Myers: Home ice has been substantial boost for Wild this postseason
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Save for the cactus outside, there's little discernable difference between Jobing.com Arena outside Phoenix and the Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul. The banners hanging from the ceiling are different, and they have bilingual announcements in Montreal, but beyond that the Bell Centre and the United Center in Chicago are quite similar.
The days of true character inside NHL arenas are pretty much gone, as the quirks of old barns like Chicago Stadium, Maple Leaf Gardens, the Montreal Form, the Boston Garden and even Met Center in Bloomington met with demolition teams long ago. Nearly every NHL rink, from Anaheim to Raleigh and from Vancouver to Boston, is an oval with a big lower bowl, a suite level, a club level and some cheap seats up high. There are more suites in Los Angeles and a big organ in Tampa, but rinks are pretty homogenous today.
So what creates home ice advantage? What creates the kind of immeasurable extra factor that has propelled the Wild to a 4-0 record at home in the playoffs? What was it about playing in their own rink that made the difference on Tuesday, as the Wild made a series out of their second round meeting with the Blackhawks, blasting past Chicago in the third period for a 4-0 win?
For goalie Illya Bryzgalov, who got his first playoff shutout since 2006, the comforts of home meant a great deal (nevermind that he's played here for roughly two months).
"It's always nice to play at home when you guys can sleep in your own bed," said Bryzgalov. "They can do their own routine, eat their favorite food, and also, obviously, it's a fan base that can give you support and if you make the nice play, they cheer enough to give you the boost. You make a good save, they cheer, they support you. It's a nice atmosphere."
They announced 19,416 in attendance on Tuesday, which was the largest crowd in franchise history. And although there were no goals to cheer about in the first 40 minutes, the audience roared its approval on several occasions when the Wild controlled play for long stretches. It was a mark of a team that, despite trailing 2-0 for the second time in as many rounds of the playoffs, is brimming with confidence in their own arena.
"I think we know what we are capable of, so we know what we can do and that's a big part of that," Wild star Zach Parise said. "We know when we play like we can, we can beat any team in this league, especially here at home. The crowd is really into it so it's a great feeling to play here."
Just getting on the ice was a huge step for fourth-liner Justin Fontaine, who was playing for the first time in this series and responded by setting up Erik Haula's game-winner. He too felt the effects of being on home ice, and flipping the script after so much frustration on the road in Chicago, and in Colorado before that.
"It's a series-changer," he said. "Coming home, and the atmosphere we had got everyone going. We have such great fan support and on home ice you have to take advantage of those games."
So here they are again, a year later, right back where they were in round one last season, trailing Chicago 2-1 with a critical Game 4 looming. Wild coach Mike Yeo tried not to make too much of his team finally showing some life versus the Blackhawks, choosing instead to keep an even keel and focus the attention forward, to the next game, and the next chance to stay unbeaten at home.
"It's just a step. I don't want to make it out to be too much. It's a step and our goal last series, and our goal through the playoffs, is to continue to get better," said the coach. "I think we've got better in a lot of areas. I think we're getting more confident. I think getting that first win against this team was important for us. But we do believe in ourselves and the way that we play the game, and what we're capable of. But with that, the next game is always your next challenge. We're obviously extremely happy we won this game, but like I said, we're still down."
Although playing at home, in a rink not too much unlike every other rink, the Wild are finding a way to make it their own, and are thriving as a result.