PHT Morning Skate: Habs, Wild look to turn things around at home

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Tonight’s Game 3 match-ups in Montreal and St. Paul are vital ones for the host teams.

The Montreal Canadiens are trying to shake off the disappointment of their Game 2 loss in which they blew a 3-1 third period and gave up four unanswered goals on the way to a 5-3 loss to the Boston Bruins. Home ice advantage could come in handy for the Habs as the crowd at Bell Centre will surely be at fever pitch.

The Minnesota Wild are in a bit more of a predicament down 2-0 in the series to the Chicago Blackhawks. In spite of the losses, they feel like they’re right there with the defending champs. That may have been the case in Game 1, but Game 2 saw Chicago dominate.

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Game 3: Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins [Series tied 1-1] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Canadiens are hoping home ice can help them gain an advantage on the Bruins and after Bruins coach Claude Julien’s complaints about the lack of calls in Game 2 going his team’s way, looking for the officials to bend things more their way in Montreal is an interesting tactic.

Michel Therrien recognized what Julien was doing, however, and this is where home ice comes into play as Bell Centre can be one of the most intimidating places for players and officials alike to play in.

For the Habs, Thomas Vanek got things going with a pair of power play goals in Game 2, but the area they have to get better is 5-on-5. Four of the seven goals they’ve scored in the series have come on the power play whereas all eight of the Bruins’ goals have come at even strength.

Reilly Smith has been big in the first two games with two goals. Boston’s defensemen have been equally strong with Dougie Hamilton having two goals and Torey Krug and Johnny Boychuk with one each.

Game 3: Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks [Chicago leads series 2-0] (9:00 p.m. ET — CNBC)

The mission for the Wild seems simple. After getting run over by Patrick Kane in Game 1, they kept him quiet in Game 2… Only to see Marian Hossa have a big night setting teammates up with three assists. The guy who’s been killing them in both games is last season’s playoff stud in Bryan Bickell.

In two games, Bickell has three goals and two assists. After a regular season in which he had 15 points, having five in two games sounds like a major problem for Minnesota.

Another serious issues for the Wild comes from their star players being shut down. Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, and Mikko Koivu are struggling badly as the three have combined for two assists, both coming on Clayton Stoner’s goal in Game 1. With the series shifting to home ice for Minnesota, those players have to find ways to get free to create and generate opportunities.

People can talk about Ilya Bryzgalov’s goaltending issues all they want, but unless the offense helps out, the Wild are in trouble.

Bryzgalov remains ‘the guy’ in net for Wild heading into Game 3

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While Ilya Bryzgalov’s individual stats continue to look paltry on paper, many believe that he wasn’t at fault for many (if any) of the goals he’s allowed through two losses against the Chicago Blackhawks. Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo shares that sentiment … or at least he realizes that he doesn’t have much of a choice but to support Bryzgalov.

Following Sunday’s 4-1 Game 2 loss, Yeo emphatically named Bryzgalov as Minnesota’s Game 3 starter. In fact, he said that discussing it is basically a waste of time in general, as NHL.com reports.

“He’s in the net,” Yeo said. “We got to find a way to get a win and that’s all of us. That’s him, but our team too and I’m not going to sit around and wait for another option, for someone else to come in. This is the guy, so let’s quit even talking about it. We shouldn’t even be talking about who is backing up. [Bryzgalov] is the guy right now and so we have to find a way as a team and as a staff to get a win.”

As this post indicates, one way to get back into the series would be to find away for the big trio of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter to break free.

Whatever the case may be, it’s up to Yeo to find the answers and Bryzgalov & Co. to rise to the occasion to avoid a swift exit against the Blackhawks.

At least Yeo is doing whatever he can to avoid the distraction of a goalie controversy. Then again, the Wild are probably accustomed to unrest considering their luck with netminders this season.

Here’s video of Yeo’s press conference:

Blackhawks continue to foil Parise, Suter and Koivu in the playoffs

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For all the talk about Sidney Crosby and Rick Nash chasing that first playoff goal, the most worrisome slump might revolve around the Minnesota Wild’s big names being unable to solve the Chicago Blackhawks. Simply put, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter have had an awful time against the ‘Hawks in seven playoff games over two postseason series.

The good news is that they still have some time to figure things out, but so far, they seem downright baffled. Sunday’s 4-1 Game 2 loss may represent a new low for the Minnesota trio, too; they failed to score a point and combined for a -8 rating.

Parise, 29, is the only one of the three to even score a point against Chicago over those seven games. He generated an assist in Game 1 and scored one goal in Minnesota’s 4-1 series loss to Chicago in 2013.

MORE: Wild coach says his team is just a “play or two away.”

In case you’re curious, here’s a breakdown of how all three have fared in the two series against Chicago, with the obvious note being that they have plenty of time to redeem themselves as things shift to Minnesota:

Parise in 2013-14: one assist, -3 rating, nine shots on goal in two games against Chicago; In seven games against Colorado, Parise had a point in every game (three goals, eight assists for 11 points in that series).
Parise in 2012-13: one goal, -7 rating, 17 SOG in five games against Chicago.

Koivu in 2013-14: zero points, -3 rating, five SOG; Koivu had six points (one goal, five assists) against Colorado.
Koivu in 2012-13: zero points, -6 rating, 11 SOG in five GP

Suter in 2013-14: zero points, -5 rating, four SOG … 27:25 TOI in Game 2 and only 25:22 TOI in Game 1; Suter had four points in Minnesota’s series against Colorado and generally logged his usual heavy minutes
Suter in 2012-13: zero points, -5 rating, five SOG in five GP

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It’s really important to note that these lousy-looking numbers came in a very small sample size with five against the Presidents’ Trophy and Stanley Cup-winning team from last season and two against a championship contender this season. If anything, Chicago deserves as much credit as Minnesota’s biggest names inspire concern.

Still, with all of those caveats aside, it’s clear that things aren’t going well for Minnesota’s leaders (especially Koivu and Suter, as Parise’s shot totals at least imply that he could be more productive with better bounces).

The question is: what needs to be done to get them back on track? Will a change of scenery do the trick? Should head coach Mike Yeo consider shifting lines to try to avoid the likes of Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa or is it just a matter of the Wild’s big names digging deep?

That’s up to debate, but if Minnesota doesn’t find an answer soon, it could be another short series.

Wild coach: ‘We’re a play or two away’

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If you just look at the scores of Game 1 and 2, it looks like the Chicago Blackhawks have been blowing the Minnesota Wild out. Late goals still count, but it’s worth mentioning that Minnesota was close for chunks of both of those contests.

Wild head coach Mike Yeo certainly seem to back up the notion that the gap between the Blackhawks and Wild hasn’t been as large as the cumulative 9-3 score and 2-0 series lead for Chicago might indicate.

“We weren’t that far off, that game was hanging there for us,” Yeo said. ” … One of these games we need to find a way to grab a lead and play with it.”

Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville maintained that there are “no easy series” and pointed out how loud it’s likely to be in Minnesota as the series switches locales in Games 3 and 4.

If the Wild really want a bright side to look on, perhaps they should ponder how much rosier things could be if the likes of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter can start scoring points against the Blackhawks. That’s been easier said than done in 2014 (not to mention in losing in five games in a 2013 playoff series), however:

One way or another, the Wild need to break through. Yeo seems optimistic about the chances of that happening, at least.

PHT Morning Skate: Rangers-Pens, ‘Hawks-Wild start it up

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There’s no rest for the weary in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Two of the four teams playing tonight got their pass to the second round on Wednesday night after Game 7 wins. The New York Rangers slipped past the Philadelphia Flyers and are rewarded with a trip to the other side of Pennsylvania to face the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Out West, the Minnesota Wild needed overtime to dispose of the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 and now they head east for a date with the Chicago Blackhawks for the second consecutive season. This time around it’s in a later round of the playoffs and, oh yeah, they may not have their top goalie of the postseason. No one said the playoffs were easy.

Game 1: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Penguins getting by the Columbus Blue Jackets in six games ended up working out just fine for the team to get a little bit of rest heading into the second round. With the added time off, it gives Marc-Andre Fleury an opportunity to reset himself after a series that was a bit more exciting than he’d like.

While the schedule for this series is a bit unkind, the Penguins have to be wary of the team that’s still rolling in game mode. It might seem like the Rangers are coming in tired, but the way this schedule works out it’s no different than how tight the regular season schedule was.

Each team is 2-1-1 against the other this season and there’s pressure on guys on both sides.

For the Rangers it’s on Rick Nash to pick things up. Nash had no goals and four assists against the Flyers and getting him to pot a goal in this series would get a big monkey off his back. In 23 career playoff games he has just two goals.

You could say there’s pressure on Sidney Crosby to score, but with how he’s played in the postseason it’s just a matter of time. The focus, instead, is on Fleury. There’s always pressure on goalies in the postseason, but with him it’s at a higher level. That may not be fair, but it’s just how it is.

Game 1: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild (9:30 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

Perhaps the most curious stat between these two teams this season is the head-to-head record. Minnesota went 3-1-1 against Chicago this season and despite the difference in record, the final three games they played were one-goal games.

Of course in the playoffs you can throw out what happened in the regular season as situations have changed. The Wild may be down three goalies as this round starts as Darcy Kuemper left Game 7 against Colorado with an injury. They’re already without Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding and that puts Ilya Bryzgalov firmly in the spotlight if Kuemper can’t go.

Facing a Blackhawks team that found their mojo beating the St. Louis Blues in six games with your No. 4 goalie doesn’t sound like a plan for success. Chicago got great performances from all their top players. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Marian Hossa were all at their best against the Blues and if that continues into this round, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin will have their hands full.

The pressure of containing all those guys shifts to the forwards as well meaning Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise’s ability to defend will be tested. The Wild will need to see more out of Jason Pominville and hope rookies Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle continue to do what they showed against the Avalanche.