As a prospect, Mikael Granlund became known internationally for his lacrosse-style, behind-the-net, stuff-in for a goal.
In the last series, he became known for skating through three Avalanche defenders, launching himself horizontally, and somehow stuffing the puck in for an overtime game-winner in Game 3.
Late Tuesday night, Granlund no longer looked like the baby-faced kid who seeks a starring role on YouTube. Stitches jutted out of a red gash on his chin. “Last game,’’ he said, dismissively, when asked about it.
He was still dripping sweat, his mullet-quality hair flopped in all directions, and he wore the red bar of courage on his forehead – the mark left by the helmet when the player wearing the helmet is involved in contact.
He even spoke like a veteran, rejecting questions about his goals. “I will enjoy this game and then move on,’’ he said.
The face of the future is now the face of the present. Granlund scored two goals as the Wild beat the Blackhawks, 4-0, at Xcel Energy Center, and his buddy Erik Haula, another fresh-faced Finnish finisher, scored the first.
Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson on Tuesday went another game against the Blackhawks without a goal. Zach Parise scored with 2:35 remaining on the power play, to end the suspense.
The veterans’ scoring was not needed, and while Haula and Granlund dominated the scoring column, fellow youngsters Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Justin Fontaine, battled all over the ice.
The Wild’s empty-net goal came on passes from Coyle to Niederreiter and then Granlund, a glimpse of the future present.
“Uh, well, obviously we have a lot of young guys, we have our roles, and obviously we need to step up,’’ Granlund said. “Every player on this team needs to play at a high level.’’
Granlund speaks a lot like former North Star Neal Broten, whose sentences always contained the words, “Uh, well, ya, well.’’ Like Broten, Granlund seems drawn to the big moment.
The Wild’s rebuilding plan was two-pronged: Sign name players to jump-start the team, and develop a quality group of young players. Defenseman Jonas Brodin was the first Wild youngster to emerge as a standout, last year. This season, and especially in these playoffs, the team’s young forwards have surpassed his contributions.
Niederreiter won Game 7 of the first round at Colorado with an overtime slap shot. Granlund won Game 3 of that series with his gravity-dismissing goal. Haula, with his speed and intelligence, has temped as the Wild’s best player for stretches of these playoffs. Coyle has scored three playoff goals. And Fontaine, a grinder, announced his presence on Tuesday with a saucer pass for an assist and plenty of checking.
The victory means the series will shift to Chicago for Game 5 on Sunday.
Whenever the series does end, Wild coach Mike Yeo might want to rent himself out as a motivational speaker. So many of his moves during the playoffs have paid off, whether shuffling lines and spurring clutch performances out of everyone from Dany Heatley to Haula, or striking the right tone in his press conferences.
One important reason the Wild beat Colorado is that Yeo did not complain about missed calls that might have cost his team’s games, even when those calls threatened to end his season. His team responded.
In Round 2, Yeo has been peppered with questions about his starting goalie, Ilya Bryzgalov, and with questions about who will inevitably replaced Bryzgalov after a breakdown. “This is the guy,’’ Yeo said on Sunday after the Game 2 loss.
Tuesday, Bryzgalov earned a shutout.