The Minnesota Wild face the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Five of the Stanley Cup Quarterfinals tonight at the United Center starting at (:30 Eastern and 8:30 pm Central time. For the Wild this is it, win or go home for the summer. Chicago is back home where they have lost only three times in regulation this season. The Blackhawks lead this opening round series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs 3 games to 1 after a 3-0 shutout win Tuesday in St. Paul. The Wild looked great in their win on Sunday but failed to carry that energy and physical play into game 4 when they tried to skate with the Blackhawks. Minnesota attempted 68 shots in game 4 with just 25 making it past the ‘Hawks defenders to goal tender Corey Crawford. Ah, goal tending. That’s a rather tender subject with the Wild. Who the starting goalie will be tonight is up in the air according to Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo who said, “We like to keep the other team guessing. We’re not only not going to tell them who our starting goalie is, we’re not going to tell them who our backup goalie is. We’re going to keep them in the dark.” That’s coach speak for we’re going to start whichever goalie is able to play. Backstrom is said to be close to returning and he did dress and backup Darcy Kuemper after Josh Harding was injured in the 1st period of game 4. Harding had started all four playoff games after Backstrom was injured in warm ups for game 1 and played exceptionally well. Kuemper allowed a soft goal on the first shot he faced Tuesday night, after he entered the game at the start of the 2nd period. He settled down after that and played well. Talk about a tough situation for the rookie goal tender to be thrown into! Kuemper did say after the game that he knows as a back up his job is to be ready at a moments notice. Good to say but a lot tougher to do. Hopefully we’ll see the return of Backstrom tonight.
The Wild however have another issue to address, that being scoring. In 4 games the Wild have scored a grand total of 6 goals. Half of that total came in their game 3 victory, leaving a goal a game average over the others. That won’t get the job done against the Blackhawks folks. Minnesota has not lacked in scoring chances either, especially on the power play. In 15 man advantage situations over 4 games the Wild have scored 0, that’s ZERO goals, 0.0% efficiency with the extra skater. Is they could just score at their season average of 17.9 % that would be 2-3 extra goals. Last game alone the Blackhawks handed the Wild 6 power play opportunities. When you hear Coach Yeo talk about missed chances that’s what he’s talking about. Bottom line Minnesota is going to have to score and defend. So far in the series the defense has been good. With the exception of game 2 when Chicago found the back of the net 5 times. Over the other three games the Blackhawks have averaged 2.33 goals a game. The Wild are due and this would be a great time to break out of a scoring slump. Captain Mikko Koivu and linemates Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle need a big game. Koivu has been held scoreless and pointless thus far with a -8 rating. Time for the Captain to step up and lead by example. No Wild player has scored more than a single goal so far and only 5 have multiple points led by Matt Cullen‘s 3 assists. So far the Cullen, Setoguchi and Zucker line has been the most productive with 2 goals and 4 helpers. Pierre-Marc Bouchard has a pair of assists and Cal Clutterbuck has a single goal and assist. That’s the big scorers for Minnesota. Contrast that with the Blackhawks Patrick Sharp‘s 4 goals and 1 assist, Patrick Kane‘s 5 helpers, Bryan Bickell‘s 3 goals along with Hossa, Keith and Shaw with 3 points apiece.
Minnesota needs to go back to what worked in game 3. Hit them, dump the puck in, hit them on the forecheck and get a shot on Crawford. An aggressive forecheck with an equally aggressive snarling attitude is what the Wild need to bring to the rink tomorrow. Knock the ‘Hawks on their butt and take the game. This is not the time for fancy plays, dangling in and out of defenders and picking a corner. This is the time to get mean, crash the net and score ugly, greasy goals. Take Chicago out of their comfort zone, shut their fans up and TAKE THE WIN. Nothing more than a complete team effort will do. Lose this one and we’ve got all summer to hear about what might have been, what could have been and what should have been. The Wild have been here before. As an organization the Wild are 7-3 all time in elimination games. This is time to dig up the spirit and intensity of ’03. The Avalanche were supposed to win, the Canucks were supposed to win, however a TEAM of Wild players TOOK THE WINS. They might not have gone all the way, but they went a heck of a lot farther than anyone, except that team, thought they could. Tonight will end with the Minnesota Wild leaving the United Center with a snarl or a whimper. The difference is up to them. The Wild have BEATEN the Blackhawks in the regular season, they have BEATEN the Blackhawks in this playoff series. The Wild players know they can beat them, they have the talent, the offense, the defense, the goal tending, and the coaching. It’s time to look around the locker room and know that you, with your team mates can get the job done. If each piece does his part tonight there will be two charter planes headed back to St. Paul for game six.
Check back throughout the day here on GonePuckWid.com for any updates as we head toward game time. You can also keep updated on Twitter, follow us at @DrainScott or @FSGonePuckWild and on Facebook at Gone Puck Wild. Puck drop is slated for 8:30 pm (CST) Minnesota time. Once again it’s a later start so NBC Sports Network can carry the Penguins/Islanders matchup. Where available the game will be televised on Fox Sports North (FSN) and nationally on NBC SN. After the action I’ll be back with a full recap, reaction and, analysis. Until then this is Scott Drain shouting, “LET’S GO WILD!!”