ST. PAUL, Minn. — Charlie Coyle has that enviable blend of size and skills, a 25-year-old forward on the verge of realizing the potential of a former first-round draft pick.
Without Coyle’s clutch contributions, the Minnesota Wild would have been bounced already from their first-round series against the St. Louis Blues. Perhaps this spring has triggered the breakthrough performance for a player the Wild have planned to be part of their core for several seasons to come.
That’s a good reason why coach Bruce Boudreau, whose long-ago, short-lived NHL career was unfulfilling because he lacked the drive to match his ability, has been as demanding of Coyle as anyone else on his roster.
“When he wants to play,” Boudreau said, “he can play. He’s been a good player.”
With the first goal in a 2-0 win for Minnesota at St. Louis in Game 4 on Wednesday, Coyle helped keep the Wild alive. He also had four shots on goal, two hits, two takeaways and one blocked shot in a well-timed two-way effort. He has scored two of the Wild’s five goals in the series, totalled 13 on-target shot attempts, which is tied for the second-most on the team, and played sound defence on the other end.
“You’d like to get it every night,” Boudreau said. “Right now I just would like to get it for the next three games.”
Trailing 3-1, the Wild host the Blues in Game 5 on Saturday (3 p.m. EDT, NBC).
“Everything, the intensity, the atmosphere is ramped up, and you have to bring your level up,” Coyle said. “So that’s my mentality. That’s our team’s mentality.”
Coyle, who’s the franchise’s all-time playoffs leader with 98 hits, including 14 in this series, had a career-high 56 points and 159 shots on goal during the regular season. But he went through a 27-game stretch from early January to early March when he scored only one goal, and Boudreau didn’t hesitate to hound him for it. The issue for Coyle hasn’t been so much about coasting as it is about a nice guy by nature not being as aggressive as his team needs him to be.
“I don’t mind a coach being hard on me. If he needs something more from me, tell me,” Coyle said.
The Blues were hoping a two-day break between games and the possible return of centre Paul Stastny from a lower body injury would re-energize them. Stastny skated on the first line between Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko at practice on Friday, though coach Mike Yeo wasn’t ready to declare him good to go.
“If we add a player like Stas, then obviously you become a better team,” Yeo said.
Here’s a look at the two other series on the slate for Saturday:
Canadiens at Rangers, New York leads 3-2 (8 p.m. EDT, NBC)
The Rangers return to Madison Square Garden in position to polish off the series at home on the heels of an overtime victory in Montreal.
“We showed it, how hard we played,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “We pushed.”
The last time the Canadiens trailed in a series 3-2, Carey Price shut out the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the second round in 2014. They won again to advance to the conference finals.
The Rangers, in a series that has seen heavy bumping in the crease of both Lundqvist and Price, were bracing for more intensity from the Canadiens on Saturday. All five previous games have been close, with a bounce or a hit goalpost making a difference.
“I’m pretty confident in the guys we have here, that we’re just going to be able to worry about Game 6,” Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher said. “Now we’ve got to find a way to win one, and the rest will take care of itself.”
Oilers at Sharks, Edmonton leads 3-2 (10:30 p.m. EDT, NBCSN)
Momentum hasn’t been much of a factor in this back-and-forth series. The Oilers bounced back from an overtime loss in Game 1 to post consecutive shutouts. The Sharks followed that with a 7-0 win before blowing a two-goal lead in a 4-3 overtime defeat in Game 5.
Now it’s San Jose’s turn to reverse the tide and force a decisive Game 7 in Edmonton. The Sharks have a history of responding well to setbacks, with the run to the Stanley Cup Final last year as a prime example. They followed all four post-season overtime losses with a victory in the next game.
To do that on Saturday, the Sharks must resume the aggressive style that helped them build the 3-1 lead in Game 5 rather than the defensive shell that allowed the Oilers to tie the game and then dominate overtime until the game-winning goal by David Desharnais.
“It’s human nature,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “You’re defending, you’re defending, and you’re not thinking about offence or being on your toes or scoring a goal. To flip that switch and get that attack mindset is hard to do.”