ST. PAUL—Whether it’s sun or snow, these people love the outdoors. Why, on the front page of this morning’s newspaper, near pictures of the Minnesota Vikings’ top two draft choices, there was a large snapshot of a fish. A walleye. Come and get me.
But this is still the so-called State of Hockey, and natives flock indoors at the drop of a puck for something worthwhile. Friday night’s late show qualifies locally, because the Wild stung the Blackhawks again, 4-2, to even this playoff series, 2-2.
The late show was not a great show for the defending Stanley Cup champions. Presented the possibility of closing out a gallant foe on Sunday night in Chicago, the Blackhawks opted instead for another low-octane offensive effort that might make Ilya Bryzgalov think twice about retiring anytime soon. He started this round as an emergency goalie. He’s trying to finish it as the second coming of Jacques Plante.
Coach Joel Quenneville played roster roulette in a noble attempt to create maximum stress on Bryzgalov. But “What’s My Line?” took on a subplot, as in “What’s Going On Here?” Coach Q thought the Blackhawks had decent zone time and were afforded some premium looks. However, only 20 shots reached Bryzgalov, who yielded to Patrick Sharp and Michal Handzus but otherwise lived a charmed existence.
The Blackhawks did not appear to be the faster team, or the more involved team. Disturbing. Even when they seemed to be in control of a crucial situation after a faceoff while trying to kill a second consecutive penalty, the Wild kept the puck in until Jared Spurgeon beat Corey Crawford early in the third period.
“Playoff hockey isn’t supposed to be easy,” mentioned captain Jonathan Toews, paraphrasing a recurrent theme from the Blackhawks. It’s more about what we’re doing than what the Wild are doing. That doesn’t completely explain why the visitors looked even more disjointed Friday night than they did in a drowsy defeat Tuesday night, but it’s a theory.
When Sharp tied the match 1-1 in the 20th minute, the thought crossed one’s mind that the Blackhawks might be ready to fill the net on Bryzgalov, who shut them out in Game 3. But he simply wasn’t tested all that often, and when Sharp bore in alone later, Bryzgalov was as spry as he was later when Jeremy Morin drilled from close range. The Blackhawks claim they love the ice surface at Xcel Energy Center, but the Wild are 5-0 for the playoffs here, and destined for at least one more home date.
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have yet to express desperation. They have superior skill, or so the form chart indicates, and with the Bulls eliminated, the hockey tenants at the United Center say the ice there is better than ever. Problem: now the Wild are playing with house money, even when the game isn’t in their house.
The State of Hockey is excited. Can’t imagine there will be fish pictures in Saturday’s sports section.