It’s a whole new series. The Minnesota Wild beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 Friday night at the crazed Xcel Energy Center. The Minnesota victory means this is now a best of three affair as the action shifts to Chicago’s United Center for game 5 Sunday night. The Wild played a second consecutive great game sticking to their offensive system and playing an excellent defensive game overall. For the fourth time in the series the team scoring the first goal won the game. That honor, while not the game winner, this night went to Justin Fontaine.
The atmosphere in the Xcel Energy Center was amazing Friday night. The near record crowd of 19,405 was loud from start to finish with frequent chants of “Let’s Go Wild” and they mercilessly rode Blackhawks’ goalie Corey Crawford with sing-song chants of “Craw-ford-Craw-ford-Craw-ford” all game long. The Crawford chant was the loudest goalies chant I’ve ever heard on the Wild’s home ice all the way back to the first season in 2000. “It didn’t stop, they just didn’t stop!” Is what Crawford had to be thinking after the game. Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “The atmosphere in the building tonight was amazing!” Wild winger Zach Parise said after the game, “We’ve guaranteed a Game 6 now, another game here. I can only imagine it’s going to be even better.”
The Minnesota Wild are still unbeaten at home in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 5 straight victories The Wild continued their offensive eruption on home ice scoring four more goals. Their balanced scoring attack continued with goals from the third, first, and second lines along with one from the defense. That brings their total for games three and four to 8 goals in favor to just two goals against. Defensively Minnesota kept Chicago at bay as well. They have kept the Blackhawks shot totals to 22 of fewer for the fourth straight game. Minnesota also totaled 15 takeaways, 15 blocked shots and 22 hits on the night. After the game Coach Yeo said there is still work to be done, “Like everybody, like our team, we have to make sure that we can’t get too satisfied on this. It was a big win for us, but the next one’s gonna be harder.”
After shutting out the Blackhawks on Tuesday the Wild did allow a pair of goals on Friday both of which were preventable. Chicago scored both in a span of just over 7 minutes bridging the first and second periods. A shot by Patrick Sharp found its way through Ilya Bryzgalov’s five hole for the first goal. The second came after another Minnesota Wild failure to clear the puck and a shot by Brent Seabrook was tipped past the Wild net minder for the second and last Chicago tally of the game. Brygalov totaled 18 saves on 20 shots in raising his 2014 Stanley Cup Playoff record to 3-4. He’s also dropped his goals against average to 2.91 and his save % is up to .866.
Justin Fontaine opened the scoring for the Wild with a snipe of a shot from a tough angle on Corey Crawford’s glove side. The play was set up by a tenacious Matt Cooke forecheck that resulted in a Chicago turnover. Cooke stick handled toward the net be for sending the puck to Fontaine who beat Crawford cleanly with a snap shot 7:24 into the opening period. That was the only Minnesota Wild goal of the first period, and after Sharps goal the opening frame ended tied at one.
The Wild jumped out to a 2-1 lead 3:51 into the second period on a Jason Pominville heads up play. He took a pass from Ryan Suter while behind the Chicago net and then banked the puck in off of Crawford’s leg and into the goal. The score capped a sequence in which the Wild had the Blackhawks running around in their own end chasing the puck. The Minnesota Wild’s next goal came just 44 seconds after Chicago scored their second of the night, tying the game at two apiece. Nino Niederreiter came flying down ice past the Wild bench, after taking a Charlie Coyle tape to tape pass, before unleashing a wicked wrist shot that Crawford could only wave at as it sped by him for the game winning goal. The shot was almost identical to Niederreiter’s overtime game winner in game 7 against Colorado in the first round.
Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon capped off a great night both defensively and offensively with a power play goal at 3:47 of the third period. With Michal Rosival in the box for closing his hand on the puck Spurgeon ended a beautiful passing play with Captain Mikko Koivu by beating a diving Crawford for his third goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Spurgeon also had an assist on Niederreiter’s game winning goal in the second period. On the night Spurgeon had a goal, an assist, three shots on goal, two hits, two blocked shots, all in 20:52 of ice time that earned him the number one star of the game honors.
The Crowd at the xcel Energy Center Friday night sure got their money’s worth. They saw the Minnesota Wild dominate offensively and defensively. They fired 31 shots on Chicago’s net minder, scoring four goals. They our hit the Blackhawks 22 to 7 with five of those hits going to Matt Cooke. Cooke had a great night in his return from suspension. He assisted on the Wild’s first goal, had two shots on goal while blocking three from the Blackhawks. All game long he had Chicago players turning away and flinching from Cooke’s flying body. He also had two takeaways on the night and skated nearly 16 minutes of ice time.
In his post game comments Wild Caoch Yeo said of Cooke, “He’s a playoff performer. He was brought in here obviously to do a lot of things and help you get to the playoffs, but the experience he has, the way that first goal was created, that’s what we’re looking for. We want him to finish checks. We want him to play an honest, hard game, and he’s got the ability to make plays, the ability to be a hard guy to play against defensively, but also to help you create some stuff offensively too.” Yeo also praised Bryzgalov’s play as well saying, “What I like about Bryz right now is he’s just part of the team. He’s doing everything he can for his teammates. After the last game I’m reading his quotes and all he does is praise his teammates. All he does is talk about what a great job they’re doing in front of him. For us that makes us want to play harder for him. Getting that win for him was big for his confidence, I think he showed it tonight and then he got a 2nd one.
The next step for the Minnesota Wild is to win a game in Chicago. Basically the first team to win in the other’s building is going to take the series and head to the Stanley Cup Western Conference Championship series. That chance comes Sunday night at the United Center at 8:00 pm Central Time. The Wild have been amazing on home ice so far. They are one of just two teams who remain undefeated in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The other is the Chicago Blackhawks. I’ll be back Sunday morning with a preview of the game. Until then this is Scott Drain still shouting, “LET’S GO WILD” AND “CRAW-FORD, CRAW-FORD, CRAW-FORD!!!”