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Are Blackhawks in Wild’s heads?

By Chad Graff

St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — Mike Yeo has notes from every game he’s coached with the Minnesota Wild over the past three seasons.

Ranging in length from multiple pages to a couple of lines, they provide details for him to dissect the next time his team runs into an opponent: adjustments made, tactics that changed and ratings of each player.

When Yeo reviewed his notes from last year’s first-round playoff series, which the Wild lost in five games to the Chicago Blackhawks, he said he was reminded of how much better his team is playing this time around.

As the Wild prepared for Game 3 on Tuesday night at the Xcel Energy Center, they remained defiantly confident despite three-goal losses —  5-2 Friday, 4-1 Sunday — to open the second-round series.

“I think this year and last year are completely different,” winger Dany Heatley said. “We have a different group in here. You guys can run whatever numbers you want, but I think we believe we can beat this team, and it starts (Tuesday).”

The Wild feel as if they played well in the first two games — and they are quick to point out they turned things around after losing the first two games in their opening-round series against Colorado.

“It’s not like they’re killing us out there,” defenseman Clayton Stoner said.

“They’re capitalizing on their chances, and we’re not. I think the belief in the room is very strong. As much as we respect them, I don’t think we think they’re a better team.”

Still, this fact remains: The Wild have lost six of seven playoff games against the Blackhawks over the past 53 weeks. And they scored more than two goals only once, in their only victory, 3-2 in overtime in Game 3 last May.

“Yeah, that can wear on you, I think,” winger Charlie Coyle said of the Wild’s struggles against the Blackhawks.

The Wild entered this series playing some of their best hockey of the season, fresh off the franchise’s first playoff series win in 11 years after rallying past the Central Division champion Avalanche in seven games.

But the momentum of that series victory is gone now.

“You get so high up after that Game 7 win and you feel great,” Coyle said. “You go to Chicago, and I don’t know if we just kind of went through the motions or what after such a high. You lose Game (2) and all of a sudden it feels like it’s the end of the world again. We’ve got to get back to staying on that even keel and not getting too high or too low. We’ve got to put those games behind us.”

Home ice has been good to the Wild lately. They were 3-0 at Xcel against Colorado, and hosting Games 3 and 4 gives them the last line change for the first time in this series, meaning Yeo can keep Zach Parise away from shutdown forward Jonathan Toews if he chooses.

But Yeo remained steadfast Monday that, regardless of line matchups, the Wild are playing better this year and that they had a chance to win both games.

“I felt like these last two games were different from last year,” Yeo said. “I spent a lot of time going over my notes from last year and looking at stats, and I think, statistically, it shows that it’s been different. I don’t feel like we’ve played our two best games by any means, but I look at puck possession this year compared to last year and I see a big difference. Scoring-chance-wise, same thing. Where I felt we were outplayed last year, I feel like these have been pretty even games.”

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