Chicago – The Wild scored two third-period goals and was tied with the defending champions at the United Center when Patrick Kane picked up the puck and skated through what seemed like a dozen defenders.
Kane neared the net. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov dropped in anticipation of a low shot. Kane lifted an almost-vertical backhand over Bryzgalov’s left shoulder for the go-ahead goal in the Blackhawks’ 5-2 victory in Game 1 on Friday night.
Kane’s brilliant move will be remembered because Bryzgalov made it possible, leaving Kane a target the size of the Stanley Cup. Bryzgalov looked erratic all night, but ever since Niklas Backstrom got hurt during warmups in the first game of the first-round series between these teams last year, the Wild can tally a moral victory whenever the goalie named the starter in the morning makes it through the end of that night’s game.
Bryzgalov, the latest personification of desperation in the Wild net, remained ambulatory throughout. In terms of man hours worked without an injury, he might be close to setting some kind of team record for the season.
Five goalies have won games for the Wild this season. Seven have been on the roster. Most playoff teams expect to get 60 or more games out of their starting goalie. The Wild didn’t have a goalie play 30.
Friday night at the United Center, Bryzgalov got the start and journeyman John Curry served as backup.
Wild forward Dany Heatley has played in the NHL since 2001. Has he ever seen five goalies play for a playoff team in one season? “Never,” he said. “It’s been crazy, but I think everyone will tell you every guy who has come in and started or backed up for us has done a great job.”
Friday, Bryzgalov did not, but unlike in the Wild’s previous game, a scrambling of three goalies proved unnecessary.
Curry, signed as emergency depth this season, was on the bench as a third goalie during Game 7 of the Wild’s first-round playoff against Colorado. When Darcy Kuemper left because of an apparent concussion, three goalies who did not begin the season in the NHL moved in different directions.
Bryzgalov entered the game cold. While team physicians examined Kuemper, equipment trainers dumped out Curry’s already-packed bag of goalie armor and began slapping it on him as if he were a 14th-century jouster.
When the Wild won, Curry joined in the celebration. “They looked at me like, ‘Where’d you come from?’ ” he said.
That might not be the first time that question was asked this season.
Here are the suspected whereabouts of Wild goalies:
• Niklas Backstrom, who began the season as the Wild’s starter, is thought to be in Finland.
• Josh Harding, who took over as starter when Backstrom was injured early in the season but missed the second half of the season because of complications from multiple sclerosis, practiced at the United Center on Friday afternoon. Wild coach Mike Yeo said it was a “long shot” that Harding would play in the series.
• Kuemper, who became the starter when Backstrom and Harding were sidelined, was seeing a doctor, presumably about a concussion, and Yeo wouldn’t say where the doctor was located.
• Prospect Johan Gustafsson is thought to be in Sweden.
• Bryzgalov, benched in Game 2 of the previous series, started.
• Curry was the nervous backup.
• Rob Laurie, signed off the street for a game when the team was in Los Angeles, has gone back to waiting for random phone calls from NHL teams.
Asked how he would prepare for a playoff game, Curry said, “I don’t know,” then laughed.
When he signed, Curry hoped to play in a regular-season game, and he did. Would he dare dream about the playoffs? “I haven’t gone that far,” he said Friday afternoon. “I’m just excited about the opportunity and supporting Bryz. I know he’s going to be great.”
This season, it’s accomplishment for a Wild goalie to simply be present.
Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org