Wild Fans Confident Before Game 3, Thrilled After
Wild fans arrived at Sunday's playoff game full of confidence and left full of excitement.
Jason Zucker scored at 2:15 of overtime to give Minnesota a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, pulling the Wild within 2-1 in the Western Conference quarterfinal series.
Zach Parise scored for the Wild early in the third period, but Duncan Keith got one back for the Blackhawks with 2:46 left in regulation to force the second overtime in three games of this best-of-seven series. Game 4 is here on Tuesday night.
After taking the top-seeded Blackhawks to overtime in Game 1 at Chicago, the Wild fell flat and lost 5-2 in Game 2. They took full advantage of the shift in venue and fed off the noise and excitement in the building in Minnesota's first home playoff game in five years.
The Wild nearly squandered their edge by losing aggressiveness and hanging back to preserve the lead in the waning minutes of regulation. Keith's snap shot glanced off Wild defenseman Marco Scandella and past goalie Josh Harding to make the score 2-2.
But after Matt Cullen ferociously chased the puck along the end boards in the opening action of overtime, Zucker swooped in to surprise Johnny Oduya as the Blackhawks defenseman was about to fight for possession with Cullen.
Zucker's bad-angle shot slipped past goalie Corey Crawford, and the rookie raced toward the corner and jumped into the glass to celebrate.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard also had a goal for the Wild after Oduya scored for the Blackhawks late in the first period.
The Wild outshot the Blackhawks 29-17 over the first 40 minutes. Crawford made 34 saves for the Blackhawks, and Josh Harding stopped 25 shots for the Wild.
The Wild found a potential weak spot on the top shelf. Bouchard flipped his goal over Crawford, and so did Parise, after rookie Charlie Coyle's relentless forecheck earned him possession of the puck for a sharp pass to Parise in front of the net.
The Blackhawks started slowly in the playoffs in 2010, too, when they won the Stanley Cup. With 10 players still around from that season, including most of their star-packed core, they're poised to make another run for the title.
Three years ago, they fell behind Nashville 2-1 in the first round before winning the series in six games. They needed six games to beat Vancouver next, too, before sweeping San Jose to reach the finals.
Parise's goal was the first in three games for the Wild's top line. Mikko Koivu is still scoreless, but Charlie Coyle has two assists.
Bouchard and Stephane Veilleux are the only two players left from the 2003 Wild team that reached the Western Conference finals, and Veilleux played for two other teams before returning last season.
They're two of five players, with Koivu, Harding and Niklas Backstrom, remaining from 2008, the last time they made the playoffs.
The Wild recalled Veilleux from their AHL affiliate and put him in Zenon Konopka's spot on the fourth line with Mike Rupp and Torrey Mitchell.
Trying to match the Blackhawks and their speed, deft passing and seemingly infinite depth would be an impossible task for the Wild, so they knew they needed to bring more energy to fuel the crowd and a nasty streak in attempt to distract the Blackhawks a bit from their finesse-based game.
Coach Mike Yeo even described before the game a "level of hatred" he wanted the Wild to bring to the ice for the Stanley Cup favorite Blackhawks, a team that will be in their division next season when the NHL realignment kicks in.
The Wild heeded the call.
Koivu, who took eight of his team's 16 penalty minutes and posting a minus-3 rating over the first two games, lowered his shoulder and leveled Marcus Kruger near the boards to inspire a roar from the announced crowd of 19,238. The hits in the first period were 17-4 in favor of the Wild.
Oduya gave the Blackhawks the first lead when Patrick Kane set him up for a back-door wrist shot from the left circle, but the Wild managed to even the score before the first intermission to re-ignite the arena when Bouchard knocked in the rebound of Cal Clutterbuck's shot.
The Wild killed off a pair of penalties in the middle period and kept up the momentum they generated partway through the opening period by keeping the puck in the opposing zone for most of the action.
They had a prime chance to get in front right before the second intermission when Oduya was called for a double minor penalty, high-sticking and roughing in a tussle with Clutterbuck.
The Blackhawks have a stifling penalty kill with an aggressive forecheck, and that power play ended with a whimper right before the end of the period.
But the Wild didn't lose their edge for the final stretch. Cullen just missed a redirect attempt of Devin Setoguchi's slap shot in the opening minutes. Then came Coyle's effort to set up Parise and put the home team in position for a critical victory.
NOTES: Richard Park, who scored the winning goal for Minnesota in Game 6 of the first-round series in 2003 against Colorado, was shown on the video board in a suite right after the clip of that play. ... The Blackhawks played again without backup goalie Ray Emery and center Dave Bolland. Coach Joel Quenneville said both of them skated before the game and their status remains day to day. As for whether they'd be able to play in Game 4? "We'll see," Quenneville said.
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