Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he'll remember from each contest. Today, he looks back at a 4-0 win in Game 3 of the Second Round against the Chicago Blackhawks:
This is starting to take shape as the series of least mistakes. It’s like hockey Russian Roulette: the team keeping a bullet out of the chamber the longest wins. Tonight, the Wild saved its ammo for the third period, firing home four third-period goals to make it 2-1 in the best-of-seven series against the Blackhawks.
Both teams played a stingy defensive game for the third time this series. Between the two clubs, there were only 37 shots on goal in the contest. Ilya Bryzgalov stopped all 19 shots for the shutout and made the saves he needed to make whenever Chicago started to press. It was the first time Bryzgalov had a chance to play at home, where the Wild has been stellar. The Wild remained undefeated in the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Xcel Energy Center, with a chance to even the series in Game 4 on Friday.
While the Blackhawks owned the transition game in the first two contests in Chicago, the Wild showed it has the skill to finish on the rush today. Minnesota’s first two goals came from neutral zone speed, entry passes and nice finishes from two young Finns.
We’ve talked about Erik Haula’s speed in this space before, but tonight it looked like he found an extra gear on the game-winning goal, blowing by Patrick Kane, not exactly an ice sloth. Haula started deep in his own zone, picking off a Chicago shot from the blue line. He moved the puck up to Matt Moulson then took off like California Chrome in the home stretch of the Kentucky Derby. Moulson found Justin Fontaine at the wing, and he floated a high saucer area pass, where Haula tracked it and chipped it over Hawks netminder Corey Crawford for his second of the playoffs.
Mikael Granlund scored an equally beautiful goal after a set play following a faceoff win. Granlund won the faceoff back to Ryan Suter, who made an outlet pass to Zach Parise. The wing one-touched it to Jason Pominville in stride. Pominville crossed the blue line and with the Hawks D-men sagging, dropped the puck to Granlund, who made a move to his backhand and then popped the puck over an outstretched Crawford. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo couldn’t have drawn it up any better on a white board.
The Wild made a few changes in the lineup today and the team responded. The Moulson, Haula and Fontaine line looked good and combined for the game winner. Yeo also put Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Mikko Koivu together before the game and the trio put together a solid two-way game. The line is a big, strong unit and was able to sustain pressure in the offensive zone for large chunks of the contest. Many times after keeping the puck in the Hawks zone, they were rewarded with standing ovations from the home crowd. On Thursday, Matt Cooke will be eligible to come back from a seven-game suspension following a hit on Tyson Barrie in the First Round against the Colorado Avalanche. So, there will likely be more shuffling amongst the forwards on Friday.
Defenseman Keith Ballard played for the first time since March 17 against the Boston Bruins. The blueliner gave the Wild 11:26 strong minutes and took a shift alongside Jared Spurgeon when Suter left in the second period following a collision with Marian Hossa (Suter returned in the third and Yeo said he was fine because he’s Ryan Suter). We even saw a patented Ballard hip check in the second period, as he lined up Hawks forward Brandon Bollig.
Duncan Keith is up for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the National Hockey League’s best defenseman, this season for good reason. Not only is he one of the better offensive blueliners in the League (he led all NHL defenseman in assists), but Keith also is one of the sneakier defensemen around.
Tonight, he used a veteran move to take away a Wild scoring opportunity in the first period. Haula broke through the neutral zone with a burst of speed and had a clean look on Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford. Not many blueliners in the league would be able to close the gap on Haula, but Keith got just close enough to make a desperation play to disrupt the attempt as the forward lined up his move. Instead of diving and risking taking a penalty, Keith swiped at his top hand with just enough make the center lose the puck without getting a shot off. The move was also subtle enough to not draw the attention of the ref for a hooking call.
The Wild’s in-house gameday production got a boost in the Second Round and was on display tonight before puck drop. On Ice Projection, supplied by Dangers, Inc. from Montreal, gave the pregame festivities a theatre atmosphere as the ice was lit up like a movie screen with highlights and graphics. Snowflake effects also fell in the lower bowl, lighting up the arena like a snowy, wintery night (thankfully outside the weather seems to have taken a turn for the better, am I right?).
Between periods the projections continued as the Wild’s forest and snowfall theme ran while the Zambonis cleaned the ice. On fresh ice, an updated State of Hockey Anthem played on the rink.
Adding to the in-arena atmosphere, the video board had blast from my childhood as a number of stars from the 80s gave the Wild good luck messages during stoppages. The Incredible Hulk Lou Ferrigno, Ernie Hudson aka Winston Zeddmore from Ghostbusters, and Ralph Macchio the Karate Kid all pumped up the crowd during stoppages. I was so excited about Macchio’s appearance, I tweeted that it was Daniel Larusso, his character’s name, on the board. All we need for Game 2 are some messages from Bo and Luke Duke, MacGyver and Magnum P.I., and my eight-year-old self will leave the arena like he ate a box of PEZ refills.