They were hoping all those power-play problems were left behind on the West Coast, but this they couldn’t shake: The two-game lead built by the Anaheim Ducks in this first-round Western Conference playoff series.
Marian Gaborik sensed his teammates were dragging a little, but Minnesota’s star forward insisted there would be no sluggishness for Game 3 on Sunday night.
“Everybody knows we need to win, and everybody is going to be ready,” said Gaborik, one of the few Wild skaters who have been able to generate scoring chances against the bruising Ducks. Gaborik has one goal, one assist and 10 shots on net.
Second-seeded Anaheim successfully dictated the pace and style of the first two games of the best-of-seven matchup, won 2-1 and 3-2 by the Ducks. The surface at Minnesota’s Xcel Energy Center is consistently faster than the ice at Honda Center, which is more difficult to keep cool and hard with warmer Southern California temperatures outside. Because of that, Wild coach Jacques Lemaire predicted a quicker Game 3.
“It should be faster,” Lemaire said. “If you have to buy a coffee, buy it early. Go to your seat. Get ready. Tie up your helmet. It’s coming.”
Though both clubs have made significant roster changes over the past four years, Minnesota’s previous post-season series was a four-game sweep by Anaheim in the 2003 Western Conference finals. The Wild know the Ducks aren’t about to let up.
“The mentality of our group is that we are not taking anything for granted,” coach Randy Carlyle said after Saturday’s practice in Anaheim. “The next game will be the toughest game. That’s our mandate.”
The Ducks tied for fifth in the NHL during the regular season on penalty kills, and Minnesota – which has struggled all season with the power play on the road – has found out why in this series.
The Wild are 0-for-10 with the man advantage, plus a short-handed goal given up to Ryan Getzlaf on Friday night. Lemaire has been disappointed with the decision-making by his team, but part of the problem is the opponent, too.
“Our guys have worked extremely hard at it,” Carlyle said, adding: “We want to keep the ball rolling.”
After getting pushed around in the opener, Minnesota played with more grit in Game 2 but fell into the trap of trading penalties with Anaheim. Leading goal scorer Brian Rolston, whose production dipped after the all-star break, has been having a hard time getting going. Same with Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Mark Parrish, who had 20 and 19 goals during the season, respectively.
“They’re getting chances, but they’re not quality chances,” Lemaire said. “They’re not enough chances. I’d like to get more, but you know what? We’re not giving a lot, either.”
Lemaire took the struggles even further, pinning some of it on what he called a concerted effort by the Ducks to obstruct Wild attackers in the offensive zone.
“Every time they can, even on our penalty killing, they try to step in front of our guys so they don’t get in position,” he said. “They do a lot of that, and I haven’t seen one call yet. I guess it’s all legal, but we didn’t see that many during the season.”
The crowd is sure to be loud Sunday, which can’t hurt Minnesota. Anaheim’s focus will be to play the same type of game that worked so well at home, with aggressive forechecking and hard-hitting defence.
“If we do that we’ll be successful,” defenceman Chris Pronger said.
Taking some time to relax will be important, too.
“Obviously on the road you have to be a little smarter – especially the first game where they are going to be really pumped to play at home,” Ducks forward Teemu Selanne said.