Updated: 05/10/2014 11:19 AM
Created: 05/09/2014 5:34 PM KSTP.com
By: Nick Tabbert
Jason Pominville scored for Minnesota in the second period off the back of Chicago goalie Corey Crawford's skate and the Wild beat the Blackhawks 4-2 on Friday night to even the Western Conference semifinal series at two games apiece.
Matt Cooke returned from his seven-game kneeing suspension to give the Wild a jolt, assisting on Justin Fontaine's opening goal. Nino Niederreiter and Jared Spurgeon also scored.
Crawford made 27 saves, but he gave up four goals for the second straight game.
Patrick Sharp snapped out of his slump by scoring for the Blackhawks and Michal Handzus had a goal, but the defending Stanley Cup champions again found themselves unable to establish a consistent attack against the Wild's stifling defense.
The teams will return to Chicago for Game 5 on Sunday night and be back in Minnesota for Game 6 on Tuesday night.
The Blackhawks, blanked 4-0 in Game 3, were shut out twice in the postseason last year and responded with four and six goals, respectively, in their ensuing games. Coach Joel Quenneville shuffled up the lines this week, moving Ben Smith to the first group with captain Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell and bringing defenseman Nick Leddy back to the lineup in a search for more speed and flow.
The Wild wouldn't let that happen.
Leading the NHL in takeaways in the playoffs and allowing an average of fewer than 21 shots on goal per game in the series, the Wild improved to 5-0 at home this postseason with a 16-5 goal differential. The franchise record at Xcel Energy Center was a mere 5-10 prior to this year.
Sharp, coming off a 34-goal, 44-assist season, got just his second goal in 10 playoff games. The Blackhawks, though, managed just 20 shots on Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov after stressing the importance of testing him more.
Cooke set Fontaine up for a slap shot on a two-on-one rush early in the game, and the puck sailed over the glass. Fontaine buried his next chance, though, a bad-angle attempt from the front edge of the circle that skidded through Michal Rozsival's legs after Cooke swiped the puck from the defenseman.
After two full periods of trap-filled, tight-checking play in Game 3, the pace in this one was quick from the start to help the Wild get their crowd going. The fans resumed their sing-song jeering of Crawford's last name from the last game, and the chants grew louder throughout the night.
The buzz in the building was killed for a bit when Sharp, whose struggles prompted a move down to a new third line with Handzus and Marian Hossa, caught defenseman Clayton Stoner stuck in the offensive zone on a turnover by Niederreiter and beat Mikko Koivu to slip a wrister between Bryzgalov's pads with 38 seconds left before the break.
But the Wild roared right back in the second period. Pominville, the other leading scorer having a quiet postseason, got his first goal of the series with the good bounce to beat all good bounces with his soft shot from the end boards. Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook slammed his stick against the boards in disgust.
Handzus retied the game by boxing out Mikael Granlund and redirecting Seabrook's try, but the Wild pulled ahead again when Crawford whiffed in his attempt to squeeze his glove on Niederreiter's uncontested shot. Bryzgalov did his part by sticking his pad out to stop Sharp's breakaway with a thud.
Then early in the third period, Koivu fed Spurgeon for the power-play score to push the lead to two. That was just the fourth goal in 42 opportunities against the Blackhawks in the playoffs, the best penalty-kill percentage in the league.
NOTES: Both teams lost a player to injury late in the second period on penalized contact. Brandon Bollig was called for boarding on the Wild's Keith Ballard, sending him to the locker room. Then Spurgeon was whistled for elbowing Marcus Kruger of the Blackhawks. Kruger returned, but Ballard didn't. ... Quenneville on Leddy being a healthy scratch: "Sometimes it gets their attention. It's never personal." ... Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, drafted from Louisville the night before, took in his first hockey game.
(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
END OF THIRD PERIOD: Minnesota 4, Chicago 2
Scoring: Jared Spurgeon
Shots on Goal (Total): Minnesota 6 (31), Chicago 7 (20)
Power Play (Total): Minnesota 1/2 (1/5), Chicago 0/0 (0/2)
Minnesota went on its fourth power play of the night just 45 seconds into the third period when Keith Duncan was called for hooking. Chicago again killed the penalty.
Just a few minutes later Minnesota went on yet another power play and this time capitalized. Spurgeon took a cross-ice pass from Koivu and beat Crawford at 3:47.
The crowd of 19,405 at Xcel had been chanting “Crawford” throughout the night, but really let the netminder have it after the fourth goal.
The pace slowed a little in the following minutes, but Minnesota opened up a 31-16 shots on goal advantage and continued to make Crawford work. The crowd responded with loud applause after each whistle.
With six minutes to go, Bryzgalov made a great pad save after Chicago sent a centering pass from behind the net out in front to an oncoming player. Bryzgalov made a follow-up save from point-blank range, bringing the crowd to its feet yet again.
With just over two minutes to play, Chicago pulled Crawford, bringing the Wild fans to their feet. Sensing an empty-net goal, their roar got louder with each clearing of the puck from the Minnesota zone.
END OF 2ND PERIOD: Minnesota 3, Chicago 2
Scoring: Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter, Chi: Michal Handzus
Shots on Goal (Total): Minnesota 18 (25), Chicago 9 (13)
Power Play (Total): Minnesota: 0/2 (0/3), Chicago 0/1 (0/2)
In the second period, the teams traded control of the puck early on, each team getting a decent scoring chance.
A rush of scoring followed. At 3:51, Jason Pominville scored to give the Wild a 2-1 lead on what many would call a terrible goal allowed by Crawford. Ryan Suter sent a puck off the boards behind the net and Pominville banked it in off the skate of Crawford for the goal. The assists went to Suter and Jonas Brodin.
It didn’t take long for Chicago to answer though. Brent Seabrook sent a shot in on goal that deflected off the stick of Michal Handzus and past Bryzgalov to tie the game at the 6:28 mark.
Then the Wild answered as Nino Niederreiter scored from the circle, beating Crawford above his left shoulder at 7:12.
Minnesota thought it had another goal with just under 11 minutes to play in the period as players hit at a loose puck in front of the Chicago net, eventually sending it past Crawford. The officials blew the play dead and then confirmed it after a review.
The Wild went on a power play with 7:58 left to play when Ben Smith was called for delay of game. The Wild did nothing with their second power play chance of the night.
Keith Ballard, in his first game back for the Wild, was shaken up after a hit from Brandon Bollig. The Wild went on a power play as a result of the boarding call with just under three minutes left in the period, but gave the advantage right back when Jared Spurgeron was called for elbowing.
Chicago killed the Wild power play and then went on a short 30-second power play of its own in the final moments of the period.
END OF 1ST PERIOD: Minnesota 1, Chicago 1
Scoring: Chicago: Patrick Sharp, Minnesota: Justin Fontaine
Shots on Goal: Minnesota 7, Chicago 4
Power Play: Minnesota: 0/1, Chicago 0/1
Xcel Energy Center was loud early and often Friday night as the Wild looked to even the series at 2-2. The action on the ice was relatively quiet in the opening minutes however as fans held their breath waiting for some excitement.
Minnesota had a chance about two minutes into the game on a rebound near the Chicago goal, but Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford soon covered the threat and then a few others soon afterward.
Minnesota continued its physical style of play and controlled the puck early on. Chicago did not have its first shot on goal until nearly seven minutes into the game.
The Wild and the fans were rewarded at the 7:24 mark as Justin Fontaine scored his first goal of the playoffs after Matt Cooke stole the puck in the Chicago zone and fed Fontaine. The shot came from Crawford’s left.
Immediately afterward the Wild went on a power play, but were unable to convert.
Chicago got its first chance on the power play at 13:49 when Mikko Koivu was called for holding a stick, but did nothing with it.
With 38 seconds to play in the opening period, Chicago’s Patrick Sharp skated in and scored on a puck that went right under Wild goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. It was the second goal of the playoffs for Sharp.
A relatively-pleased crowd stood and applauded the Wild as they skated off the ice.
The series has been dominated by the home team. Chicago took Game 1 and Game 2 at United Center last weekend, and Minnesota returned the favor with an impressive 4-0 win in Game 3 on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center.
The theme of this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs has been to win at home. So far, the Wild have done just that, winning all four home games, some by a wide margin, some by just a goal.
A loss at home Friday night could prove fatal for the Wild's hopes of advancing to the Western Conference Finals. Road wins have been hard to come by - just one win in six tries - and a loss now would mean winning Sunday with the pressure of elimination.
A win though would deadlock the series and provide the Wild with some needed momentum for Sunday's road contest.
It's not that the Wild can't win on the road; they've just found ways to lose.
Wild head coach Mike Yeo called for more power plays after Game 2, and his team responded, making the Blackhawks serve four penalties in Game 3 after only drawing four penalties in the first two games. Aggressive play at home has also served Minnesota well.
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