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Wild top Blackhawks in OT, cut series deficit

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Five days after denying Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker of a moment hockey players dream of from the time they are kids, the hockey gods atoned for Zucker's steely dose of bad puck-luck.

After ripping a shot off the crossbar in overtime of its Game 1 Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Chicago Blackhawks, a game it lost just minutes later, Zucker got his game-winner 2:15 into overtime of Game 3, leading Minnesota to a 3-2 victory Sunday at Xcel Energy Center.

The Blackhawks now lead 2-1 in this best-of-7 series. Game 4 is Tuesday night in St. Paul.

Asked if he felt redeemed for being stymied by the post in Game 1, the rookie shook it off.

"You never deserve anything, you've always got to work for everything," Zucker said. "I just tried keeping the puck on net and this one happened to go in for me."

After Chicago had tied the game with just under three minutes to play in regulation -- a goal which sucked the life out of what had been a rowdy building all afternoon -- the Blackhawks carried the first couple shifts of overtime.

Minnesota got the puck into the zone for the first time, where Pierre-Marc Bouchard slipped the puck to Matt Cullen behind the net. Cullen was tripped but was able to get just enough on a pass from his stomach to Zucker standing below the left circle.

Crawford, who had gone down to protect the post against the wrap around, was out of position for Zucker's one-timer blast, which beat him short-side high.

Not only was the goal a bit of payback, but also a reward for Zucker, perhaps Minnesota's most dynamic player through the first three games of this series. He was credited with just one shot in Game 1, but had several glorious chances -- including his crossbar -- just miss. His three shots in Game 2 were second-best on the team.

"The more shots you get, the better chance you have of scoring," said linemate Devin Setoguchi, whose physical play Sunday was a catalyst for the Wild. "It's nice to see him get one. He's worked for it, he's played physical. He's a small guy but he's played hard."

The result was a deserving one for a Minnesota bunch that played perhaps its best game in weeks. One of the best teams in the NHL throughout the month of March, the Wild trudged through a 5-8-1 April, holding onto the eighth and final spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the regular season's final day.

After Game 1's OT defeat, the Wild were out-played and out-classed in a 5-2 loss in Game 2 Friday in Chicago. In the hours before Game 3, Wild coach Mike Yeo preached desperation and physicality as keys to getting back into the series.

He got it.

After falling behind 1-0 on a Johnny Oduya blast 13:26 into the contest, the Wild evened the score on a backhander by Bouchard at 18:30, taking advantage of a great hustle play by Cal Clutterbuck, who chased down his own rebound and tipped the puck to Bouchard for a back-hand shot near the left hash.

"I thought we had a good start the first 10 [minutes], doing some good things," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. "They got some momentum off the power play, got some zone time. This was the one game where we were in our zone a lot more than we would have liked to have been."

Neither team scored in the second, but the Wild out-shot and out-hit the Blackhawks at every turn. After 40 minutes, Minnesota held a 29-17 edge on the shot chart and a 24-6 advantage in hits.

"The big thing is, we took what we learned in Game 2 and we were able to bring it tonight," Yeo said. "As far as what playoff hockey is about, and what we need to do to be a team that's tough to play against."

Minnesota grabbed its first lead of the game 3:09 into the third period when Charlie Coyle beat Michal Rozsival to a loose puck behind the net at fed Zach Parise in front, who flipped a backhander high, top-shelf -- nearly the identical spot of Bouchard's tally in the first -- for his first of the playoffs.

"Charlie did a good job of getting in there on the forecheck," Parise said. "I didn't know that he knew I was there. He made a really nice pas in front of the net. I just wanted to get it upstairs. I had done enough of trying to get it through him on the ice, I figured I try to go upstairs once."

The Wild continued the onslaught until the 15-minute mark of the third, when a shift by Patrick Kane's second line seemed to turn the tide. They didn't score on that shift, but the next time out, Kane found Duncan Keith at the left dot for a blast which beat Josh Harding, tying the game at 2-2.

"We knew it was going to be a battle, we didn't know how long it was going to last," Harding said of the mood in the room between the third period and overtime. "We just stuck to our game plan … fortunately, we came out with the big win."

Both goaltenders were stellar Sunday, especially Crawford, who stopped 35 shots.

"He made a lot of big saves for us all game long," Keith said. "He was our best player tonight."

Harding made 25 saves to capture his first career playoff victory, including one on Jonathan Toews with just over a minute remaining in regulation after the Blackhawks captain had deked Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon and burrowed in for a chance in-close.

"It's fun, but we've still got a long ways to go," Harding said.

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