"When we check, we score. It looks like we've joined the tournament now, and we're dialed in. So we've got home ice back, we're dialed into our game and hopefully we're going to be hard to play against."
That was St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock after a dominating 6-1 victory in Game 4 versus the Wild in last year's first round. He stood at the podium following the game with the assertion that the Blues have finally found their game and that they were ready to make a series out of it. That was until Games 5 and 6 when the Wild dispatched the Blues with identical 4-1 scores.
The Minnesota Wild head in Game 4 of the First Round match-up against the Stars tonight after playing a solid 55 minutes in Game 3 to come back from a two-goal deficit. They didn't just do it with scoring. The team limited the Stars' chances, got chances of their own, and kept possession of the puck for long lengths of time. Minnesota felt like it has discovered their game. Even a the headline in the Minneapolis Star Tribune proclaimed, "Now it's a series."
The Wild must guard against going into the game over-confident. The Wild is not yet at a point where it can say that over-confidence is their only enemy. This team hasn't earned that yet. As good as it played in Game 3 to come back from two goals down, the Wild has a tendency for a let-down when it thinks it's on top of its game. The skating stops. The finishing of checks stops. The team resorts to low-percentage, weak shots from the perimeter.
Zach Parise said as much in that Game 4 loss last season, "We may have been a little cocky. We felt really good and rightfully so. We felt good about the way we played the last game. I don't know if we thought it was going to be an easy game or if we thought they were going to pack it in, but that wasn't the case at all."
Since John Torchetti took over as Wild head coach, this team is streaky at best. There was a four-game win streak followed by a three-game losing streak, followed by a four-game winning streak, then losing four of five games, then a season-high six-game winning streak, followed by a seven-game losing streak between to close out the regular season and in the first two games of this series. The Wild cannot expect to think that they've finally found their game again after another losing streak, and can ride high on a forthcoming winning streak. This team still has an uphill battle against the Stars.
Is the door now maybe open? With Lindy Ruff giving Jamie Benn what's labeled as a "maintenance day" after Benn took some heavy hits in Game 3, and Tyler Seguin likely not returning to the line-up any time soon, the Wild has a chance to pounce on this Stars team that isn't as playoff tested as the Wild are. But that doesn't mean that this is going to be easy. The Wild can't get cocky and just think that the game will come to them.
The Wild still face big injuries to big-time players. They simply cannot afford to take the foot off the gas. A Game 4 loss because the Wild got, "A little cocky," isn't going to sit well with fans, and shouldn't sit well with the players. They, of all people, should know that one win earns them nothing in the playoffs. Otherwise they look as foolish as ken Hitchcock did when he came out and proclaimed that they were, "dialed in," only to lose the next two games.