The Minnesota Wild lost to the Chicago Blackhawks 3-0 Tuesday night at the Excel Energy Center. With the win the Blackhawks take a commanding 3-1 series lead as the action moves back to Chicago for game 5 Thursday night. Chicago won this game with their defense. The Wild went 0-for 6 on the power play, had 26 shots blocked by the Blackhawks, and were blanked by net minder Corey Crawford. The evening started on a high note for the Wild with the return of Jason Pominville to the lineup. His first game since April 23rd. The arena was buzzing and the atmosphere electric with 19,378 fans crammed into the “X”, the fourth lastgest crowd in team history. A deafening roar erupted as Josh Harding led the Wild on to the ice. Minnesota looked confident and ready to ride the wave of crowd support to another victory and even the series at 2 games each. Those good feelings lasted all of 5 minutes and 9 seconds when a Michal Handzus shot deflected off of Patrick Sharp and in past Josh Harding for what would be the eventual game winner. Minnesota was still in the game at this point. Up to the Chicago goal, the Wild had out played and out shot the Blackhawks 6-2 including a power play just 1:06 in. Failing to score on that initial power play would be a harbinger of things to come. Minnesota would have 6 power play chances on the night and fail to score on every one of them. Heading into game 5 in Chicago the Wild are o for 15 on the power play in the first 4 games. ZERO for SIX tonight and ZERO for FIFTEEN on the POWER PLAY in the series!! That is not a statistic that wins you games let alone series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s not a common occurrence for the Chicago Blackhawks to hand their opponent 6 man advantage chances in a game either. Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo addressed missed opportunities in his post game comments, “We had a great start and unfortunately we couldn’t capitalize and fell behind. That kind of affected some things we had going. I don’t think we necessarily responded well to being behind, staying with our game in certain situations. Certainly that game was hanging there for us to climb back into.” Later Yeo addressed the power play specifically, “Power plays, that’s a big story tonight, that’s for sure. We have to look at that to see what we can do to help our guys in certain situations there”. Coaches are fond of saying it’s the details that make the difference. Tonight those details came down to power play effectiveness, avoiding shot blockers, and shooting accuracy. The Wild attempted 68 shots tonight, 25 were stopped by Corey Crawford, 26 were blocked by the Blackhawks and 17 missed both Crawford and the net. Of the 25 shots on goal, Zach Parise led the team with 5. Mikko Koivu, Kyle Brodziak, Jason Pominville and Charlie Coyle followed with 3 shots apiece. That’s a heck of a lot of rubber headed in one direction with none of it finding the back of the net. The Blackhawks Crawford was good tonight, but a lot of shots seemed to be hitting him in the chest or floating harmlessly wide or high. One the power play Minnesota seemed to have a great deal of trouble adjusting the umbrella of perimeter shooters and getting the puck down low to the guys trying to crash the net or clean up on a juicy rebound. 6 times tonight the Wild tried the same thing over and over. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting a different result. Hopefully the coaching staff and power play units can come up with something different and quickly. The season may well depend on it.
The injury bug reared it’s ugly head again tonight. Just as Jason Pominville returned to the lineup leaving forwards Zenon Konopka and Mike Rupp on day to day status along with goal tender Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding was bit. On a rather innocuous play with 4:23 left in the 1st period, Jonathon Toews drove toward the net ended up falling on top of a sprawling Harding landing on the goalie’s legs. Harding was slow to get up after the collision and the Wild’s trainer came out at the next stoppage of play a minutes later. The Wild net minder seemed to shake off the problem and returned to the net to finish the period. Harding finished the frame with 5 save on 6 shots. The only goal of the period came after Mikko Koivu failed to clear the puck at the half wall and had his pocket picked by Marian Hossa, who found Handzus for the shot that led to a 1-0 Chicago lead. At the start of the second period Darcy Kuemper replaced Harding in net and would remain there for the rest of the night. This was Kuemper’s first NHL playoff action and his first game action since April 18th. He would end up making 16 saves on 18 shots in 39:53 of ice time. Talk about being thrown into the fray with little notice. If little prep time was bad, the ‘Hawks Patrick Sharp would make it worse, snapping off a screen shot past Minnesota defender Jared Spurgeon that would beat Kuemper extending the Chicago lead to 2-0. After the game Wild Coach Yeo talked about Kuemper saying, “It’s a tough situation for Kuemps to come into. You can’t worry about those things. You take what’s given to you, put your head down and get back to work.” Kuemper would surrender one more goal. That one came from the stick of Bryan Bickell on a sharp angle shot that beat the net minder high on his glove side to make it 3-0 Blackhawks. Despite giving up two of the three Chicago goals Kuemper didn’t take the loss. That went to Josh Hording who surrendered the eventual game winner in the 1st period, giving him a 1-3 record for the series. One surprising development goal tender wise was the appearance of Niklas Backstrom in uniform on the bench as an emergency backup to Kuemper tonight. Hopefully that means the Wild’s number one goalie is close to returning to action. GonePuckWild.com will have any news on that front over the next two days.
Even with Pominville back in the lineup there was precious little offense to be found. The Wild forecheck that was so effective in game 3 was noticeably lessened this game. On the night the Wild out hit their opponent 20 to 10 including a beauty by Cal Clutterbuck midway through the opening frame that sent Brent Seabrook airborne and landing on the seat of his breezers against the boards. Yes, that’s the point this game recap has come to. There were so few Wild highlights that an individual hit makes the list. The Blackhawks beat the Wild with defense tonight, even as Minnesota tried to launch every but the kitchen sink at the net. The Wild tried and tried again to get shots through to Crawford but fewer than 1in 2 made it there. The Wild’s 1st and 2nd lines were unchanged from game theee. The top line of Koivu, Parise and Coyle was 0 for 11 on shots and had a -4 CORSI rating. Lines 2,3 and 4 had similarly disappointing numbers.
The Wild have no practice scheduled for tomorrow as they travel to Chicago for game 5 at the United Center Thursday evening. That will be another 8:30 CST start to accommodate TV scheduling. The game will be on Fox Sports North where available and on NBC Sports Network nationally. I’ts do or die time for Minnesota. The Blackhawks will be amped up and ready to close out the series in front of their home fans. The Wild have been here before, back in 2003 against the Colorado Avalanche. Can history repeat itself? There’s a team in St Paul and a whole lot of fans who sure hope so. GonePuckWild.com will keep you informed of any Minnesota Wild news leading up to game five of this quarterfinal series. I’ll be back with the game preview Thursday morning. Until then this is Scott Drain hopefully saying, “Let’s Go Wild!”