The Minnesota Wild lost game five to the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 in their Stanley Cup Playoff Conference Semi-Final series. The Wild now face an elimination game 6 back in St. Paul, Tuesday night at 8 pm Central Time.
For the fifth time in the series, the home team won the game and for the first time the team that scored first lost. The Wild had chances to score several times, but didn’t. Minnesota winger Zach Parise summed it up after the game saying, “It just came down to we weren’t able to convert.” The Minnesota Wild are now 1-6 in road games in this season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now, though, it’s back to the Xcel Energy Center where the Wild are undefeated this postseason at 5-0, and have outscored their opponents 16-5. Once again it’s a MUST WIN game for the Wild in front of 19,000+ screaming fans!
Minnesota scored the first goal of the game, but the defending Stanley Cup Champions came back with the next two to take game five. In his post game media conference, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo, when asked about how this game five loss compared with the game five loss to Colorado, replied, “It’s similar in that it sucks. It sucks to lose a game like this.” Yeo later added that his goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov was not the cause of the loss, saying, “I thought he did a real good job. He gave us every opportunity to win this game tonight.” The bottom line though, according to Wild coaches and players, is that Sunday doesn’t matter any more. Tuesday’s game six is the critical contest now.
The Wild’s lone goal of the night came 16:33 into the first period on a great individual effort by Erik Haula. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon hit Haula with an outlet pass and the rookie speedster was off to the races. Haula flew down the wall and cut to the center of the ice near the red line, then skated through three Blackhawk defenders before taking a shot on Chicago goalie Corey Crawford. The initial save was made, but the rebound came back to Haula whose rebound shot went airborne over Crawford and landed in the net. That was the rookie’s third goal of his first Stanley Cup Playoffs, giving him a total of 6 points (3g, 3a). That wraps up the scoring recap for the Minnesota Wild for game five.
The two goals the Wild gave up were directly related to toughness near the net. I say the Wild gave up, because, in both cases, if a Minnesota player near the crease had given a Chicago player a shove, a bump, a cross-check, or any sort of physical contact, the Blackhawks’ goals could have been prevented. One goal came on a Chicago power play, an area the Wild had not allowed a goal since game one. Minnesota lost the special teams battle Sunday night. The team was zero for one on the power play and one for two on the penalty kill. A small difference most nights, but this night it was the difference between winning and losing game five. The second Chicago goal came on a broken play and a net mouth scramble that could have been broken up with a little physicality.
Bryzgalov made 26 saves–many difficult ones–over the course of the game. The first puck that got past him was a tip by Bryan Bickell off a Patrick Kane shot for a power play goal. Bickell was left alone by the net with Minnesota defenseman Nate Prosser right next to him. Instead of clearing the Chicago player out of the crease area, or at least making some kind of physical contact, Prosser spun around in tandem with Bickell as the Blackhawks player dropped his stick and tipped the puck into the net. Tie game.
The game winner for Chicago came on a long shift by the Wild. Marian Hossa, who now has 9 points in five games this series, got away from Mikael Granlund in the corner. The Chicago forward then skated away from the Wild defense and sent a tape to tape pass to Patrick Sharp. Sharp then took a shot on net that was stopped by Bryzgalov who couldn’t control the rebound. Jonathan Toews was left standing all by himself, right on the corner of the crease as the rebound came toward him. Granlund was now right next to Toews, and instead of checking, hitting, or doing anything physical, tried to bat the puck away with his stick. Bad move. Toews made contact with the puck, putting it past a diving Bryzgalov and scrambling Prosser for the game winning goal.
Someone needs to remind Granlund that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a PHYSICAL affair. When in doubt, clear ‘em out! The time for batting at the puck in front of the net is on offense NOT defense.
With just a one goal deficit heading into the final two-plus minutes of play, Coach Yeo called Bryzgalov to the bench for an extra attacker. The Wild managed to get a few quality scoring chances during the final 2:00 but seemed to spend a great deal of their time with the puck along the wall and not out in front of the net in the prime scoring areas. One other thing that contributed to the lack of high grade scoring chances in the last minute was the fact that Minnesota’s best players were on the bench. Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin were gassed and had to be replaced. Yeo sent out Kyle Brodziak. Dany Heatley, Jared Spurgeon, Charlie Coyle, Marco Scandella and Nino Niederreiter. This group has accounted for 16 goals and 19 assists so far in the playoffs. Sunday night, however, they couldn’t find the back of the net with the game tying goal.
This was a disappointing, but not disheartening loss for the Minnesota Wild. So far in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Wild have been counted out a few times only to roar back into contention. This is a team and organization that has historically had trouble with game fives. They have lost five straight game fives dating back to the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
All of that is in the past now. A new contest–game six–is coming up Tuesday night at 8:00 pm Central Time, and the Xcel Energy Center is going to be rockin’! You can watch all the action on CNBC or listen in on KFAN 100.3 FM. Fox Sports North (FSN) will have pre and post-game shows with pre-game at 7:00 pm CT and post-game as soon as the game ends. I’ll be back Tuesday morning with a preview of Wild vs Blackhawks game six. Until then, this is Scott Drain ready to add his voice to the cacophony that will be Tuesday night’s crowd shouting out, “LET’S GO WILD!!” and of course, “CRAW-FORD, CRAW-FORD, CRAW-FORD!!!”