Blowout victory doesn't change fact that Wild are up against it
ST. PAUL — The Wild broke the tension with their Game 3 blowout of the Winnipeg Jets, but simply staying relevant in the first round is no way to advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The pressure for Minnesota to win Game 4 at home Tuesday night is palpable.
Returning to Manitoba down three games to one is courting disaster. The Wild know it. Their fans know it. And so do the Jets, who would relish the opportunity to snuff their border rivals at raucous MTS Bell Centre.
Bury memories of Game 3's 6-2 victory in a snow bank. This series is still Winnipeg's to lose. The underdog Wild must win again just to hold serve at Xcel Energy Center and recalibrate the odds.
Complacency is poison.
"We're still in a desperate situation," coach Bruce Boudreau conceded Monday, April 16. "We lose tomorrow, we're still down 3-1 going into Winnipeg. It's not a question about feeling good about ourselves. We survived."
The Wild survived because they did not panic after goaltender Devan Dubnyk yielded a squishy goal before Game 3 was five minutes old. They bought time because their special teams were superb.
They matched Winnipeg's brute force and threw checks instead of just absorbing them, and their forwards powered through the neutral zone instead of coughing up the puck and chasing the Jets around the ice like they did the first two road games.
They attacked the net and went for the kill instead of protecting a one-goal lead, scoring three times in a 3:43 span in the second period to overwhelm the Jets, chase goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and turn a 3-2 game into a laugher.
All well and good, but count on the Jets to atone for their embarrassment. Game-day routines will be back in order after the weekend blizzard forced the team to lay over in Duluth, return to Winnipeg and fly into the Twin Cities on Sunday morning.
"We knew last night was a big one for us, but tomorrow's going to be even bigger," Wild captain Mikko Koivu said Monday. "In order to win, we've got to play a better game. They will, so we need to match that."
It was hardly a shock the Wild would respond the way they did in Game 3. They are notorious fair-weather competitors when it comes to postseason deficits. Six times Minnesota has lost the first two games of a series on the road. Five times they have responded with a Game 3 victory at the X, where the poised and confident Wild have only lost six games in regulation this season.
"We've been strong all year long at home, and we've been able to be consistent at home, so I believe we can do it again," Koivu said. "There's no secret to that."
Three games into this menacing series, there are no secrets. The teams have established their games. Boudreau can match lines as the home team coach with the benefit of the last change.
The hitting has been relentless. Grudges have been established. The Wild responded in Game 3 when it mattered.
"I think it's just a byproduct of playing better and skating," said winger Daniel Winnik. "We weren't as quick in on forechecks (in Winnipeg), and when you give guys too much time on breakouts, it's too hard to hit them. They have too much speed. When you're on top of guys, it's easier to finish them."
The loss of defenseman Ryan Suter on defense was debilitating, but not devastating. Not yet, anyway. Top pairing Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba have elevated their performances in the clutch, while rookie Nick Seeler is thriving on the grand stage.
So there is hope entering the pivotal game of the series. The Wild can make it 2-2 and pack momentum and confidence for their Game 5 trip to Winnipeg.
Lose and it becomes a funeral march.
"We have to understand that tomorrow's the exact same scenario as yesterday; we can't just be happy with last night," said Dubnyk. "We want to keep building because we want this series to go on and go deep, and for that to happen we have to be building our game so at the end of the series we're playing our best hockey."
With only two first-round series victories to show in the Suter-Zach Parise era, stagnation is weighing down the franchise. The Wild have a chance to hit the reset button Tuesday night.