NHL Playoffs: Down 3-0, Minnesota uses January rally as inspiration
ST. PAUL -- A few minutes after his team dropped a third straight game to the Chicago Blackhawks, coach Mike Yeo stood behind a wooden podium, dumbfounded by the nearly insurmountable deficit his club now faces.
ST. PAUL - A few minutes after his team dropped a third straight game to the Chicago Blackhawks, coach Mike Yeo stood behind a wooden podium, dumbfounded by the nearly insurmountable deficit his club now faces.
“I’ve never been here before,” Yeo said. He chuckled, perhaps thinking about his good fortune. “This is unfamiliar territory.”
Yet here the Wild are, staring at a 3-0 deficit in their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal against the mighty Chicago Blackhawks, needing four straight wins to advance.
When they take the ice for Game 4 Thursday night in St. Paul, their season will be on the line. A win and the Wild prolong the second-round series. A loss and their season is over.
Staring at elimination, the Wild said Wednesday they’ll draw from past experience. They’ll look back to mid-January, when they had lost six straight games and were closer to last place in the Western Conference than a playoff spot.
“We came back from the dead once before this season,” Yeo said. “And the only way we did that was with character and belief.”
But the troubling part for the Wild isn’t that they must learn to handle the situation, it’s the fact that they’re in this situation at all.
A month ago, they were the hottest team in the NHL, a group few wanted to face in the playoffs. A week ago, the Wild proved why that was the case, beating the Central Division champion St. Louis Blues in six games.
Afterward, they spoke of finally being prepared to take on the Blackhawks, the team that has eliminated the Wild the past two seasons. Instead, they are a loss from being swept, a word Yeo hardly wanted to acknowledge Wednesday.
“I hate that word,” Yeo said. “I’ve never been swept, and I don’t think our players have.”
The Wild used a remarkable second-half run to make the playoffs. By any metric, they were one of the league’s best teams, which makes this 0-3 deficit all the more frustrating.
“We can say that, but are we even supposed to be here?” Yeo said. “We had what, a five percent chance of making the playoffs? I’m not focused on that.”
The only focus, the Wild insist, can be on Game 4.
They’ve earned a reputation as a team that plays its best when the odds seem slimmest, like in mid-January. This, however, is a task that only four of 180 teams have overcome. Against a team that won Stanley Cups in 2010 and 2013, it may be too steep a challenge.
“I think when we were facing what we were facing in the middle of January, if we would’ve looked at the big picture, I think it would’ve probably seemed pretty daunting to come back,” center Kyle Brodziak said. “But I think the way we went about it was important. We just set everything else aside and took it one game at a time.
“When you sit back and you look at the big picture of everything, then you start thinking, you get the negative thoughts of how daunting a task it is. And if you’re able to find a way to keep your focus on one thing at a time, I think it makes it a little easier for everybody.”
The Wild are aware of how rare it is for any professional team to overcome the deficit they’re in - outside of the NHL, only the 2004 Boston Red Sox have managed it - so for now, they choose to take it a piece at a time.
“We’ve won more than three games in a row before,” goaltender Devan Dubnyk said. “This is a very tough opponent and experienced group, but you just chip away. That’s all you can do. We did that all year. It’s not a good situation, but it’s where we are right now.”
Even last season, before the Wild lost to the Blackhawks in a six-game second-round series, they used an impressive second-half turnaround to qualify for the playoffs. But their current task is even more daunting than the midseason struggles of the past two seasons.
“That’s what we need right now,” Yeo said. “The other part of that equation, the reason why we were able to make the playoffs when we weren’t supposed to make the playoffs, is we were able to look at it one game at a time, and that’s obviously what we have to do here, too.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service