ST. PAUL, Minn. – It wasn’t surprising that the Minnesota Wild had some spark, some good energy in their first home playoff game in five seasons. What was surprising was that the Chicago Blackhawks really didn’t get close to matching them.
Duncan Keith tied the game late in regulation, but Jason Zucker netted the winner on a sharp-angled shot in overtime as the Wild beat the Blackhawks 3-2 at Xcel Energy Center Sunday afternoon. The Blackhawks still hold a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal series heading into Game 4 here on Tuesday.
The Blackhawks were there at the start, playing their game through the first 10 minutes. But a funny thing happened on the way to going for a 3-0 series lead: the Wild decided it would have none of that.
Minnesota took control, outhustling, outshooting and certainly outhitting the Blackhawks. It was a desperate game by a desperate team and the Blackhawks had little response.
“They definitely outplayed us. They played like they had to win and we didn’t,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was a good start; we did some good things. But they got some momentum off our power play and got more zone time. We were in our end more than we would’ve liked to be.”
The Wild were a determined bunch, two days after a bad performance in Chicago. They were much more physical with the Blackhawks, doling out 34 hits to Chicago’s 13. Wild coach Mike Yeo hoped his team would wake up and respond after Friday’s game and it did.
“We took what we learned from Game 2 as far as what playoff hockey’s about and we brought it tonight,” Yeo said.
Only problem was, the Wild struggled to solve Corey Crawford. The Blackhawks goaltender was big, stopping 34 of 37 shots. He stopped all 14 he saw in the second period, when the Blackhawks began their swoon that they never really got out of again.
“We can’t be satisfied with that effort,” Jonathan Toews said. “Crow kept us in that game. Without him, we wouldn’t have stood a chance.”
And that’s why the Blackhawks still had the chance to tie it with less than three minutes remaining in regulation, when Keith fired his shot from the left circle. But Zucker’s goal gave the Wild the victory – and series life.
“[The puck] popped out in front and they got a quick shot off. I thought I had it covered,” Crawford said. “Obviously it would’ve been nice to win that in overtime, but what’s done is done and you have to move on to the next one.”
As far as the Wild, the Blackhawks know they’ve got a series on their hands now.
“They were obviously the hungrier team tonight. We know we need to be better,” Keith said. “We’ve always had the mindset it would be a tough series. We never thought it would be easy.”
The Blackhawks were upended by a team whose desperation to cut this to a 2-1 series far outweighed their desire to make it 3-0. The Wild brought the intensity to its first home playoff game in several years.
Chicago has to make sure, that in Game 4, they do the same.
“It’s up to us to respond and ask that question [of where the intensity was] and be much better the next game,” Toews said. “We have to play a smarter road game and we have to come back with more. We didn’t respond enough tonight.”