CHICAGO – The Wild returned to Minnesota early Sunday evening in a familiar spot — down 2-0 in a best-of-seven series.
In the last round against Colorado, the Wild won four of the next five games to advance to its first conference semifinal in 11 years. If the Wild doesn’t repeat that same feat against the more experienced defending Stanley Cup champions, its season will end in a jiffy.
For the second consecutive game at the Madhouse on Madison, the Wild was maddeningly inefficient around the net. The problem this time was the team also looked flat in many aspects of a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
“We understand that we didn’t play nearly well enough to win,” said Zach Parise, a minus-3 Sunday and now minus-10 in seven playoff games against the Blackhawks the past two postseasons. “I think that’s what we’re upset about, not so much being down 2-0. That’s not fun either, but the way we played tonight wasn’t good enough, and definitely not good enough to beat the Blackhawks.”
One reason, coach Mike Yeo felt, is the seven-game series against the Avalanche caught up to the Wild in Game 2.
“We didn’t have the legs, and that was a big factor,” Yeo said. “You could see it in our puck support. You could see it when we get a puck and we weren’t taking two, three strides before we made a play. We were making a lot of stationary plays.”
Yeo will give the Wild Monday off with the hope of refueling players for Tuesday’s pivotal Game 3, the team’s first appearance at Xcel Energy Center since its Game 7 overtime thriller at Colorado.
Just like they vowed to do, the Blackhawks elevated their play after feeling the Wild outplayed and outworked them in Game 1. The Wild responded with a terrible start, registering two shots in the first period.
The Blackhawks blocked 25 shots, for the game, and when the Wild finally got pucks through, it either blew chances (Erik Haula and Dany Heatley couldn’t bury pucks into gaping nets) or Corey Crawford made the stop (18 saves).
“That game was hanging there for us,” Yeo said.
When Cody McCormick scored his first playoff goal early in the third period, it was only the 10th goal given up by Crawford in seven playoff games over two seasons against the Wild.
The Wild’s three goals in two games this series have come from physical defenseman Clayton Stoner and bottom-six forwards Kyle Brodziak and McCormick. The Wild’s best forwards Sunday were Haula, McCormick, Justin Fontaine and Nino Niederreiter. The top two lines were no-shows, which caused Yeo to juggle lines throughout.
Mikko Koivu, no points and minus-9 in seven playoff games against Chicago the past two years, was minus-2. Jason Pominville, who has one empty-net goal in the playoffs, was shotless and minus-2. Parise and Matt Moulson, downgraded to the third line, had three shots each. Defensemen Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon were minus-3.
“We have to find another notch to create, but then to score goals, too. It’s not easy,” Koivu said. “That’s a tough team defensively, and their goaltender is playing very well. We have to find it.”
The Blackhawks jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period after a series of breakdowns. First, Stoner was oblivious to the fact that Marian Hossa was cherry-picking behind him. So when his defense partner Nate Prosser turned the puck over, Bryan Bickell hit Hossa for a breakaway.
Ilya Bryzgalov made a solid save to stop Hossa, but when Koivu slowed on his backcheck, Koivu lost Jonathan Toews and the Blackhawks captain scored.
“What can you do?” Bryzgalov said. “They find the rebound first; good for them.”
In the second period, the Wild worked the shot count back to even but couldn’t score. Then, two seconds after a questionable penalty to Fontaine expired, Brandon Saad made it 2-0.