Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild: Biggest Takeaways from Game 3
The pressure was building in Game 3 at the Xcel Energy Center Tuesday night.
As the teams battled through two scoreless periods, the Minnesota Wild felt a certain level of relief because they had not fallen victim to the Chicago Blackhawks' versatile attack. However, they couldn't put a puck past Corey Crawford and their offense had gone missing in action.
It was all about which team would crack first.
It didn't take long once the third period started. The Wild got a picture-perfect goal from speedy Erik Haula, and it was like they had received a jolt from a defibrillator. The team's heartbeat suddenly got stronger, the blood was pumping and the Wild cruised to a 4-0 victory—their first in the series.
While they will have to win three more times, they demonstrated that they can play with the defending Stanley Cup champions—at least for one night.
Here are the takeaways from Minnesota's Game 3 win.
Erik Haula Scores a Brilliant Goal
The Wild did not play badly in their first two game in Chicago, but they never found their stride and were playing from behind throughout both games.
The change of venue gave the Wild a chance to find their stride and dictate the pace of the game to the Blackhawks. The Wild slowed the game down and kept Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews from working their magic and building a lead.
That allowed the Wild to go into the third period on even terms. That was better, but it was not good enough.
If the Wild were going to jump into this series, goals were needed.
The unlikely combination of Justin Fontaine and Erik Haula answered the call at the 1:41 mark of the third period. Haula flew down the left wing, where he was ignored by Kane. As soon as he got within a stride of Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, Fontaine sent a perfect pass his way and Haula deflected the puck into the net for the opening goal.
One goal is normally not enough to stop or even slow down the Blackhawks, but on this night it was. That goal lit the fuse for the Wild and they went on to dominate the third period and cruise to the victory.
Blackhawks' Superstars Were Ordinary
One of the reasons the Blackhawks have been so succesful in the last four years has been the great depth of talent that head coach Joel Quenneville has at his disposal.
He knows that on any given night, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook or a role player like Bryan Bickell can make the key play that gives the Blackhawks the win.
However, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are the team's biggest stars. They are usually the ones that come through in the biggest moments.
In recent games, they have been taking turns leading the Blackhawks to a six-game playoff winning streak. That was clearly not the case Tuesday night against the Wild.
Kane registered just one shot on goal in nearly 20 minutes of play and was beaten down the ice on Haula's game-winning goal. Kane was minus-two in the game and never had the impact that Blackhawks fans are used to seeing from him.
Toews also had an off night. He played the same 19:56 that Kane played and had two shots on goal. He was also charged with one giveaway and had a losing night in the faceoff circle while finishing with a minus-one rating.
The Blackhawks need their superstars to step up, but they did not in Game 3.
Bryzgalov Holds the Fort
There was a black cloud hanging over the Minnesota Wild before they took the ice prior to Game 3 of their playoff series with the Chicago Blackhawks.
They had been outskated, outscored and overwhelmed in the first two games of the series, and while the change of venue from Chicago to St. Paul was a positive development, there was still plenty of reason for trepidation—especially with Ilya Bryzgalov.
His playoff performance had been...spotty going into Game 3. He had lost the first two games of the Colorado series before he was replaced by Darcy Kuemper and the only reason he was playing was due to the rookie goaltender's injury.
The Blackhawks had abused Bryzgalov with seven goals in the first two games. He had not given much indication that he was ready for a signature performance.
However, that's just what he offered in Game 3, as he stopped all 19 shots he faced and Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that he gained his first postseason shutout since blanking the Colorado Avalanche while playing for the Anaheim Ducks in 2006.
While the Blackhawks were not firing on all cylinders, the pressure of the moment was great. Since the game was scoreless, it came down to which team would crack first.
Since the Wild had Bryzglov in net, it seemed likely it would be the home team.
The beleaguered goalie would have none of it, and once his teammates started to fill the net in the third period, he slammed the door on the Blackhawks.
Woes in 1st Road Game of Series
The Chicago Blackhawks have become the standard by which all other NHL franchises are measured.
Two Stanley Cups in four years gives them a pedigree that no other team can match. Their speed, skill and ability to come through in the clutch give them an edge that no other team has displayed over that span.
However, the Blackhawks are not a juggernaut and they have weaknesses. When they go on the road for the first time in any playoff series, it's a solid bet that they will lose the game.
According to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Blackhawks have lost the first road game of their last nine playoff series. They have proven to be a very good road playoff team, but not in their first game away from the United Center.
That inability to get acclimated has not cost them in their previous five series, but it has given the Wild an opening in the second round.
If the Wild can hold on to that momentum in Game 4 and beyond, it could make this a very long and demanding series.
Wild Leadership Comes to Play
The Minnesota Wild can't match the Blackhawks when it comes to elite talent, but head coach Mike Yeo's team has a core of proven performers.
While the Wild got very little from Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund in the first two games of the series, that foursome played quite well and made big contributions in the 4-0 victory.
Parise scored the third goal of the game and his first of the series on Tuesday. He also added an assist and commanded attention every time he stepped onto the ice.
Suter played 26:12, blocked three shots and was credited with an assist. He collided with Marian Hossa in the second period and appeared to suffer a shoulder injury, but he was back in the third period and playing solid hockey.
Koivu did not get on the scoreboard, but won 59 percent of his faceoffs, while Granlund scored two goals that helped the Wild put the Blackhawks away. His first goal was a beautiful backhander to the top corner after taking a sweet pass from Jason Pominville.
If that core foursome continues to come through, the Wild will find a way to get back in the series.