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Updated: April 27th, 2014 4:56pm
Myers: For Wild, focus must be sharp for biggest game of the season

Myers: For Wild, focus must be sharp for biggest game of the season

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by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. - It's a long, long drive from the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver to the city's airport, which some claim is located in Nebraska. From there, in the wee hours of Sunday morning, it was a turbulent ride home for the Minnesota Wild after once again coming oh so close to a road win versus the Colorado Avalanche and a lead in their best-of-seven series.

All of that travel gave the Wild plenty of time to process what had gone wrong in the final 90 seconds of regulation on Saturday night, when -- for the second time in three visits to the Pepsi Center -- the Wild saw a late lead become an overtime loss. By the time they skated on their home ice, glad to be out of the weather on a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon, their moods were notably brighter than the muddled light streaming in through the rink's windows.

In his two seasons at the University of Wisconsin, Wild forward Dany Heatley played for now-retired coach Jeff Sauer and learned from the man who had guided the Badgers to a pair of NCAA titles about channeling emotion and playing better with a chip on your shoulder. With the probability of their season's conclusion looming on Monday night, Heatley said the lessons of looking back that he learned in college are tossed aside on a team determined to look only ahead.

"You do have to forget every game in the series, win or loss, but you also have to realize what went wrong," Heatley said. "Obviously we didn't play as well yesterday as we had the previous two games. We've got to get back to that style of play."

The Wild have either scored first or held a lead in the final 90 seconds of every game in the series, and save for the Avalanche scoring with the goalie pulled in games one and five, the Wild would have moved on to round two already. Instead of prepping for a trip to either Chicago or St. Louis, the Wild are facing a "win or go home" game on Monday at the X, and if they win, another on Wednesday in Denver.

It's the kind of scenario that could rattle a young player -- like a rookie goalie, for example -- but the Wild's young players seem to be enjoying the ride, no matter how long it lasts.

"It's a lot of fun," goalie Darcy Keumper said. "It's win or go home, so I think everyone's pretty fired up about it."

As for the, let's call it "interesting," officiating in game five which had Twitter ablaze afterward, coach Mike Yeo and his players, to a man, have taken the high road.

"I've been getting away with stuff too in this series, so it's a little bit back and forth," Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. "We already put that behind us. Everybody's making mistakes. So do we. It's not really our job to worry about the refs. That's the league, and I think they do a good job on that. Us players, we just play the game and like I said, calls go back and forth. They missed some calls on us, they missed some calls on them and I'm sure it's the same in every series in the playoffs."

This is the sixth playoff series in Wild history, and the fourth time they've gone into game six needing a win to stave off elimination. So as hard as it is to focus forward instead of back, it's the only useful play right now.

"It would be very easy for us to sit here and say we deserve better, whether that's in the game or in the series. But that's a useless feeling to us right now," Yeo said. "For me looking back at last game, a play here or a call here or a bounce here, whatever it is, regardless, I feel that we still played a game that allowed a bounce or something like that to be the difference in the game. We dropped back a little bit in our level and we have to make sure we bring it up again tomorrow."

The Wild has proven all season, and again in the playoffs, that they rarely if ever do things the easy way. They've also bounced back at their most challenging moments of the season: in January when they'd lost seven in a row and Buffalo came to town; in a March game in Arizona with the playoffs looking to slip out of their grasp; during long stretches without Koivu and Zach Parise;and during the season-long goaltending carousel.

Another bounce is needed, or it will be a long wait to training camp.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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