula on the third line. Cooke is skating in his 100th Stanley Cup Playoff game of his career. Heatley will be seeing minutes on the fourth line with center Cody McCormick and Nino Niederreiter. This is definitely one of the more offensive-oriented fourth lines of any team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That said, this line really does need to put offense first rather than trying to be a huge physical presence. Lines one and two will not see any personnel changes. The projected lines for tonight are as follows:
Justin Fontaine – Matt Cooke – Erik Haula
Nino Niederreiter – Cody McCormick – Dany Heatley
What the Minnesota Wild need tonight is some goals from the top line. So far in the first two games of this series Coyle, Koivu and Parise have a total of two goals and six assists. Both goals are from Coyle while the other two have three helpers each.
The second line has totaled ZERO goals and ZERO assists through two games. This trio really needs to improve and pick up multiple points this evening. The third line’s Haula and Cooke have a goal and an assist respectively, again low numbers through two games. Nino and McCormick have also been offensively challenged in the series.
Defensively, the Minnesota Wild are keeping the same six defensemen in the lineup with two players switching spots. Jared Spurgeon is dropping to the second pairing, skating alongside Marco Scandella with whom he skated much of the regular season with. Spurgeon has had several high profile turnovers in the first two games that were quickly turned into goals by the Avalanche. Jonas Brodin will be reunited with Ryan Suter on the top pairing where he spent much of the regular season.
The Minnesota defense has struggled mightily at times to this juncture in the series, with Colorado piling up 9 goals through two games. For a team like the Wild who averaged just 2.43 goals a game in the regular season, giving up an average of 4.5 goals a night presents a rather large hill to climb. The Wild D-men need to stop backing off and giving the Avalanche players so much room to work with. An increase in physical play is also on the to-do list. The pairings for tonight will be:
Ryan Suter – Jonas Brodin
Jared Spurgeon – Marco Scandella
Head Coach Yeo has decided to go with Darcy Kuemper in goal tonight. Kuemper came on in relief of Ilya Bryzgalov in Game Two, stopping all 14 shots he faced. In two playoff appearances for the Minnesota Wild against the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he gave up just two goals each game. Kuemper posted a save percentage of .915 and a goals against average of 2.43 during 26 regular season appearances. He will be the man in charge of stopping a Colorado team that has averaged 4.5 goals a game in this series. Kuemper looked very poised and comfortable in net in his return from an injury he suffered in warm ups that cost him the final weeks of the regular season.
Hopefully, Coach Yeo has found the right forward line combinations, defensive pairings and goaltender for the Minnesota Wild to earn a victory tonight in their first home game of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Wild are playing for their playoff lives and Coach Yeo for his job in tonight’s game. I think that a loss tonight will not bode well for Yeo and his staff as they look to return for the the 2014-15 season.
What the Wild need to do tonight is literally go wild. They need to hit anything in a Colorado Jersey repeatedly, play aggressive defense and take every opportunity to put the puck on Semyon Varlamov. Puck control, avoiding penalties and scoring on the power play are on the must-do list as well. I’ll be back after the game with a recap, analysis and more. This is the big one folks, the game that will tell if the Wild will continue to roar in the Stanley Cup Playoffs or exit with a whimper. Until next time, this is Scott Drain screaming crazily in the streets of downtown St. Paul, “LET’S GO WILD – BEAT THE AVALANCHE – LET’S GO WILD!!
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