The Minnesota Wild played an absolutely dominating game in last night’s 4-2 Game Four victory over the Chicago Blackhawks to extend the series by at least another home game.
When the Wild does leave for Chicago, defenseman Keith Ballard and left winger Matt Moulson aren’t expected to accompany the team. Ballard–who has had his first season with the club destroyed by countless injuries–was two games into his return to the lineup when he left last night’s game late in the second period after being boarded deep in Minnesota’s end by Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig.
He immediately fell to the ice, clearly seeing stars, making it quite obvious he’d likely sustained a concussion. Ballard is technically listed as day-to-day with an “upper-body injury”. In the meantime, Bollig is scheduled to have a phone hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety later today in response to the hit. Fellow Minnesota native Nate Prosser is expected to take his place on the third pairing. Prosser has no points, but is a plus-3 rating in nine postseason games this year.
Matt Moulson (lower-body injury) is also staying behind after sitting out last night’s game. Acquired at the trade deadline for bottom-six grinder Torrey Mitchell and a pair of second round picks, Moulson scored six goals and seven assists for 13 points and a plus-7 rating in 20 regular season games prior to falling flat in the playoffs. This postseason, Moulson has clearly struggled, scoring one goal and two assists for just three points in 10 games while sliding up and down the lineup and struggling to find his niche. It wasn’t until a few days ago that it was revealed the impending unrestricted free agent has been battling through injuries. His benching came at an ideal time as scrappy grinder Matt Cooke was eligible to make his return following his seven game suspension.
As unfortunate as Moulson’s injury is, this may be a blessing in disguise for Minnesota. Momentum never seemed to be in the Wild’s favor every time he was on the ice. The injury may have played a big factor, but the fact remains that he had plenty of turnovers, couldn’t connect on scoring opportunities and just seemed to decrease the speed of every line he was on.
As we saw last night, speed is now most definitely the friend of a team that’s been known in the past as a boring, slow, trap-style defensive team. In fact, there are still people out there that need to catch up with the times. If the old stereotype is truly the case, how do you explain the fact that no other team has had as many different goal scorers as Minnesota (16) this postseason? How is it that the Wild are skating circles around the Harlem Globetrotters of the National Hockey League? Minnesota is deep, skilled, extremely fast and downright deadly with nearly every line that hops the boards. This team is finally four lines deep–something no one has ever said about this club prior to the past week or so.
A best-of-seven series has now transitioned to a best-of-three. If Minnesota is going to beat the defending Stanley Cup champs, it starts with a win tomorrow night in the Windy City. Neither team has lost a home game this postseason. However, Chicago is dangerously close to breaking that trend if it doesn’t rediscover its identity and fast. The Wild know full well they have to play the best hockey game ever played in the history of the franchise in Game Six. If they do, they have a very real chance to close out the series on home ice. If they don’t, they better hope they can pull off another set of Game Six/Game Seven heroics like they did against Colorado. No matter what, the Blackhawks have every reason to be afraid right now–Minnesota is on a roll and has the potential to cruise right into a Western Conference Final series with either the Los Angeles Kings or the Anaheim Ducks.