Hockey / Sports

Wild players know they need to get to work

CHICAGO -- The Minnesota Wild outshot, outchanced and outhit the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 on Friday night, but afterward, the score read, "5-2 Blackhawks," and Mike Yeo proceeded to scold his players without naming names, saying too many were "below-average" and not at the level needed when facing the defending Stanley Cup champs.

One day later, after the Wild practiced Saturday at the United Center, the coach was a lot calmer and even admitted he was mostly doing a little manufactured postgame coaching, so to speak.

Yeo has got a great memory. In Game 1 last postseason against the Blackhawks, the Wild played well enough to win, lost in overtime and got smoked in Game 2. Most recently, in the first round against the Colorado Avalanche, the Wild played well enough to win Game 1, threw it away during a late-game meltdown and then wasn't good enough to win Game 2.

Yeo believes the Blackhawks will be better during Sunday's Game 2 matinee. So the Wild better do the same, and that means being better on special teams, hitting the net and always being aware when Blackhawks star Patrick Kane hits the ice.

"We played a good game last game, but we didn't play a great game," Yeo said Saturday. "The little things that were missing, there was just a very small dip in some of the little things -- stick on puck, net front screens, whether it's a shot block that end up being the difference. Knowing who we're playing against and the level of team that they are, we're not going to get away with playing good games."

The Blackhawks held an off-ice workout Saturday rather than practice, and coach Joel Quenneville and a handful of players all said the Wild outplayed Chicago.

Defenseman Johnny Oduya even went as far as to say, "We got away with one. We're not going to do that again this series."

The Wild pinned Chicago in its end for most the second period, outshooting the Blackhawks 17-3 and missing the net another 11 times. While the latter's not a positive stat, it provides further evidence of the Wild's territorial advantage and edge in scoring chances.

"They outworked us. That's the bottom line," said Oduya.

Added captain Jonathan Toews, "I think we almost fed them that confidence that they could win that game with our own sloppy play. We weren't happy with the way we played. We made a lot of mistakes that were unnecessary. I think it just comes down to making sure that we've got that work ethic and that we've got that energy and that high pace we always talk about and other things will fall into place and make things harder on them.

"I think they gained that momentum, gained that energy that they wanted off our poor play in a way. We'll try and be better in that regards (Sunday)."

Yeo wants everybody engaged. Defenseman Jonas Brodin particularly struggled, halting momentum twice with ill-timed, careless high-sticking penalties. In the sin bin for six minutes, Brodin cost the Wild two power-play goals.

By contrast, the Wild's power play went 0 for 3 and is now 0 for 20 in the postseason against the Chicago the past two years.

"They've got a really good penalty kill," said Zach Parise, who leads the NHL with 11 points. "They're patient. A lot of teams are really aggressive and they're not. They give you those shots from the sides, shots from the flank and they just try to get in the shooting lanes, so it's hard to get it through.

"I think for us, we can't allow it to frustrate us and we can't just start blasting pucks and getting frustrated. You still have to make the play when it's there. But we've got to get it to the net one way or the other."

The fact the Blackhawks are always in shooting lanes is partially the reason the Wild missed 18 nets (four by Jason Pominville), 11 in the second period. Also, maybe Corey Crawford is in Minnesota's head. The goalie has allowed the Wild nine goals in six playoff games dating to last year.

"They front the puck really well, just about as good as any team in the league," Parise said.

The Wild also must do a better job being aware when Kane is on the ice. He was invisible in the first two periods Friday, then emerged like all great game-breakers do after the Wild tied the score in the third period.

Besides scoring a highlight-reel winning goal, he lost defenseman Nate Prosser in the final minutes for the back-breaking goal.

"We've got to play him more physical and have a tighter gap, but we just have to be more aware of who we're up against, too," Prosser said.

The Wild's goal when it came to Chicago was to get at least a split. The Wild still has that opportunity Sunday against a Blackhawks team that has won 15 of its past 17 home games, including five in a row.

"We said all last series we've got to get the road win," Parise said, smiling. "Hopefully we can get that (Sunday)."

(c)2014 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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