The Minnesota Wild Vow to Not Go Quitely

Game 4 started as no other game in this playoff series has, with the Minnesota Wild taking the first lead early in the second period.  What followed was a crazy back and forth 2nd period that would see the entirety of the game’s scoring and the Stars on top at the 2nd intermission 3-2.  The Wild battled hard in the 3rd period but could not get the equalizing goal, and the Stars took Game 4.

The loss was tough to stomach as the Wild are now sitting in the dreaded 3-1 games deficit in the series.  The problem wasn’t that the Wild didn’t give the correct level of effort, because for 60 minutes they played intense up-tempo hockey.  It just seemed after the Stars took the lead after Jason Spezza deflected a Jason Demers pass past Devan Dubnyk that the Wild were going to face an uphill battle to win the game that they couldn’t climb.

When the final horn sounded in the 3rd period and the Wild left the ice at Xcel Center and it seemed like they were far from defeated.  Ryan Suter explained that the team is ready to endure “We’re at our best when our backs are against the wall.  And they’re definitely against the wall now.”   John Torchetti further simplified it in a quote by Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press saying that “You know what? We’ve just got to go win a game in their building, I’m looking forward to who’s going to step up.”

The Wild are in the right mindset and they are giving the right effort to win Game 5 and stay alive in the series, but a question seems to be looming “Are the Stars just too talented for the Wild to overcome no matter what level of effort they give?”  If Games 3 and 4 are any indication, the Wild can skate with the Stars and can compete with some adjustments of course.  Still will it be enough?

Seriously…Stay Out of the Penalty Box

The Wild had solid control of the momentum after scoring the first goal in Game 4.  Jason Pominville scored his third goal in two games and it looked as if the Wild were going to continue to add to their lead easily.  Then two minutes later Matt Dumba carelessly handled the puck off the glass for a delay of game penalty.  The Stars took advantage of that preceding power play and tied the game, which took the momentum away from the Wild.

Then in miraculous fashion a few minutes later Charlie Coyle stole the puck at center ice, drove into the net with the Dallas defender on his back to slide the puck past Antti Niemi to give the Wild the lead and momentum back.  After Coyle goal, the Wild were charging hard and keeping the Stars on their heels. Then Nino Niederriter took what can be called a lazy slashing call to give the Stars another power play.  Dallas capitalized on that power play to tie the game, and once again the momentum was sucked out of the Wild.

As in the first two games of the series it can be clearly said that carless penalties by the Wild directly affected the scoring and momentum of the game.  Dallas’ only goal at even strength was Spezza’s goal off his skate, so it stands to reason the even strength defense of the Wild was working with only one goal allowed.  So why hand the Stars the man advantage?  The Wild have been containing the Stars at even strength in the last two games, they need to concentrate on keeping the game in that situation where they thrive in order to succeed.

Jason Pominville explained it best to Michael Russo in the Star Tribune by explaining that “They (Dallas) feed a lot off their power play, and tonight was a good example of it.  When you lose the special-teams battle, you’re not going to win the game.  That’s what happened.”

Stay Physical

The Stars have responded to the newly found physical play of the Wild.  In Games 1 and 2 the Wild were pushed around by the Stars and seemed to lack some grit to answer them.  In Games 3 and 4 the Wild boosted, with a slight line-up adjustment, have been pushing the Stars around a lot more.  The intensity of the battles between players has helped increase the overall tempo and passion of the Wild.

The Stars have tried to let their goons like Roussel get under the Wild skin, but the Wild in the last two games have done a great job to give it right back to them.  Erik Haula’s 1st period battle with Jason Demers was a great example of making sure that if a player pushes you around, you don’t necessarily let it go easily.  Haula let Demers know while they both were in the penalty box what he thought about his play.  Demers tried to get under Haula’s skin, so he turned it around on him and got him off his game.

Continue to Shoot Combined with Big Net Presence

The Wild may not have scored in the 3rd period of Game 4, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying.  The Wild outshot the Stars 14 to 2 in the final frame.  The goaltenders of Dallas Niemi and Lehtonen were at the bottom of the NHL in goaltending stats in the regular season, so the Wild need to continue to test them.  The odds of either one of them having success against pressure of 14 shots a period for the entire game are very low.  They’re going to give up something with that kind of shot total.

Along with an increase in shots, the Wild should look to complement those shots with what Torchetti calls “Net Presence”.  It’s worked in Games 3 and 4 and the Wild need to keep blocking the view and harassing the Dallas netminder, whomever that might be.  Considering deflections, screens, net charging, and rebounds have been a part of all of the Wild’s goals over the last two games they absolutely need to keep up the traffic in front.

The loss in Game 4 was a heartbreaker for the Wild but they aren’t ready to give up just yet.  They’ve got some technical adjustments to do, but for the first time in a while it’s hard to question if they need an attitude adjustment.  They know what they are facing and they know what it means.  As Jason Pominville explained “We have the opportunity to do something special and something that doesn’t happen that often.”  The team is visualizing what they need to do, let’s just hope they know how to execute that vision tonight and for the rest of the series.