By Jon Fromi
The Chicago Blackhawks were unable to hand Minnesota its first home loss of the postseason Friday night. The Wild evened up the Western Conference second-round series with the Blackhawks, stifling Chicago shooters and taking Game 4 by a score of 4-2.
First Period-Both teams set a fast pace to start the contest, though most of the early action was in the Wild zone. Duncan Keith caught Minnesota napping on a line change an carried the puck toward Ilya Bryzgalov in the fifth minute until Mikko Koivu hustled over to prevent a point-blank shot on goal.
The Wild drew first blood in the eighth minute after Matt Cooke swiped the puck from Michal Rozsival. Justin Fontaine waited out Corey Crawford from the right circle and beat the Hawks goalie high to give Minnesota a 1-0 advantage 7:24 into the opening period.
Jeremy Morin went to the penalty box for slashing Ryan Suter seconds after the resulting faceoff. Chicago kept the Wild from building on their lead but momentum was squarely on the side of the home team.
The Hawks had an extended shift in the Wild zone in the 13th minute that ended when Duncan Keith lost the handle on a pass. Charlie Coyle picked Keith’s pocket as he attempted to chase down the puck. The turnover nearly resulted in a shot on goal before Keith broke up an attempted pass to Nino Niederreiter.
Koivu was caught holding the stick of Bryan Bickell after a neutral ice face off, giving Chicago a power play chance with 6:11 left in the first. Minnesota killed the penalty without allowing a shot.
The Wild stormed back to the Chicago zone and put sustained pressure on the Hawks. Crawford gloved an attempt by Zach Parise with 2:55 to play in the period. Something needed to happen for the Hawks to get back on even keel with the Wild. Providing that jolt was Patrick Sharp.
As the final minute of the period ticked away, Sharp skated across the Minnesota blueline and gathered in the puck sent into the zone by Marian Hossa. Sharp got into position to shoot at the right dot and snuck the biscuit between the pads of Bryzgalov. After a period largely controlled by the Wild, Chicago had tied the game on just its fourth shot of the period with 38 seconds remaining. The score stayed that way as the teams skated to the locker room.
Second Period-A long pass from Keith to Brandon Saad was rightfully ruled offside in the second minute. Crawford broke up a scoring chance by Dany Heatley a minute later.
Nearly four minutes into the second period, a strong Minnesota push resulted in an unfortunate sequence for the Hawks. Crawford sent away two attempts from Parise at close range. However, the puck wound up behind the net and Crawford lost sight of it. Jason Pominville was able to bank the puck off Crawford’s skate and across the goal line for a 2-1 Minnesota lead 3:51 into the middle frame.
Crawford rebounded to make a nice stop of an Eric Haula attempt 5:15 into the period. Shortly thereafter, the Hawks would draw even for the second time in the game.
Michal Handzus collected a loose puck behind the Minnesota net and fed Hossa, who in turn got the puck out to Brent Seabrook at the point. Handzus redirected Seabrook’s shot into the net at 6:28 to knot the contest at two.
The tie did not last long as Minnesota regained the lead less than a minute later. Coyle found Niederreiter coming across into the Chicago zone. Niederreiter zipped a shot over Crawford’s glove from the left dot, making the score 3-2 Wild at the 7:12 mark.
Midway through the period, Sharp stole a pass and skated ahead of the Wild toward Bryzgalov. Sharp made a move toward the backhand but the right pad of the Minnesota net-minder stopped the attempt.
Crawford stopped a Niederreiter redirect in the 12th minute as Minnesota continued to generate the bulk of the scoring chances. The Wild went on the power play after Ben Smith sent a puck over the glass in his own zone with 7:58 to play in the period. Hossa got a shorthanded attempt on goal that was stopped by Bryzgalov but ultimately the Hawks came up with another big kill.
Patrick Kane got off a shot from the right circle with 3:16 left, though it was handled by Bryzgalov. Brandon Bollig put Chicago back on the penalty kill at the 17:13 mark after he planted Keith Ballard into the boards from behind. The action went to 4-on-4 after Jared Spurgeon elbowed Marcus Kruger 36 seconds later. Both Ballard and Kruger went to their respective dressing rooms following the penalties.
There was no further scoring in the final two minutes, although the Hawks went down another skater when Niklas Hjalmarsson went to the dressing room. Crawford made a huge stop of a breakaway slapshot by Haula in the final seconds to keep the score 3-2 after 40 minutes.
Third Period-Keith hooked Cooke 45 seconds into the period to give Minnesota its fourth shot at the man advantage. Hjalmarsson and Kruger led a PK that held the Wild without a shot. Not long after the teams were back at full strength, Rozsival was sent to the box after he closed his hand on the puck.
This time, Chicago’s luck ran out. Spurgeon knocked in a rebound of a Koivu shot over Crawford at the 3:47 mark to increase the Wild lead to 4-2.
Keith broke up an odd man rush in the ninth minute, but Chicago was definitely on its heels as the midway point of the third period approached. The Hawks put together a couple of decent offensive shifts in the 13th minute but couldn’t make a dent in the Minnesota lead.
With 6:08 to play, Jonathan Toews got the puck out in front of the net for Jeremy Morin. Morin had two chances to score but was denied both times by Bryzgalov.
Crawford skated to the bench with two minutes left. Coach Joel Quenneville took his timeout with 53 seconds to play. Neither move resulted in the required offensive surge and the final buzzer announced the series as a dead heat through four games.
Three Stars-Cooke (third), Marco Scandella (second), Spurgeon (first).
-Bollig will probably not be around for his five minutes of playoff action in Chicago Sunday. I would suspect he will be suspended for his hit on Ballard for at least Game 5. If not, maybe he takes in another game from the team box per coach’s decision.
-The Blackhawks were outplayed for the second straight game Friday night. Chicago was outshot 31-20 and was bested at the dot 31-27.
-Cooke, returning from a seven-game suspension, was a difference maker. It’s a good bet that he will be a thorn in Chicago’s side for the remainder of the series.
-Patrick Kane played 24 minutes and put two shots on goal. Hossa, Sharp and Toews each managed two shots on the evening. Bryzgalov had a nice game but the Hawks need to increase his workload when the series moves back to Chicago.
-Morin played nearly half of his 7:09 in the final period. Bollig and Joakim Nordstrom saw the ice briefly in the third but for the most part, Quenneville skated nine forwards Friday. For a team that supposedly has a depth advantage, Chicago’s bench has been awfully short.
-As frustrating as it is to see the Hawks get dominated on the ice, it is far from panic time for Chicago. Quenneville will take advantage of last change and create some more favorable matchups for his club at home.
-Sunday’s game gets underway at 8:00 p.m. Maybe a team lunch with the moms is the recipe for a Game 5 victory.