It looked like vintage Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
On one second-period possession Sunday, Bouchard took the puck behind Chicago’s net, nearly deked Michal Handzus out of his skates and set up a legit scoring chance for Cal Clutterbuck in front of the net.
“That’s the best hockey game that I’ve seen him play,” coach Mike Yeo said of Bouchard after the Wild’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Blackhawks in Game 3. “For me, that was the best. He was a very, very good player tonight.”
Bouchard scored a goal and assisted on Jason Zucker’s winner. But he was skating hard all night, going into tight areas and even throwing a body check or two.
“It’s playoff hockey, right?” Bouchard, not normally a physical player, said. “As a player you’ve got to raise up your game and bring something else to the table. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Bouchard’s line, which includes Clutterbuck, who threw eight hits, and Kyle Brodziak, was solid in all three zones.
“Our line, we came out and we were skating,” Bouchard said. “Clutter was on the puck throwing hits and creating a lot of stuff for us. And Brodzy did a great job at both ends of the ice.”
A first for Harding
A week ago, Josh Harding could have wondered if he would even play again this season. Then, No. 1 goalie Niklas Backstrom was injured in warmups before Game 1 and Harding found himself starting three playoff games in six days.
Sunday, he made 25 saves for his first career playoff victory.
“I’m just trying to get in there and do the job that the team expects me to do,” Harding said. “It’s fun, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
Harding’s play enables the Wild to be patient with Backstrom, who has returned to practice but still is laboring from a lower-body injury. Darcy Kuemper backed up again Sunday.
Matching up better
Playing on home ice provided Yeo with the last line change, which made matchups much easier than in Chicago.
For instance, the Clutterbuck-Brodziak-Bouchard line went head-to-head with the Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa line for much of the game as opposed to them matching up against the Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle line.
Yeo also was able to double-shift Parise and Bouchard on the fourth line at times in place of Mike Rupp, who played four shifts.
“[Parise and Bouchard] were forcing my hand the way they were playing,” Yeo said. “We had a lot of solid efforts. Having that last change, it does give you the benefit of that and some other matchups. The way that everybody was going, I was comfortable with any matchup that we had going.”