Last update: April 12, 2007 – 10:20 PM
Wild need to play more like Ducks
If the Wild wants to keep pace with the Anaheim Ducks in their playoff series, the players will have to match the Ducks' enthusiasm for aggressive, physical play.
By Michael Russo, Star Tribune
ANAHEIM, CALIF. -- The Wild wasn't trying to fool anybody Thursday.
Sure, Wednesday's final score was 2-1, so it might seem as if the Wild's Game 1 loss in the Western Conference quarterfinals to the Anaheim Ducks could have gone either way.
And it possibly could have if, in the third period, Brian Rolston's drop pass into the slot didn't hop over two Wild sticks and if Stephane Veilleux didn't hit the post.
But Wild players know they must play a whole lot better tonight if they want to return to the Twin Cities even at 1-1 in this best-of-seven war of attrition.
"There's got to be much better determination," captain Mark Parrish said. "We've got to get in on the forecheck and we've got to get to the front of the net. They play with an edge. They make you pay a price. We didn't do that. They did exactly what we wanted to do, which is getting the puck up north, get it in and create chances by working hard.
"It's determination. And where that really shines through is fighting for pucks, getting bodies in front. You just got to get it in your head that you're going to go out there and do it, whether it's [Chris] Pronger in your way or anybody."
Wild players say they need to not only take a page from the Ducks, they need to seize the entire playbook. That means crashing the net with total abandon and finding a way into Anaheim's end with speed.
Wednesday, Wild defensemen were often pasted against the glass and overmatched in front of the net. The same couldn't be said for the Ducks.
Whether it's 6-4 Dustin Penner or Andy McDonald, very generously listed at 5-11, every Ducks player has bought into coach Randy Carlyle's aggressive system.
"When we play a strong forechecking game, we play a wear-down type of grind game," Carlyle said. "And if you're defending against our group, it's difficult to take the puck away. ... You get people that are trying to get off the ice, you get people that are tired maybe with a decision or are trying to read a situation, and people make mistakes."
Like the Wild, which surrendered a half-dozen odd-man rushes, usually off bad line changes because de- fensemen were doing anything possible to flee to the bench after exhausting, agonizing shifts.
"During the playoffs, everyone has to chip in physically," center Wes Walz said. "The games are so much more intense than they are in the regular season. Everyone's banging, everyone's hitting. They're probably going to get a few more bangs because their team is built differently than ours, but that doesn't change the fact that we've got to get our nose dirty. We have to be grittier.
"Getting knocked around and getting hit cannot slow us down. As soon as we show we're slowing down, they'll come 10 times harder. We have to play with a huge amount of desperation [tonight]."
The Ducks made the Wild work for everything, so the Wild spent Thursday making adjustments in hopes of finding easier access to Anaheim's end without giving up more defensively.
"They're one of the top teams of basically being all over the ice," right winger Marian Gaborik said. "You don't have much room there. You need to find a way. They're basically everywhere, you know?"
The Wild's best line was the gritty Veilleux-Wyatt Smith-Branko Radivojevic line. It was physical and often kept the puck in the Ducks' end.
"Me and Branko and Wyatt and [Derek Boogaard], we're going to have to bang some bodies out there and create some momentum," Veilleux said. "That's being on the puck and getting some energy going, driving the net."
Parrish said, "We just have to get pumped up to play in the offensive zone instead of hesitant."
And the Wild needs more than one line to step up its physical play, although one wonders if it has the capability.
"It's a fact that [the Ducks are] bigger," coach Jacques Lemaire said. "It's a fact that they're playing more aggressive. They're more aggressive than we are. We played hard, like we can play. And guys that can hit, hit. And they have more of that.
"For sure they'll dominate in that area."
Michael Russo • firstname.lastname@example.org