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USA TODAY Sports Minnesota right wing Nino Niederreiter, left, battles with Chicago center Michal Handzus during the third period of Game 5 during the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Sunday at the United Center in Chicago.

Wild on the brink against Hawks

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By Chad Graff

St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — There’s no good explanation, but there’s also no way around it.

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As the Wild enter their third elimination game of the postseason in Tuesday night’s Game 6 against the Chicago Blackhawks, it’s clear they’re not making it easy for themselves.

“We always seem to make things harder than it needs to be,” defenseman Ryan Suter said.

The Wild enter Tuesday’s 8 p.m. puck drop at the Xcel Energy Center trailing the series 3-2 after a 2-1 loss in Game 5 Sunday in Chicago. That sets up what is technically, their third must-win game of the playoffs — although that’s a little deceiving.

After falling behind Colorado and Chicago 2-0, the Wild didn’t have to win Game 3. And they didn’t have to win Game 4 to avoid falling behind 3-1 in each series. But, really, they did.

So that’s four more must-win games. So, far, they’ve won each time.

“I don’t know if that’s a good thing to do, but it seems throughout the year that’s kind of been the way we’ve gone about it, making things harder,” Suter said. “We’d be up three or four goals, then let the other team back in it. That’s how it’s been, that’s how it is now. (Tuesday) is do or die.”

It’s been a mental and physical grind for a relatively inexperienced Wild team that preps for its 13th playoff game in 29 days.

If the Wild lose, their season ends. If they win, they return to Chicago one more time for a winner-take-all Game 7 Thursday night.

“Game 6 is our Game 7 right now,” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said.

It’s hardly the first time the Wild have been in a must-win situation. With elimination on the line in Games 6 and 7 in the opening round against the Avalanche, the Wild strung together back-to-back wins, capping the series with an overtime victory in Game 7.

Now they’re tasked with completing the same feat against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

“That team over there has won,” Suter said. “They’ve been through this. This is all new for us.”

“This,” as Suter called it, is the mental and physical grind of the playoffs. On top of that is the pace of NHL playoff games, which ups the ante on an already fast, physical game.

By this point in the playoffs, it’s more likely a player is hurt than healthy, and most play on.

“Every single guy in (our) locker room, every single guy in their locker room, has issues right now,” Suter said. “But it’s a mental thing, and you have to overcome that if you want to win. That’s why it’s the hardest trophy to win in the world.

“It’s mental. I’m excited. I want to win. Everyone in that locker room, we keep pushing each other. There’s no time to be tired right now.”

Added Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya: “I think it’s just a matter of will and who wants to win the most — who’s fresher and who feels better.”

The Wild have been far and away the better team at home during two rounds of the playoffs, but after their 2-1 loss in Game 5, they’ve given a talented, experienced Chicago group two chances to close out the series.

“But that said, the beauty of it is we have a great opportunity,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “That’s the only thing we should be thinking about. We should be real excited about this opportunity, this challenge, and I believe our guys are.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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