Find all the clichés you want for this one.
It’s a must-win game (technically true, finally).
All the Minnesota Wild have to do is win one game right now.
No matter how you spin it, the Minnesota Wild are down 3-1 to a Winnipeg Jets team that will get a chance to close out the series on their home ice. The Wild must win Game 5 on Friday night across the border if they want to extend their season and bring the series back to St. Paul. And the Jets haven’t lost on home ice since February.
In personnel changes, forward Kyle Rau and defenseman Ryan Murphy are expected to make their playoff debuts for the Wild. Rau will be in for Tyler Ennis and playing with veteran Matt Cullen. The Eden Prairie native Rau has one assist in three games with the Wild this season. Murphy will play with defenseman Nate Prosser and replaces Carson Soucy.
Murphy has two goals and three assists in 21 games this season in a Wild sweater.
Rau and Murphy will be the fifth and sixth players for the Wild to make their playoff debuts in this series, joining Marcus Foligno, Jordan Greenway, Nick Seeler and Soucy.
The Wild put up six goals in Game 3 for a dominant win before being shut out 2-0 (empty net) in Game 4 to put themselves on the brink.
A 3-1 deficit isn’t anything new for the Wild, although it’s been a while since they’ve overcome such a mark. Their best postseason performance in franchise history is 2003, when the Wild came back twice from 3-1 deficits without home-ice advantage to win two playoff series before getting swept by Anaheim in the Western Conference finals. It was the first time in NHL history a team had erased 3-1 deficits twice in the same season. They beat Colorado and Vancouver in Game 7s.
Still, the Wild have gone quietly over the past five years in the first and second rounds to Chicago, Dallas and St. Louis. They’re 11-8 overall in elimination games. They’re 4-6 all-time in Game 5s. Last year’s game five was an overtime loss at home to St. Louis after the Wild fell behind 0-3 in the series.
Should the Wild come back and win the series, they would be just the 29th team in NHL history to do so after being down 3-1.
The glaring fingers all point toward three of the Wild’s supposed top forwards who don’t have points yet this series.
If Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker can’t get on the scoresheet, then it’s an extremely uphill battle or probably impossible for the Wild to win a playoff series. That’s not even taking into account that Zach Parise is out of the lineup for the foreseeable future with a fractured sternum.
For that matter, Eric Staal and Mikael Granlund could step up as well. Staal led the team with 42 goals this season tying a team record. There was a concern if he went a couple games without scoring or a game without a point. He’s won the Stanley Cup before and is a veteran player. But in this series, he has just a goal and an assist, both coming in the goal-filled Game 3. Granlund has a goal and two assists in the series.
Of course, credit to the Jets for the physical game they play and obviously looking to shut down the Wild’s best players. But still, the Wild need to find ways to score anyway – against Connor Hellebuyck, a Vezina Trophy finalist. Mikko Koivu leads the team in points with four assists, but he’s also failed to score.
The Jets have scored the first goal in all four games this series, which is another trend that will need to change if the Wild have a shot at victory. An early goal against could be devastating for the Wild bench from a mental standpoint. It’s cliché again, but the Wild need to get the first goal. The Jets were 37-4-6 when scoring first in the regular season.
Devan Dubnyk has been very sharp this series, especially in the first two games in Winnipeg that the Wild lost. His teammates need to help reward him with a solid offensive effort. He ranks first in the league this postseason with 142 shots against and second in saves with 132. He made 37 and 39 saves in the first two games in Winnipeg, setting career-high marks for postseason saves.
The Jets will not have defenseman Josh Morrissey on the ice. He’ll serve a one-game suspension after a cross-check to Staal’s neck during Game 4. No penalty was called, and Morrissey assisted on the Jets game-winning goal near the end of the first period. Defenseman Tyler Myers is likely back in after he sustained a lower-body injury in Game 3.
The puck drop is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. Friday.
Zach Parise – 1 game (fractured sternum)
Luke Kunin - out for the playoffs with an ACL tear in left knee
Ryan Suter – out for the playoffs with a right ankle fracture
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