WILD SAVOR FIRST PLAYOFF VICTORY, FOR AT LEAST ONE NIGHTApr 22, 2019
By Tom Witosky
A good start.
That’s how Tim Army, the Iowa Wild’s head coach, described the team’s 7-0 victory Sunday over the Milwaukee Admirals. The win, fueled by three-goal explosions in the second and third periods, marked the first Calder Cup playoff win in franchise history and extended the Admirals playoff losing streak to 12 games.
“It is a good start,” Army said after the victory, during which 14 of the Wild’s 18 skaters contributed to the team’s 15 scoring points in the victory. “We had a good week of practice. I was excited to see how they would start the game. And they were energized and ready to go.”
The win also gives the Wild a chance to take a decisive lead in the best-of-five series with the Admirals on Tuesday. Following Tuesday’s game, which begins at 7:00 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena, the series will move to Milwaukee for the final three games, if all are necessary.
“When it is set up with them having home ice and we start on our ice, it is very important for us to get off on the right foot,” said goalie Andrew Hammond, who shutout the Admirals for the second time this season with 29 saves. “You don’t want to go into their building trailing, so to get the first win out of the way is big.”
As the last American Hockey League playoff series to start, the Wild clearly took advantage of a week of practice that began with two days off after they had clinched a playoff spot. Tired from a long month of travel and an eight-game losing streak, a brief hiatus came at the right time several players said.
Ryan Donato, one of three players sent down to Iowa from Minnesota, said the break, which included a couple of rounds of golf, came at the right moment.
“It was good to get some rest because it had been a long season,” said Donato, who, along with Jordan Greenway, set up Luke Kunin for the team’s sixth goal. “It was just good to get out into some nice weather and get the mind off of hockey. It helped a lot.”
The arrival of the three Minnesota players has played a major role in getting Iowa into playoff mode not so much from a scoring point of view, but adding substantial depth to the team and the ability to roll four lines.
“When you add three players like that, you are adding a real solid line to compliment the other three,” Hammond said. “Milwaukee has four strong lines so adding them at this point in the season has been very important. We play at our best when we are rolling four lines.”
In the match, that ability play every line began to show itself with the first goal by Cal O’Reilly on a pass from Gerry Mayhew. Mayhew maneuvered around an Admiral defender and placed a pass on O’Reilly’s stick blade at the back post of Admiral goalie Troy Grosenick’s crease.
Afterward, Mayhew praised O’Reilly’s leadership as well as his skill.
“He is a leader and an elite player,” Mayhew said. “You just follow his lead and keep working it. He is always in the right spot.”
After taking a 1-0 lead, the Wild followed it up with goals by the mainstays of the Iowa lineup throughout the season – Mayhew, Sam Anas and Kyle Rau in the second period. After the Rau goal, Milwaukee Coach Karl Taylor pulled Grosenick and replaced him with veteran Tom McCollum
But it was Iowa’s fifth goal – Rau’s second of the night – that put the game out of reach, Army said.
To score, Rau fought off two defenders in front of the Milwaukee goal and managed to get his stick on a shot from defenseman Matt Bartkowski as he fell to the ice. The shot got past McCollum and put the game away.
“It was Rau, the way he brings it. He stayed with it and put it in,” Army said.
Rau said he has always enjoyed the rough and tumble of working around the net and is more than willing to engage with defensemen bigger than him to get in position to score.
“If I am going to score, it is going to be around the net. I probably gave just as many back though,” Rau said of his stick battle with Admiral defenseman Jarred Tinordi. “Those D can get away with anything in front of the net, but when you give it back to them, they get mad. After a battle like that, it feels good.”
O’Reilly, who played in his 78th AHL game, praised the team’s focus, particularly given the fact that 13 Wild players were playing in their first AHL playoff game.
“It is all about competing and playing for each other,” the Wild’s team captain said. “Right from the start, we were committed, we were physical. We were blocking shots, we were executing throughout. When you do that, it turns out your way.”
O’Reilly also said the time would arrive quickly that Sunday’s win before 4,535 fans would be just a fond Wild memory.
“Biggest thing now is to forget because on Tuesday they are coming out harder. Every game isn’t going to be like that,” O’Reilly said.
Still, as the Wild players left the building, there were plenty of smiles about the first playoff game of the Iowa Wild.
“A lot of guys are going to bed tonight feeling good about how they played,” Rau said. “It is such a short series, getting this kind of start is important and should help us the rest of the way through.”