Coming into the qualifying round, the talk was about the vast difference in playoff game experience between the Minnesota Wild and the Vancouver Canucks. Minnesota, a more veteran-laden roster, boasts more than 120 man-games of playoff game experience over Vancouver. Vancouver, led by more youthful players in Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson, don't have nearly the postseason experience.
The Canucks have depth and role players with some experience, like Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. As the teams prepare for Game 4, the Wild have a 2-1 deficit in a best-of-5 series, and face elimination from the postseason Friday night.
If that statement sounds familiar, it’s because this team has used it before. Going back to the 2014 Western Conference Quarterfinal match-up against the Colorado Avalanche, then-Wild head coach Mike Yeo prided over his team staving off elimination in the final three games of the series.
An old adage in playoff hockey says that eliminating a team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is one of the hardest things to do.
Not the Minnesota Wild.
Minnesota may have the upper hand in playoff game experience over the Canucks. But the only thing they have experienced in those extra games is losing. Over the last eight playoff series, the Minnesota Wild have lost six of the last 10 elimination games. The only times Minnesota extended a series while facing elimination since defeating the Colorado Avalanche in 2014 was Game 5 against the Dallas Stars in 2016 and Game 4 against the Blues in 2017. Going back farther, the Wild were not great against either the Anaheim Ducks or the Avalanche in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Each time, those series ended before going the full seven games.
The Wild were outscored 25-12 in those six elimination games. Three of those games ended with a one goal margin. However, Game 6 against the Dallas Stars is a bit deceiving. The Stars handled Minnesota for two periods. Dallas scored four goals before the Wild realized what was happening. Yes, Minnesota rallied in the third period to make it interesting. They scored four goals in the third period and were mere centimeters from tying the game. It doesn’t change the fact that the Wild barely came to play for the first 40 minutes of a game in which their “backs were against the wall.”
On Thursday, the Columbus Blue Jackets won Game 3 in thrilling fashion and have forced the Maple Leafs to the brink. Jack Adams Award candidate John Tortorella questioned the value of experience after the game.
Tortorella is really talking about naiveté. With a lack of experience, sometimes just being naive to the stakes of any individual game allows a team to focus on the task ahead and just win. The Canucks were caught off guard in Game 1 by the Wild. However, they've looked like the more experienced team since. Travis Green's team didn't panic after their Game 1 loss and instead figured out the Wild -- rattling off back-to-back wins by sacrificing their bodies to block shots and forcing Minnesota to the outside.
Game 4 is a chance for the Wild to correct course. They need to start doing the little things again, starting with getting the puck through to the net with traffic in front. Minnesota can ill-afford to mess around on the perimeter and have 22 of their shots blocked again. They cannot get involved with reaching because they’re not skating and taking ticky-tack penalties for stick infractions. They know the officials are calling everything. It’s time to adjust.
Other teams are difficult to put away. Minnesota has been anything but. Until this team can prove that things have indeed changed, there will continue to be a lack of faith among the Wild faithful. Experience is great when it can be leaned on in times of difficulty. But when that experience consists of losing, does the experience matter at all?
The Canucks couldn’t care less about the Wild’s history in the postseason until Minnesota can prove its different.
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