ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Patrick Roy has shown all sorts of patience with his youthful squad this season.
That certainly won’t waver now just because the Colorado Avalanche are in an offensive slump.
“This is a learning process,” the coach said Friday. “I’m not going to throw them under the bus because I’m their partner. Been with them all year long and I trust our team.”
The Minnesota Wild have outshot the Avalanche 78-34 in the last two games to tie the first-round series at two-apiece heading into Game 5 at Pepsi Center on Saturday night.
Roy does take some comfort in the fact that home teams in the Western Conference playoffs are a combined 15-1 so far.
“But there are things we could do better,” he said.
Chief among them, more production, especially on a power play that’s scored just once in 15 chances. The Wild have actually found a way to slow down the high-flying Avalanche by clogging up the neutral zone and making it hard to get quality shots in the offensive end.
For that, Roy finds himself guilty. All season long, he’s preached shooting the puck with a purpose.
In playoff hockey, though, sometimes shooting with a rebound or a lucky bounce in mind works just as well.
“So we just need to change a little bit, fine-tune a few things here and there,” Roy said.
The only thing keeping the Avalanche in these last two road games has been the play of Semyon Varlamov, who seems to be getting better with every shot he faces.
“That’s your job—stop the puck,” said Varlamov, one of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy. “Doesn’t matter how many shots—15 or 45. We knew it was not going to be an easy series for us.”
Wild coach Mike Yeo’s biggest piece of advice for his team is rather simple: No assumptions.
Sure, they started out well in Game 3 and again on Thursday. But this will be an entirely different scenario, especially returning to a raucous crowd.
“Don’t go in there with the expectation that we’re just going to be able to pick up where we left off,” Yeo said. “Make it happen with the little things, with the way that we play, with the way that we execute. Let’s go in there and obviously we have to expect a hard push from them.
“I look every day and the NHL’s announcing award winners and every day there’s a Colorado Avalanche player that’s part of those nominees. It helps to remind us that we’re playing a very skilled group and with that, I think that should help sharpen our focus.”
Forward Matt Duchene glided around the ice Friday morning, lining shot after well-placed shot into the net. The Avs certainly could use the offensive flair of their leading scorer.
Only, Duchene’s not quite ready to return from a knee injury. Not for Game 5 anyway.
“Is he going to play in this series? We’re not sure yet,” Roy said. “We’ll see.”
Mikael Granlund is having quite a series for the Wild, sacrificing his body, too. The Game 3 star with his nifty OT goal made quite an impact in the waning seconds Thursday as well, blocking several shots even after losing his stick.
“Unbelievable,” said goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who’s surrendered just one goal since taking over for Ilya Bryzgalov. “When you see a skilled guy like that lay it all out and put his body on the line, everybody feeds off that.”
Kuemper’s play in net has definitely given the Wild a burst of energy. He’s stopped pretty much everything that’s been thrown his way.
Although, it hasn’t been a lot.
“We’re certainly not executing the way we should be and certainly makes them look a lot better,” Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “We’re still not testing this goalie enough.”
As for momentum, it’s clearly swung to the side of the Wild, who are without suspended left wing Matt Cooke for a second game after his knee-on-knee hit knocked Avs defenceman Tyson Barrie out for at least a month.
“We’ve just got to stay on the pedal here and continue this push,” Kuemper said.
The Avs are banking that being back in their building will be an advantage.
“As a group we’ve been resilient all year,” Avs defenceman Erik Johnson said. “We’ve had no fear all season long and there’s no reason for us to have it now.”
AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell in St. Paul, Minn., contributed.