ST. PAUL, Minn. – When the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild in Game 2, one of their biggest priorities was to make life miserable for Wild goaltender Josh Harding. They did that plenty, peppering him with 47 shots.
But on Sunday, the Blackhawks were playing mostly on their heels. They weren’t sustaining pressure, weren’t getting enough zone time, weren’t driving the net. And by the end of overtime, they weren’t up 3-0 in this series.
Harding stopped 25 of 27, but his teammates kept a good deal of pressure off him in the Wild’s 3-2 overtime victory. The Blackhawks, who had gotten in Harding’s face – almost literally – in Game 2, were nowhere near him in Game 3. Criticize the Blackhawks, for having a rough game all around. But also credit Minnesota, who tightened up and kept Chicago on the perimeter more than they would have liked to be.
“You can’t say enough about how the defensemen and forwards played. Being a goaltender, when a team’s playing like that, it makes it easier for you,” Harding said after his first career postseason victory. “They boxed out great, the support all over the ice was great. We played a pretty good game.”
Indeed they did and Harding finally got rewarded for what’s been a solid series for him. Wild coach Mike Yeo said his team turned it on defensively.
“Two words that I thought were going to be extremely important for us: one was desperation … [the other] was being assertive. I thought we did a much better job with the puck to help us get into our game, but also preventing them from getting into their game,” Yeo said. “When it’s time to defend, if you’re on your toes and doing it aggressively you’re playing within the structure. That’s a team you don’t want to give time and space to, that’s for sure.”
The Blackhawks didn’t have much time and space around Harding, who may have been a bit dinged up after taking a shot high during pregame warmups. He took another one around the same spot in the game, but said he was fine. And if Harding was hampered, the Blackhawks did nothing to exploit it.
“You got to look across the board, we didn’t produce the way we would’ve liked, whether [it was] offensive zone time or shots on net,” Joel Quenneville said. “We need greasy goals if we want to be successful. [We were] too much on the outside. We have to be determined in that tough area in front of the net.”