By Brad Vandenberk
As the scene shifted to St. Paul, Minnesota on Sunday, the Chicago Blackhawks thus far had held the 8th seed Minnesota Wild in check. Game one turned out to be a bit of a feeling out process. Both teams knew what was required to win this series. Bryan Bickell decided to produce at the perfect time, sliding the overtime winner under Josh Harding. Game two showed us that when the Hawks want to play… well, 5 -2 was the result. Patrick Sharp, finally got the monkey off is back, sniping two goals. Patrick Kane was mesmerising causing the Wild to chance him around the ice all night. Michael Frolik, playing his normal 4th line minutes, chipped in with a nice shorthanded goal, his 2nd g note of the night.
Game three was the Wilds first playoff home game since 2008. The Hawks were 18-4-2 on the road during the regular season. Dave Bolland and Ray Emery skated this week but remained out of the line up. Dan Carcillo, Jamal Mayers and Sheldon Brookbank were out as well.
Coming into Game 3, the new Wild game plan was to fore check aggressively and force the Hawks defensemen to make mistakes. The Hawks didn’t make any changes to their line up that has them up 2-0 in the series. Corey Crawford was the obvious choice for coach Q.
The Wild’s game plan began to start very early in the first minutes of the game. Bodies were flying everywhere and the Hawks began to feel the energy of the Wild. Niklas Hjalmarsson answered the Wilds aggression delivering a thunderous hit on Wild captain Zach Parise right in front of the Hawks bench. Ryan Suter was Jonathan Toews shadow all night. He was in his back pocket as soon as Toews touched the puck. Michal Handzus was trying his best to keep up with Kane and Sharp but he seemed a step behind.
Viktor Stalberg gets the first penalty of the game for tripping. Crawford began to silence his doubters with some in tight saves. Cal Clutterbuck began to let the Hawks know that they wouldn’t be going down easy. Michal Rozsival was his first victim.
Kane then showed why his vision on the ice is one of the best in the league. He spots a streaking Johnny Oduya coming off the far point. He makes no mistake and fires a shot over Harding for a 1-0 lead.
Devin Setoguchi hammers Nick Leddy with, what some might dub, a questionable hit. Leddy is slow to get up, but remained in the game.
With 90 seconds left on the period, Clutterbuck gets a shot through and Crawford lets out a huge rebound. Pierre Marc Bouchard was in the perfect position and sends a backhand in the top shelf tying the game at 1-1. The Wild outshot the Hawks 15-9 and out hit them 17-4.
The Wild continue to pressure the Hawks when the second period starts. Crawford again needed to make some key saves to keep this game close. Justin Falk shows off his favourite wrestling move, forcing Frolik’s head into the glass well after the whistle was blown. The Hawks get their first power play attempt. Kane finds a wide open Hossa who shoots it high on Harding. Kane plays with the Wild penalty killing unit teeing it up for Hossa once again. This time Harding didn’t have to make a save as Hossa got called for strike one whiffing on the pass. The Wild kill the man advantage and the crowd wants to see a playoff victory.
Minnesota began to show their playoff inexperience with another saunter to the penalty box. This time it’s Kyle Brodziak who high sticks Hjalmarsson. The power play unit continued to struggle with a Wild shorthanded attempt. The fore check began to stifle the Hawks power play and Toews got called for a phantom hold. The Wild obtain 1:25 of power play time. Crawford helps out his defence trying to clear the puck out. Clutterbuck breaks down the wing and fires another shot on Crawford who looked a little caught off guard. With the puck bouncing around in the crease, Clutterbuck comes in to be sure it’s under the glove of Crawford. Oduya takes exception and they both head to the box for roughing with Oduya getting the extra 2 minutes sending the Wild on the power play for the third time. The period ends with the score still knotted at 1, with the Wild continuing to outshoot the Hawks 29-17.
The tie is broken just 3 minutes into the final frame. Parise lifts a backhand past Crawford igniting the Crowd and giving the Wild their first lead of the game. The goal looked eerily close to the first one off the stick of Bouchard.
Coach Q pulled out his stir stick and began to mix up the forward lines. Duncan Keith introduced Clutterbuck’s face to his stick and the ref’s arm remained at his side. The crowd lets the official know about it as Clutterbuck heads to the locker room for repairs. Keith tries his best Kane impression dangling across the blue line. As the time tics the Hawks show why they are the league’s best. Wild coach Mike Yeo was forced to call a timeout and settle his team down. Leddy, the Minnesota native flew up the far side trying to tie the game.
With just 2:46 left in the game, Kane gets his 2nd assist of the night. He sent a puck over to Keith who blast the tying goal past Harding. Toews wanted to end the game with just over a minute remaining when he walks through and puts a flying backhand shot on Harding. An extra period is need and the Wild need the win to stay alive in this series.
2:15 into sudden death overtime, the Hawks get sloppy behind their net. Andrew Shaw, trips Matt Cullen and while the Hawks wait for a whistle to be blown, Jason Zucker grabs the puck and gets the winning goal past Crawford for a 3-2 final score.
-Wild outshot the Hawks 37-27
-Keith had 25:31 of TOI which was nowhere near Ryan Suter who finished with 32:23 TOI.
-Toews was the Hawks only center who was over 50% in the faceoff dot winning 13 of 24 draws.
-Mikko Koivu won 15 of 20 face offs with most of them coming on Handzus.
-Kane finished with 2 assists. Sharp, Hossa, both had 1 assist.
-Hossa, Toews and Brandon Saad still only have a combined 1 point in this series.
-Game 4 will go Tuesday night back in Minnesota. The Wild are looking to tie the series at 2. The Hawks may want to review their current line up and maybe insert a little bit of grit in the likes of Carcillo and Mayers.