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Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene

Souhan blog: Wild one loss from season's end

Could it end this quickly?

Could the team that put together three months of excellence and dominated its first-round playoff series get swept, and see its season end at home on Thursday?

The Minnesota Wild lost, 1-0, and excruciatingly, to the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center. Chicago leads the series, 3-0, the close score on Tuesday only heightened the Wild's frustration.

This is the highest-scoring Wild team in history, but it has failed to solve Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, thought to be his team's weak link entering this series.

Other than a three-goal flurry in Game 1, the Wild has too often failed to stuff in available rebounds, too often shot wide while facing open net.

Tuesday, it was a familiar story for the Wild: Minnesota skaters put more shots on net and often dominated the flow of play, but while Wild players often threw the puck toward the net, Chicago's stars displayed precision.

The difference in this game was that when the puck wound up on Patrick Kane's stick, he scored cleanly, through the legs of Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk. That was all it took to bring the Wild's season to the brink.

Only four teams in the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs - covering 178 series -  have rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to win.

Tuesday, Thomas Vanek did not distinguish himself. He often pulled up just inside the blue line with the puck, ignoring open ice and turning his back on breaking teammates. When the puck was in the defensive zone, he often hung out near mid-ice, hoping for a breakout pass.

The Wild took 30 shots and scored on none of them. Solving Crawford will be their goal on Thursday night in St. Paul, when the Wild tries to send the series back to Chicago.

Souhan blog: Yeo breaks down Game 2

Chicago

Nice to see Erik Haula not only in the lineup, but dressing in an actual locker today. No longer is he sitting under the occupancy sign and in front of a brick wall.

Haula will bring speed to the Wild's lineup, and I'm guessing that if Mike Yeo was willing to pick him to replace the injured Justin Fontaine, that Haula's conditioning and practice intensity have improved of late.

Sometimes Wild coach Mike Yeo is very forthcoming about the way the game is played, and I loved the way he broke down the Wild's philosophy when attacking the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks are excellent at breaking out after blocked shots or rebounds. So how does the Wild adapt to that?

Here's Yeo at length on the subject from this morning:

``One, you have to make sure that when you have an oportunity to shoot the puck you’re getting it off quickly. Especially their defensemen, they like to front a lot of shots, which leads to a lt of blocks, and obviously those blocks they’re in a pretty good structure and position where they can coutner attack from that.

It’s the recognition. We still have to shoot pucks. It’s not like we can all of s sudden be afraid to shoot pucks, we have to make sure we’re getting pucks there and if we do get it by then then quite often we’ve seen a few pictures already where we’re in behind them and we’re all alone with the goalie where we can create an advantage if we get it off a little bit quicker and do get it to the net.

``If that’s not there the recognition of making sure we’re not forcing it, that’s actually how we scored our first goal of the game, we didn’t’ have a play to the net and their defensemen were coming up, we were able to get that puck down low and establish some puck control from there.''

Yeo was also asked about the closeness of many of his players.

Yeo: ``Obviously as a coach you try to learn as much as you can what builds teams. Certainly we try to do anything we can as far as the team0-building. First and foremost it’s about bringing eh right people into your organization. But nothing builds a team the way that winning does. As we’ve started to win some more games, players start to recognize and they look across the lockerroom and see a guy who is doing everything he can to help you and your cause, those are the things that build a team for sure. We’ve got good people and we’ve got good people pulling for each other.''

I also liked his answer to a question about Matt Dumba's enthusiasm. Dumba has been full of life during practices here.

Yeo: ``I think that’s a really really important quality. Quite often there’s such emotion and with emotion comes tension and obviously frustration at times, at the complete other end of the spectrum. The ability to enjoy what we’re in right now, to me that’s crucial, and obviously we all have big plans of what we’d like to do here, but the bottom line is you have to enjoy what you’re doing ,and you have to enjoy the competition and you have to enjoy the hard parts. It’s something that we try to stress – that’s what makes it great right now. Enjoy the pressures and enjoy  the difficulties and the battles through the course of the game, because in the game overcoming that stuff is what makes it so great.

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When the Twins started 1-6, guess what? Fans were angry, because this felt like the same ol' mediocre team.

Since then, the Twins are 11-6 even without their two primary free agent signees the last two seasons, Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco.

Paul Molitor should be commended for providing calm when this team needed it. Players are raving about his demeanor. I also think Torii Hunter's ability to remain positive while he and the team were struggling has played a role.

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On SouhanUnfiltered.com, Michael Russo and I previewed the series in our last podcast. Next one: 2 p.m. Tuesday at The Liffey, across from the Xcel Energy Center, with Wild owner Craig Leipold. Free Guinnesses and prizes to people who show up.

@Souhanstrib

               

12:10 PM
Oakland 12-17
Minnesota 15-13

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