ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Wild winger Zach Parise didn’t appear to be in much of a mood Tuesday morning to rave about Jonathan Toews.
“He’s up for the Selke [Trophy] every year,” Parise shrugged. “He’s a good player.”
You can forgive Parise for being a little tired of thinking about Toews. Parise spent the first two games of the second round being shadowed — and largely stifled — by the Blackhawks captain. After posting three goals and seven assists in the first round against Colorado, Parise entered Tuesday night’s Game 3 with just one assist and a minus-3 rating.
Parise had 25 shifts in Game 2. Toews was on the ice for at least part (often all) of 22 of them. Nevermind a boisterous and supportive crowd or creature comforts — having the last line change is the real home-ice advantage.
In fact, the Wild’s top two lines came up empty — their three goals coming from a defenseman, a third-liner and a fourth-liner — as Hawks coach Joel Quenneville took advantage of the home team’s right to make the last change, playing the matchup game to perfection.
“It makes a difference, yeah,” Parise said. “I think that’s why you see throughout the playoffs, a lot of the home teams have been so successful this year. But either way, regardless of who you’re playing against, as a group we all have to be better individually.”
As the series shifted to St. Paul on Tuesday, with the Wild down 2-0 and desperate to get a win to make a series of it, Minnesota hoped to play the matchup game itself to turn things around.
“It definitely makes a difference,” Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said. “There’s a lot of good players on their team. We have a lot of good players, too. I think it’ll be a good thing for us, and hopefully we can use that to our advantage.”
Quenneville knows it’ll be harder to chaperone opposing players with his top defensive forwards and pairings on the road. Ideally, he’d be able to roll four lines again, and have more lines capable of playing a shutdown role — something he hasn’t really had since he broke up his fourth line to put Ben Smith on the second line and Marcus Kruger on the third.
“I’m sure that line matching is going to be something we’ll have to keep an eye on as we go along here,” Quenneville said. “But I still think we want to play four lines and get everyone in the game early and see how it evolves.”
Kruger said he believed the new third line of him, Brandon Saad and Joakim Nordstrom (in for the injured Andrew Shaw) can play that role while also being effective offensively.
“I think it’s a good combination, and we can play well on both ends of the ice,” Kruger said. “I think that’s a role we can have a lot of success with.”
With the struggling Ilya Bryzgalov really the only option in net as Darcy Kuemper and Josh Harding are still not healthy enough to play, the onus is on the Wild offense to get back into the series. So coach Mike Yeo shuffled his second and third lines on Tuesday, encouraged his team to work around the Hawks’ shot-blockers in an effort to create some offense, and can try to free the top line of Parise, Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund from Toews’ line.
But it’s never easy against the Hawks, whose stellar team defense often gets overshadowed by their high-end offensive skill.
“They’re a tough team to score on,” Parise said. “They play really well defensively, they block a lot of shots and they have the puck — they’re really good at possessing the puck. So sometimes you’re not going to get a lot of opportunities. But when you do, you have to put them in.”