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 4-2 win in Game 4 of the Second Round against the Chicago Blackhawks:
In the Game 3 Takeaways, I called this a series of least mistakes. However, tonight the Wild took the action to the Blackhawks, forcing turnovers and kept the Hawks offense grounded. For the fourth straight game, Minnesota kept Chicago under 22 shots on goal. Since the beginning of the season, the Blackhawks have been held under 23 shots on goal only six times—five of those contests have come against the Wild.
Minnesota got off to the start it wanted, scoring in the first period for the first time this series on Justin Fontaine’s first career playoff goal. That’s a lot of firsts. Here’s another one: the team that’s scored first in the series has won every game.
Tonight was a game of responses, and arguably one of the biggest was by the Wild’s goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. After letting a Patrick Sharp shot wiggled through his 5-hole at the end of the first period, the netminder stoned Sharp on a breakaway with a split save that Jean Claude Van Dame would’ve had trouble extending to. With the Hawks buzzing in the third, Bryzgalov came up big again denying Jeremy Morin on two point-blank chances to lock down the game.
Matt Cooke was fired up for tonight’s rodeo, his first game back after serving a seven-game suspension for a hit on Colorado’s Tyson Barrie in Game 3 of the First Round. In his first three shifts, Cooke landed three hits, two resulting in turnovers and one directly leading to a goal. On the third sequence, Cooke took a hit to make a play at the offensive zone blue line, getting the puck in deep. With Justin Fontaine the first man in on the forecheck, Cooke busted into the zone and was the second in and landed a hit on Michal (not the correct way to spell Michael) Handzus. The puck popped out on Michal (again, not the correct way to spell Michael) Rozsival, but the 35-year-old stuck with the play and stripped the Blackhawks defenseman. Cooke then dropped the puck to Fontaine, who when Rover—roofing the puck over Corey Crawford’s glove. It was Fontaine’s first career-playoff goal (more on him in a moment).
This is probably about the one-millionth time this has been written, but Cooke is the type of player you hate to play against and love to have on your team. He makes the game easier for linemates—finishing checks, causing turnovers and creating general havoc—and a bear to play against. When opponents have the puck, they always have to be on high alert when Cooke is on the ice, which is a distraction and leads to rushed plays and poor decision-making—pretty much the opposite of what they want. In his first game of the series with the Hawks, if Cooke wanted to set a tone and make his presence felt, well, mission accomplished.
The Kids, as Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo has affectionately dubbed them, continue to grow up in the postseason. Tonight, Fontaine showed his scoring prowess, with a quick wrist shot from a bad angle high over Crawford’s shoulder. The former University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog is a crafty playmaker and had a good outing again tonight. He also has one of the better playoff beards around: fully developed with a flourish of auburn (Wild.com Digital Media Coordinator Kelly Erickson’s description, not mine).
The 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs are feeling more and more like Nino Niederreiter’s coming out party. After scoring the Game 7 overtime winner in Round 1 against Colorado, Niederreiter has continued to elevate his game, playing physical and creating offense. In the past, Niederreiter said he likes to play his off-wing because—coming down the right side—the left-hander is already in a good position to shoot with a better angle. Well, he must’ve had a decent angle tonight, because from the left side he launched a rocket over Crawford’s glove for his first of the series. However, unlike Fontaine, Niederreiter’s playoff beard has a long way to go.
Young players typically play better at home, just one of the parts of learning how to be a pro is playing on the road, and that will be a continuing process for the Wild’s greenhorns. Erickson will have a feature on the club’s young guns tomorrow on Wild.com so check back for that.
While the fresh forwards are getting the spotlight, we’ve got to give a little shine to a pair of 24-year-old blueliners: Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon.
Scandella has been a rock throughout the playoffs, often matching up against the opponents’ top forwards and shutting them down. Tonight, the Montreal native played 20:57, recorded a plus-1 and deservedly earned the game’s Second Star. Scandella has controlled the gap the same way a great opera singer controls their falsetto: steady and unwavering.
Scandella’s partner, Spurgeon, was equally impressive tonight. On Niederreiter’s goal, he made an outlet pass to Coyle with the precision of an expert tailor, threading the needle through the middle of the ice. He sewed up the Wild win by sneaking down the right side on the power play and hemming the puck into the top corner over an outstretched Crawford.
Minnesota nice gets thrown right out the window during playoff season, and I love it. Tonight, the entire building (I think I even saw a few Hawks fans in on the action after a few Bud Lights) was in chorus mocking the Hawks netminder with: CRAW-FORD. Apparently, Wild fans drank their mean juice before the contest, and I so badly wanted to join in, but the professional environment of the press box keeps us from getting too animated high above the ice surface.
Home ice advantage in the State of Hockey is becoming a major talking point, as the Wild remained undefeated in the postseason. Before the game, the in-house video board showed clips of Hawks and Avalanche players talking about the atmosphere here. Of course, you’re only good as your next performance so Wild.com is implementing a strict “no talking at work” policy (unless it’s about the Wild of course) because the club guaranteed we’d be back here for a Game 6.