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Updated: May 4th, 2014 7:30pm
Zulgad: Wild's stars are silent in opening two losses against Chicago

Zulgad: Wild's stars are silent in opening two losses against Chicago

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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The Wild brass can put any spin it wants on losing the first two games of its second-round playoff series at Chicago. No one expects them to tell us what they really think.

However, you have to hope that everyone from owner Craig Leipold, to general manager Chuck Fletcher, to coach Mike Yeo is absolutely fuming about what they've seen.

It's not so much the Wild has been blown out of games - the 5-2 and 4-1 scores actually were a bit misleading - but rather the fact that many of their top players have either been no-shows or not nearly good enough.

The Blackhawks are defending Stanley Cup champions. They are an extremely talented collection and, quite frankly, they are a joy to watch move the puck.

In other words, they are the type of opponent that upper-echelon players should embrace facing and have great games against. The Wild needs guys such as Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Matt Moulson, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin to be at their best.

So what did those nine do in the first two games at United Center?

Almost nothing.

They generated two points - assists by Pominville and Parise in Game 1 - and were a combined minus-23, including minus-17 on Sunday.

It's encouraging that Erik Haula was among the Wild's best forwards in the first two games, and received a promotion to the second line on Sunday, or that forward Cody McCormick scored the Wild's lone goal and looked like more than just the throw-in that he was when Moulson was obtained at the trade deadline from Buffalo.

But that also is maddening, as well as inexcusable.

One of the second-day stories after the Wild's loss on Friday at Chicago was the fact that Moulson and Pominville needed to do more. Those two made no strides on Sunday but now they are joined by players in an even higher tax bracket.

Parise was a minus-3 on Sunday and made such an irresponsible pass in his own zone in the first period that NBC's Pierre McGuire, who often has song Parise's praises, talked about how the All-Star needed to be better. That pass didn't even lead to a goal but McGuire was right.

Suter also was a minus-3 and is now a minus-5 in the opening two games. I don't need to remind anyone that Parise and Suter are in the midst of $98 million, 13-year contracts.

That type of payday(s) means that whether the opponent is Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux or Bobby Orr, you're expected to not only hold your own by matching their game but also exceed their play at times.

Yeo, told that his bottom six forwards were his best forwards on Sunday, attempted to do his best to steer clear of answering. Yeo's tact after Friday's loss was to attempt to motivate his players by telling them that there were some guys who hadn't come to play.

He changed that tune on Sunday, in part because if he had started naming names after Sunday's loss, it would have included some of his key players. Even if he hadn't named them, it would have been easy to figure out who the coach was talking about this time.

This includes Captain Koivu, who failed to take care of Toews during a first-period breakaway by Hossa and thus enabled Captain Toews to knock in a rebound. Yeo was unwilling to blame Koivu, saying there were others at fault. This is true but does that mean more shouldn't be expected from Koivu?

"We need somebody different every night," Yeo said when asked about his third and fourth lines being his best. "We're playing a good team and we're not that far off. I know we can play better but we're not that far off. The game was hanging there for us. "

All of this was true but none of it addressed the fact that the guys Yeo needs most right now don't seem to be there. I realize it's hard to criticize a guy like Parise after the way he played in the first round, but it was Parise who said after the Game 6 victory over Colorado that he didn't sign with the Wild to play in the seventh game of a first-round series.

It was a great quote and something that was encouraging to hear from a Minnesota athlete. But far more important than Parise's words are his actions.

It would be foolish to think the Wild are going to be able to do to Chicago what they did against Colorado at home. The Avalanche appeared to be completely lost in Games 3 and 4, in part because they were so rattled by the crowd at Xcel Energy Center.

That won't happen to Chicago. The Blackhawks aren't going to care how much noise the crowd at the X makes. What will impact Chicago is if the Wild's key players start to produce.

If that doesn't happen, Wild executives will have plenty of free time to fume.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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