May 6, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise (11) scores a goal during the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks in game three of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Wild vs Chicago Blackhawks Game 4: Preview

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The Minnesota Wild and the Chicago Blackhawks are set to battle in game four of their Stanley Cup Playoff Conference Semi-Final series.  Face off is at 8:30 pm Central Time at the Xcel Energy Center.  The Wild and Blackhawks are coming off a two day break between games three and four, a welcome chance to rest and recharge.  You can watch all the action on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) or listen on KFAN 100.3FM.  Fox Sports North (FSN) will also have a one hour pregame show at 7:30 pm CT and an extended post game program as well.

The Wild closed the gap with Chicago to 1 game as they shut out the Blackhawks 4-0 Tuesday night.  Minnesota must win tonight to avoid falling into a two game hole once again and placing themselves on the brink of elimination.  Thus the back against the wall attitude and style of play must be front and center tonight.

Minnesota WIld agitator Matt Cooke has a discussion with Patrick Sharp from Chicago

Jan 23, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp (10) exchanges words with Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cooke (24) in the third period at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

The Wild are getting a big piece of their toughness and grit back tonight when Matt Cooke returns from his 7 game suspension for kneeing Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie.  Cooke will be playing on the third line in place of Matt Moulson who is out for tonight and possibly longer with a lower body injury.  Cooke is ready to get back on the ice and doesn’t plan to alter his playing style because of the suspension.  He will be skating with Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine this evening.

The rest of the forward lines will be the same as last game, at least to start the night.  The Wild have won every home game in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  That needs to continue tonight.  The first three games in this series have also been won by the team scoring the first goal.  The Wild have been playing defensively sound hockey and have limited the Blackhawks to 22 or fewer shots in each game so far.  That’s a great way to slow down the speedy, potent Chicago offense.  Tonight though Chicago is expected to shake up their forward lines to try and spark more offense.  Minnesota Head Coach Mike Yeo is ready though to juggle his own lines to counter any changes Chicago makes. The lines for tonight are:

Zach PariseMikael GranlundJason Pominville

Nino NiederreiterMikko KoivuCharlie Coyle

Justin Fontaine – Erik Haula – Matt Cooke

Cody McCormickKyle BrodziakDany Heatley

Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon gives Chicago's Bryan Bickell little room to work with.

May 4, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell (29) skates with the puck against Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon (46) during the second period in game two of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Wild defensive pairings will remain the same tonight.  So far in the series they have done an admirable job against a ‘Hawks team that is loaded with offensive talent from top to bottom.  The Wild defenders have to keep playing the in your face style that has limited the Blackhawks offensive chances and ability to freely move the puck. The defensive pairings for tonight are:

Ryan SuterJonas Brodin

Jared SpurgeonMarco Scandella

Keith BallardClayton Stoner

Minnesota Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov make a save in his shutout win over Chicago in game three.

May 6, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (30) makes a save on Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp (10) and forward Jonathan Toews (19) during the second period in game three of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

In goal, of course, will be Ilya Bryzgalov.  He’s confident coming off a game three shut out and is ready for action tonight.  To date in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs he sports a record of 2-4 to go with qa save % of .860 and a gaols against average of 3.09.  Bottom line for the Minnesota Wild is they must get another outstanding performance from Bryzgalov.  When you subtract the empty net goals form each game, all three have been close or tied in the third period.  The Minnesota Wild simply cannot afford to give up any soft goals tonight and expect to win the game.

Last season in the first round against the Blackhawks the Minnesota Wild won game three and had a chance to even the series with a win in game four.  They lost game four and then went to Chicago and were eliminated in game five.  That was then this is now.  The Wild are a better, stronger team this season and tonight they can prove it.  I’ll be back after the action with a recap and analysis.  Until then this is Scott Drain screaming at the top of my lungs, “LET’S GO WILD – BEAT THE ‘HAWKS – LET’S GO WILD!!”

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