The Minnesota Wild are desperate for offense yet determined to stick with what they’ve been doing against the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup First Round.
They have lost three games in a row, have scored four goals in four games and face elimination in Game 5 of the best-of-7 series at T-Mobile Arena on Monday (10:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN1, TVAS, ATTSN-RM, BSN+).
“We can’t say to the guys, like, ‘We’re OK,’ ” coach Dean Evason said Sunday. “We’re not OK. I mean, we’re down 3-1, so we’re not OK. We have to have desperation in our game. It’s not where we want to be, but we are there, so there’s nothing we can do about it now. We’re in this spot, and it’s the type of game that you have to clearly be desperate in.
“I think we’ve played desperate hockey up to this point, but we need it even greater in tomorrow night’s game, and it starts with the drop of the puck. First, we have to believe that we’re going to score some goals.”
The Wild scored 3.21 goals per game in the regular season, tied for eighth in the NHL with the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. They scored 2.88 goals per game against the Golden Knights while going 5-1-2 against them.
Forward Kirill Kaprizov led NHL rookies and the Wild in goals (27) and points (51) in the regular season, and he led the Wild in goals (six) and points (eight) against Vegas. Forward Kevin Fiala ranked second on Minnesota in goals (20) and points (40); he had five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games against Vegas.
But that success hasn’t translated to the playoffs. Kaprizov has one assist in the series. Fiala has no points and was so frustrated at one point in Game 4 that he broke his stick on the Vegas net.
Meanwhile, the power play has continued to struggle. After converting at 17.6 percent in the regular season, tied for 23rd in the NHL with the Nashville Predators, it has gone 0-for-8 in the series.
Asked about Kaprizov, Evason said: “We just have to continue to push as a group to get those opportunities. Kirill is no different. He’s not backing down from anything. He hasn’t, he won’t, and I don’t think he ever will. He’ll just keep sticking his nose in there until he gets that opportunity. He’s pushing hard. He’s physical, as they’re being physical on him, and what we’ve seen from him and his desire and his will, you know, we believe will come through tomorrow night.”
The Wild feel they are doing the right things but haven’t gotten the breaks. They have had two goals disallowed in two games on coach’s challenges, one for offside, one for goalie interference.
“If you look at any stats and look at the chances from last game, we generated a ton, and we didn’t give up a whole lot,” Evason said. “So that is encouraging for us with the group. We’ll look at our chances as a group with the team and show them that we are doing the right things, we are getting to that right area, we are putting pucks to areas where we can gain that bounce and that break, and it just hasn’t quite come yet, and that’s our belief.”
Wild captain Jared Spurgeon echoed Evason.
“Playoffs is a different game, but at the same time, we had chances to score,” said Spurgeon, a defenseman. “We just didn’t bury them, where in the past we were scoring those goals. But we still have that belief in the room. We can’t be frustrated, because once that creeps in, it starts to go the other way. In that room everyone believes that we can do what we’ve been doing during the regular season and get the momentum going our way. “
Evason inserted forwards Zach Parise and Kyle Rau in Game 4, replacing Marcus Johansson (broken arm) and Nick Bjugstad (healthy scratch). He also shuffled the lines. Asked if the Wild had lineup changes planned for Game 5, he said: “Yeah. We’ve got some thoughts, for sure. But you know, we’re not ready to hammer those out yet.”
He did not give specifics when asked about injuries, saying, “We always got bumps and bruises, obviously, at this time of year, as you know. Our series is extremely physical, so we’ve got some banged-up guys, there’s no question about that. But guys are resilient and tough and will play through it if they can.”
In general, the Wild likely will go with what has gotten them to this point.
“You want to have that consistency, right?” Evason said. “We’ve got a real good idea clearly of what works for our hockey club. You don’t go through a regular season and have some success as we did without having that chemistry build up through your lines and your pairs and ultimately through your team, so what we did in the regular season, you’ll probably see that.”