Wild on the Brink: 3 Things They Need to Extend the Series to Game 7

The Minnesota Wild will officially be playing for their playoff lives when they enter Game 6 tonight. They fell in Game 5 on Tuesday which puts them in an elimination position with the St. Louis Blues up 3-2 in the series. For a quick recap, the Wild had a disappointing Game 1, came back for Games 2 and 3, and struggled in Games 4 and 5. Hopefully, they’ve gotten all of the struggles out of their system so they can go on and be successful in Game 6 to force Game 7.

While the Wild didn’t play horribly in Games 4 and 5, they have quite a bit to tighten up to be ready for Game 6. The one thing that could be both problematic and good at the same time is where they’ll be playing: on the road. It could be a problem because the crowd will not be on their side but it could also be good at the same time, as the Blues may feel added pressure to clinch the series on home ice. They’ll have to step up everything about their game and play the best they have all season to potentially get by the Blues.

Wild Need All-In Effort

In Game 5, their superstar Kirill Kaprizov showcased more of his scoring abilities as he scored both of the Wild’s goals and they were both on the power play. He was on another level compared to his teammates in regards to his two-way game. What made him so valuable, besides his scoring, was the way he played defensively. He wasn’t afraid to get into the corners and help out in whatever way he could.

Jordan Binnington St. Louis Blues Kirill Kaprizov Minnesota Wild
Colton Parayko and Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues defend the net against Kirill Kaprizov of the Minnesota Wild (Photo by Joe Puetz/Getty Images)

If the Wild want to win Game 6, everyone has to put in the same amount of effort as Kaprizov did in Game 5. They have to have that same level of desire to win that they’re willing to push themselves as hard as they can. That means everyone from Ryan Hartman all the way to the fourth line and their defense has to play the best they can. It has to be an all-in mentality and if they can raise their game to that intensity, they have a really good chance at forcing a Game 7.

Wild Need to Stay Out of the Box

It’s been a thorn in their side all series long, but they have to do everything in their power to stay out of the penalty box. The Blues have had way too much success on their power play to give them any kind of chance. With six power-play goals so far this series, it’s safe to say they’re a dangerous team when given an extra man. The Wild have done well in the last couple of games to limit the time they spend in the box but they have yet to avoid penalties altogether.

Related: Wild Start Out Strong but Can’t Close, Fall to Blues in Game 5

It’s pretty hard to go without a single penalty in a game, let alone a postseason game, but it’s a goal to strive for. However, when they do take penalties, they need their penalty kill to step up and kill it off. They can’t let a forward sneak behind their defense and get the upper hand on their goaltender. Plain and simple, they have to be better, as their past play in the series has not been good enough.

Wild Have to Win Faceoffs

Everyone knows the importance of winning faceoffs, and like almost everything else on the Wild’s stat sheet this season, it’s been up and down for them. This postseason, they’ve kept their faceoff percentage at nearly 50 percent or higher. The crazier part about that stat is their best faceoff percentage came in their worst game of the series, Game 1 where it seemed like they could do nothing right.

Dean Evason Minnesota Wild
Dean Evason, head coach of the Minnesota Wild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In Game 6, every faceoff is going to be crucial as each win nearly guarantees their possession of the puck. What they do with it after that, is all on them, but that first step in winning that faceoff can make all the difference. Even more importantly, they have to win every offensive zone draw they can, as that’ll give them more scoring chances. So they’ll need more out of Hartman, Frederick Gaudreau, Joel Eriksson Ek, and whoever centers the fourth line, which lately has been Tyson Jost.

Wild’s Final Issue

The last thing they need to address is their goaltending. Marc-André Fleury has done well for them but it may be time for him to take a rest. He has been in these situations before, but Cam Talbot has done well for them in high-pressure situations too and he was their starting goaltender the majority of the season and a big reason they got to the postseason. He’s earned at least one start and unfortunately for Fleury, he’s done well lately but he hasn’t been 100 percent and could use a night off.

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Most of the goals scored on Fleury were not his fault, but even he would understand the need for a change to the lineup when things aren’t going as expected, especially in the postseason when winning is everything. It’ll be interesting to see which goaltender the Wild decide to go with, but most would expect Talbot after Fleury’s had the previous five games. Regardless, to get the win, the team as a whole has to step up and support whoever may be in net.

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