Moments of greatness. Awful effort. Pure ugliness. Wild fans were subjected to all this and more in the first three games of their team’s playoff series with the Colorado Avalanche.
The Wild took control of the first game at Colorado, building a 4-2 lead and looking pretty good doing it. Eventually, though, they descended into a defensive shell and started turning pucks over. The Avalanche took advantage, getting back into it and winning in overtime 5-4.
In game two the Wild’s work ethic was purely lackluster. They were embarrassingly, and atypically, reaching for pucks instead of attacking. They redeemed themselves slightly in game three, their first on home ice at the Xcel Energy Center, all but dominating Colorado for 65+ minutes en route to a 1-0 overtime victory.
So far in the series second-year player Charlie Coyle has looked like he belongs in the NHL, scoring two goals in Colorado and playing hard the rest of the way. He’s come into his own as a big, talented, strong forward that plays a physical game. The way he wins puck battles and plays in the “dirty” areas of the offensive zone are impressive.
Another standout player has been rookie center Erik Haula, who has proven that the speed and skill he displayed at the University of Minnesota translates well into the NHL. He’s even been promoted to third line after the re-placement of Mikael Granlund to the second.
Speaking of Granlund, he has found his game after looking completely outmatched last season in his brief stay with the big club. His awareness and fast, smart play shows why he is the player that he was billed to be. In overtime of game three he took over, making a great move to the front of the net to score the winning goal.
In the first two games the Wild failed to control the speed of rookie star Nathan McKinnon and the first line of the Avalanche. During the team’s lackluster second game performance captain Mikko Koivu half-heartedly got out in front of McKinnon on the rush in the neutral zone, leading to Colorado’s second goal. It was bad.
The Wild also lost Matt Cooke for seven games after his knee-to-knee hit to Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie. It’ll be tough on the team because he is one of their best penalty killers. If they don’t adapt it could mean very bad news.
I’m not one to harp on officiating…ok well maybe I am. As I predicted so far in the series it has been questionable at best.
In game one the Wild were whistled for intentionally knocking the net off, an infraction which is rarely ever called. To add insult to injury later in the game the officials didn't call it on Colorado when their player obviously made no attempt to clear the net. They also moved the face-off outside of the Wild’s offensive zone because Ryan Suter went below the top of the face-off circles during a scrum, which he only did to confront the official about the non-call on Colorado. Worst of all, though, just moments before the tying-goal there was a blatant cross-check by the Avs in front of the net that also went uncalled.
In game three the poor officiating continued. Nearly every time the Wild were set to go on the power play the refs would call some minor infraction on them to even things up. Let’s hope the officiating doesn’t make any discernable difference in the rest of the series. Considering how it's been so far I doubt it won't be.
If the Wild want a legitimate chance at winning the series they will have to get the power play and Jason Pomminville going. The Avalanche have done a good job of taking away Pomminville’s one-timer on the power play. They'll also have to work the puck low to high to get the Avalanche defenders to move away from the point. Perhaps most importantly they'll also need to rattle the confidence of young Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov.
This series is bound to get nasty after the tension of game three and will certainly be entertaining. Catch game four tonight at 8:30 pm at the Xcel Energy Center.
Peter Ripka is the co-host of the Rambling On podcast. He's a blogger and analyst who specializes in sports, particularly hockey and baseball. Reach him via email or find him on Facebook and Twitter.