Updated: 05/07/2014 12:06 PM
Created: 05/06/2014 8:21 PM KSTP.com
By: Chris Long
Matching the Chicago Blackhawks is a tough task, and the Minnesota Wild weren't going to catch up without more presence and production from their top forwards.
After a couple of quiet games and two sluggish periods, Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise and the rest of the Wild's skill-position players came to life.
Granlund scored twice, Parise had a goal and an assist, and Erik Haula jump-started the Wild by scoring early in the third period in a 4-0 victory over the Blackhawks on Tuesday in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinal series.
KSTP WEB EXTRA COVERAGE:
---Click the video box on this page to see KSTP Sports' postgame wrap-up
---Click here to watch Mike Yeo's postgame press conference
---Click here to see Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Mikko Koivu and Justin Fontaine's interviews in the postgame locker room
"The big guys definitely came through tonight," Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
Ilya Bryzgalov made 19 saves for his first shutout in the playoffs in eight years, and the Blackhawks had their lead whittled to 2-1 with their first loss in 2½ weeks.
"Today is a tremendous team effort," Bryzgalov said. "We play very, very, very nice hockey."
Game 4 is Friday in Minnesota.
The announced attendance of 19,416 was the most in franchise history, but the atmosphere didn't match that until shortly after the second intermission. Pucks were whizzing way wide of the net, and clogged shooting lanes led to plenty of thwarted opportunities for both sides.
"They're probably as tight a team as we're going to play all year," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Haula finally brought the fans to their feet.
The rookie center from Finland, once a standout for the University of Minnesota, started the play from the neutral zone and finished in front of the rush for a tap-in of Justin Fontaine's slick pass through the defense. Then less than 3 minutes later, Granlund took a pass from Jason Pominville and went to his backhand to slip a high shot past Corey Crawford's glove for the 2-0 lead.
The crowd began to taunt the goalie with a "Craw-ford! Craw-ford!" chant, and Parise put the exclamation point on the night with a power-play goal, the first in 25 chances for the Wild over their last two playoff series against the Blackhawks. Then Granlund tacked on an empty-netter with 1:17 left.
"We know when we play like we can, we can beat any team in this league, especially here at home," Granlund said.
Crawford stopped only 14 shots for the Blackhawks, who dropped their first two games to St. Louis in the last round before winning four in a row. Since losing to the Blues on April 19, they took the lead in all six games and outscored their opponents 23-9.
Despite outscoring the Wild 9-3 in the first two games of this series, the Blackhawks have not been able to test Bryzgalov much.
"We can't let it frustrate us. We just have to do something about it," captain Jonathan Toews said, adding: "They're a smart defensive team. Give them credit. But it's more about what we're not doing."
The blue liners were in full force early for Blackhawks, who blocked a whopping 25 shots in Game 2, six more than the Wild even sent at the net. Niklas Hjalmarsson bravely took one on the neck Sunday, and while the seventh-year veteran was cleared to play, the Swede wasn't even allowed to talk. Quenneville said before the game he wasn't worried about any communication problems between Hjalmarsson and his teammates.
Had he been able to yell, Hjalmarsson would've been easy to hear for most of the night. For all the noise this crowd made in the last round, the synergy between vocal fan support and a relentless attack by the Wild was largely missing during the first 40 minutes. Yeo said this was the tightest-checking game he'd ever been a part of.
The offense came, eventually. Pominville has only one goal in nine playoff games, but he had two assists in this one. Mikko Koivu didn't make the scoring summary, but Yeo said his captain played a critical part in helping stifle the Blackhawks and their top lines.
None of the Wild's top six forwards scored in the first two games, with Parise and Pominville managing the only assists.
The Wild faced yet another desperate situation after trailing 2-0 in the last round against the Colorado Avalanche.
"It was pretty familiar territory for us. We knew we had to win the game," Parise said.
NOTES: The Blackhawks scratched defenseman Nick Leddy, his first absence since his rookie season of 2010-11. Quenneville said he wanted Sheldon Brookbank in the lineup for a physical presence. ... Bryzgalov had three shutouts in the 2006 playoffs for Anaheim.
(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
KSTP Sports' in-game live updates are posted below:
END THIRD PERIOD - Chicago 0, Wild 4
Scoring: MIN - Haula (2); MIN - Granlund (3); MIN - Parise (4); MIN - Granlund (4)
Shots: CHI - 4 (19 total); MIN - 8 (18)
Power Play: CHI - 0/0 (0/2); MIN - 1/2 (1/4)
Ryan Suter, who left the bench late in the second period with an apparent arm/shoulder injury, started the third period on the ice.
Just prior to the two minute mark, Erik Haula started a rush up-ice by feeding to the right wing. The puck ended up with Justin Fontaine, who gained the zone and lofted a saucer-pass toward the post at Chicago netminder Corey Crawford's right. Haula arrived at the post as the puck did, tipping it just before it landed on the ice and into the Blackhawks net for a 1-0 Wild lead.
Jason Pominville fed a cross-zone pass left to right onto Mikael Granlund's stick. As he closed in on the crease, Granlund made a sharp deke to his right onto his backhand and flicked it over Crawford for a 2-0 Wild lead with 15:42 to go.
Chicago had a superb chance moments later. Patrick Kane swooped into the zone, cutting from the right boards toward the crease. As he reached the crease, Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov remained pinned to the post, leaving Kane the entire far side of the net. However, the puck hopped off his stick into the left corner.
7:22 into the period, Chicago's Nicklas Hjalmarsson was sent off for cross-checking - a golden chance for the Wild to put the game away and snap their 0-for-23 power play drought against Chicago, spanning the last two playoff series'.
The Wild had a couple chances on the man advantage, but Jason Pominville and Mikko Koivu were just a moment late on loose pucks, allowing Crawford to snare them.
The Wild continued pressuring the Hawks zone, with Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund generating a couple threatening chances around the midpoint of the period.
Chicago shots from the perimeter created a couple rebounds - one of which was cleared by Jonas Brodin while sitting in an open crease.
With 6 to go, Jonathan Toews took dead aim from directly in front of Bryzgalov, who made the save - possibly his best and most important save of the night.
With 3:34 to go, great hustle on a forecheck by Neiderreiter forced Johnny Oduya into a hooking penalty putting the Wild on the power play for most of what remained in regulation.
On the power play, the Wild finally broke through for a power play goal - their first in 24 chances against Chicago dating back to last year.
Zach Parise was on Crawford's right as a shot from Ryan Suter rebounded right to him. Parise hit the vacated net to make it 3-0 Wild with 2:35 to go.
Granlund added an empty-netter with 1:17 to go to seal the win.
The Wild ride their four third-period goals to a 4-0 win, cutting Chicago's series lead to 2-1.
Game 4 will be at the Xcel Energy Center on Friday night at 8:30 CT.
END SECOND PERIOD - Chicago 0, Wild 0
Shots: CHI - 8 (15 total); MIN - 5 (10)
Power Play: CHI - 0/0 (0/2); MIN - 0/0 (0/2)
The Wild carried possession the first few minutes of the seconds period, but were still unable to get a shot on goal for until three minutes in.
At the four minute mark, the Wild had their best shift of the game thus far - firing several shots on Crawford and seeing their best scoring chance as Charlie Coyle had a clean look from in close.
The Wild fended off an in-close flurry by Chicago and turned it up-ice quickly with Mikael Granlund clearing the zone to Jason Pominville who hit Zach Parise at the offensive blue line. Parise was pushed wide, but got off a threatening shot which Corey Crawford controlled.
Chicago may have avoided a penalty seven minutes into the second period when a stick caught Mikko Koivu in the face in the Blackhawks defensive end. Moments later, a loose puck in the crease was whacked around by several Wild forwards, but eventually corralled by Crawford, stemming a tide that was beginning to favor the Wild.
With 8:30 to go, Nino Neiderreiter maintained possession of the puck with a nifty spin move off the boards and centered for Charlie Coyle. Coyle got a piece of the puck, but deflected it just wide to Crawford's right.
The Wild dominated puck possession the first fifteen minutes of the second, with multiple connected passes setting up rushes and plenty of sustained pressure - but they couldn't turn all the possession time into a goal.
Around the two-minute mark remaining, Ryan Suter and Marian Hossa were tangled up along the boards in the Wild defensive end. Hossa appeared to take Suter down once the puck was free. Suter got up slowly, and skated to the bench favoring his left shoulder. He did not stop at the bench, proceeding directly to the Wild locker room.
The Blackhawks showed some flair in the final minute, with Patrick Kane threading a between-his-own-legs pass to Patrick Sharp in the Wild slot - but Sharp's eventual shot went wide of Ilya Bryzgalov.
Despite plenty of end-to-end action, few shots and no goals were generated.
Still scoreless, the teams skated off for the second intermission.
END FIRST PERIOD - Chicago 0, Wild 0
Shots: CHI - 7; MIN - 5
Power Play: CHI - 0/2; MIN - 0/2
The Wild earned the first power play of the game just two minutes in as Niklas Hjalmarsson was whistled for a hook.
The Wild had a little trouble keeping the puck in the zone on the man advantage, but did generate one chance from close in as Jared Spurgeon had a clean look pinching from the point - but his shot sailed wide. The failed power play leaves the Wild 0-for-22 against Chicago in playoff games dating back through last season's series.
Chicago went on the man advantage when Clayton Stoner was called for interference at 6:34, but the power play was eradicated quickly when Jonathan Toews took Kyle Brodziak down on a shorthanded rush.
Both teams were clamping down defensively, both teams had just two shots on goal at the midpoint of the first period.
The Wild maintained some steady pressure with around 8 to go, generating a few chances.
Dany Heatley was sent off for slashing after he took a whack at Chicago goalie Corey Crawford on a forecheck.
Shorthanded, Erik Haula had a clean breakaway but saw the puck trickle off his stick as a Chicago defender hassled him as he bore in on Crawford.
The Wild struggled to get pucks on Crawford, only managing 4 shots on goal in the period, but neither team had any serious threats on net in the period - which ends tied 0-0.
Follow KSTP Sports' Chris Long on Twitter at @jclong
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