The good news is the folks inside the Wild locker room seemed a lot less uptight than coach Bruce Boudreau, who was as gritty as ever during his brief time spent with the media this morning.
The Wild hopes to begin the path toward becoming the fifth team in NHL history to rally back and win a series after being down 3-0.
“We have a positive group here,” defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. “We believe it ourselves, and obviously it’s a big game for us. Right off the bat is going to be huge for us and playing our game right from the start.”
The Columbus Blue Jackets avoided being swept last night at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Wild has been down 0-3 three previous occasions. Twice it was swept, once it extended the series to five games.
The Blues ultimately won all seven playoff series in the past that they had a 3-0 series’ lead. The Wild’s 2-11 in its past 13 playoff games and has lost eight of its past 10 games against the Blues. The Blues have not trailed at any point during the series (197 minutes, 48 seconds) and have had the lead for 103:51 (52.5 percent).
So, the goal tonight is to actually put more than a few past Jake Allen, who has stopped 114 of 117 shots in the series (.974 save percentage) and is the first Blues goalie in history to over a playoff campaign with three straight games of allowing one goal or fewer (0.91 goals-against average).
The Wild will be without forward Erik Haula tonight. He was initially injured in Game 2 and tried to gut through what ails him in Game 3.
Also, Darcy Kuemper, I hear, is sick, meaning Alex Stalock will back up Devan Dubnyk (six goals allowed in three games) tonight.
Jordan Schroeder and Christian Folin appear to be the scratches tonight.
Optional skate, so no line rushes, but in yesterday’s practice it was Charlie Coyle-Eric Staal-Mikael Granlund; Nino Niederreiter-Mikko Koivu-Zach Parise; Jason Zucker-Martin Hanzal-Jason Pominville; Chris Stewart-Joel Eriksson Ek-Ryan White.
“Like I told the guys yesterday, we only worked on the power play, so I didn't change anything,” said Boudreau.
If changed, it’s the first time since Nov. 25 slumping Koivu and Granlund are separated.
Koivu has no goals in the past 20 games (that fluke goal from outside the blue line in the final seconds March 7 against St. Louis) and two in his past 33. Granlund has one goal and three assists in the past 13 games and no multi-point games in his past 18. Remember, he led the Wild with 15 multi-point games.
Coach Mike Yeo said no lineup changes for St. Louis, meaning Paul Stastny is out and Alex Steen, even though he has been bothered by a foot injury, will play.
Other tidbits: Jaden Schwartz has game-winning goals in the past two games. Vladimir Tarasenko has no goals and two assists in the series. Defensemen Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko have as many goals (three) as the Wild has in the series. Parise leads the Wild with two goals, Coyle has one. Staal is looking for his first playoff goal since 2009. Defenseman Ryan Suter has five penalties, two assists and is minus-2 in the series.
Boudreau on the game: “It’s a late game, but it's a late game for both teams. Just trying to find ways to break up the day and I think as they did, 12:30 skate is about as good as you're going to get to break up the day and try to make it as normal as you can because it's hard to believe, but an hour and a half, it seems like it lasts forever.”
Boudreau on Martin Hanzal’s game: “I think he's been good. I don't know what you guys are looking for. I don't know why you pick on him. ... Why throw his name out there? He's been good. He's done his job. Third-line center. He's been really solid. Penalty killing, faceoffs. He's done exactly what we've wanted him to do.”
On if he'd like Hanzal back: “That's up to him. But I mean, he could play on my team anytime.”
Obviously, for Hanzal to come back, the Wild would need to be able to afford him, and it has some big RFA’s to re-sign in Granlund and Niederreiter, so it would still seem difficult unless significant money is freed up.
Yeo said the Blues will treat tonight the “same way we've approached the other games. We're not fools, we know what's at stake here, but we come into this game, we're not focused on that, we're focused on our opponent, on expecting a very, very strong game from them, the same way we have every other game. Expecting a hard game and then the preparation of what we need to make sure we're on top of our game. That's our mindset right now. And then what you do is make sure you have the confidence and belief that you do the right things and you'll get rewarded.”
On potential Wild lineup changes, Yeo said, “We always pay attention. To think that they hadn't made changes up until this point isn't fair to them and unfair to us for the way we reacted. It's playoff hockey, it's probably a bit of a bigger story coming into this one. They've made some changes personnel wise in some of the things they're trying to do and we just have to make sure we stay on top of that. We've said it from the start, we're trying to make changes as well. We're trying to grow our game. We're not completely satisfied with where we're at. We think that there's another level to us in terms of, I think we've defended well, but we can definitely get on the attack more. I think we saw that in the first period, we grabbed the lead and kind of sat back a little more. When we're physical, there's certainly a different approach to our game. Both teams are doing the same thing, they're trying to get better from one game to the next, and it will be no different tonight.”
The Blues are 25-8-2 under Yeo, and remember, when an emotional Doug Armstrong fired Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1, the GM threw his players under the bus and called them “independent contractors.”
I asked Yeo what changed since and what he was thinking when sitting next to Armstrong he heard those words: “I don't even know if I necessarily heard what Army was saying. My head was still spinning at that time. We went through a difficult time and quite often, it's easy to look at that time and say, that's what you are, but how you come out of it is really the determining factor of who you are and our guys showed that. I think there was a couple times; there's that time we were tested, there was a time that there was a lot of question marks about our group as far as the direction that we were going when we traded Shatty (Kevin Shattenkirk), I think maybe there was some people that thought we were going to pack it in or look to the future or whatever the case may be, our group did not let that happen. This is a group that's won a lot. This is a group they haven't got a Stanley Cup but you look at going to the Western Conference finals last year, the success they've had over the last six years, there's a lot of pride, there's a lot of good hockey players, there's a lot of character over there so we knew we weren't far away.
“I can't put my finger on one thing [on why things changed]. We hit rock bottom, and we had to get better. What happened when we were doing that, we got better together, and the guys, just fully committed to each other, to the type of game we wanted to play, and then once that happens, you get a belief that's very strong, that's where we're at.”
The Blues are loose and confident.
“If we play the way we've been playing, if we play our game we feel like we can continue to win,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “It sounds simple. At the same time, we've got a team on the ropes and we've got to make sure we take advantage of that- and expect their best game.”
I’ll be on SiriusXM at 2:15 p.m., TSN 1290 in Winnipeg at 4:15 and KFAN at 5:35 p.m.