Jason Zucker leveled Brent Seabrook with a hard hit and then stood over him and glared.
Devin Setoguchi delivered a body blow every chance he got.
Cal Clutterbuck took a shot to the throat and responded with a punch to the face.
The Wild finally applied the only blueprint that will work against the highly skilled Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday. Down 2-0 in the series, the Wild answered a challenge from coach Mike Yeo and brought a renewed physical element to Game 3 at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild hit, hit and hit some more before finishing the job in overtime for a 3-2 victory that revealed the only possible way the Wild can hang with the top-seeded Blackhawks.
“As long as we keep banging them and stay physical on them,” Charlie Coyle said, “they’ll be coughing up pucks and creating turnovers, and that’s what we like.”
The Wild finished with 34 hits to Chicago’s 13. That’s a huge discrepancy, and it had everything to do with the Wild suddenly making this a series. Clutterbuck (eight hits) and Setoguchi (seven) combined for more hits than the entire Blackhawks team.
In all, 14 Wild players collected at least one hit.
“I thought it brought energy to the building,” Setoguchi said. “But they were hitting, too. We were trying to push. This was a pivotal game. We needed to win, so we needed to push as best we could.”
That needs to become the Wild’s mantra the rest of the series. Push, be physical, finish checks, go hit somebody. Frankly, it’s the team’s only chance.
The Hawks have more speed, skill and top-end talent than the Wild. Chicago is dangerous in an up-and-down, fast-paced game with plenty of room on the ice to operate. The Wild saw that firsthand in a Game 2 rout.
If the Wild allows the Blackhawks to dictate terms of play, the game will become a one-sided walk in the park. The Wild’s only shot in this series is to scrap, claw and pound away on the Hawks, hoping to make them uncomfortable.
“They’re such a quick and skilled team that you need to try and slow them down a little bit,” Setoguchi said.
Yeo talked before the game about the need to develop a hatred for the Blackhawks, the kind of bad-blood animosity that forms in a playoff series. We hadn’t seen that yet because the overall play in the first two games lacked the nastiness that sparks raw emotions.
The Wild just kind of went through the motions in Game 2 and got steamrolled by Chicago’s deep, talented lineup. Back home and with a better understanding that success requires grit and hard checks, the Wild flipped the switch and became decidedly more physical.
“Our goal was to keep hitting them whenever you’ve got a chance,” Coyle said. “I don’t think we did that enough before. You could tell they were looking over their shoulder when they got the puck again. They knew someone was coming.”
This is not about being dirty or dumb or out of control. Defenseman Justin Falk crossed that line in the second period when he grabbed Michael Frolik by the back of the neck and smashed him into the boards unnecessarily for a roughing penalty.
The Wild must recognize the difference between being physical and being foolish. The players accomplished that for the most part.
“It’s not about running around and running out of position, but you can’t skate by guys,” Zach Parise said. “When you’re within a stick length of a guy, you’ve got to finish him. I think we did a better job of that.”
Leading 2-1 late in regulation, the Wild lost that edge and became too passive. The Blackhawks made a strong push and the Wild became reactionary instead. Chicago took advantage, getting a tying goal from Duncan Keith with 2 minutes, 46 seconds remaining.
“We kind of just held on, and we’ve got to learn from that,” Setoguchi said. “That’s something you can’t do. You can’t sit back and be on your heels. You’ve got to push back.”
The Wild regrouped at the intermission and then won on Zucker’s overtime goal. Afterward, the Wild took satisfaction in its physical style of play.
“We have a lot of guys that hit all night and every night,” Zucker said.
They can’t deviate from that script. It’s their only chance at success in this series.
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org