Souhan: This series, these playoffs woke town from the doldrums

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 14, 2014 - 7:04 AM

Screaming wasn’t enough. Waving towels wouldn’t suffice.

This game begged more of those in attendance, so fans at Xcel Energy Center stood during the frenetic second period, stood and screamed and waved and tried not to succumb to emotional exhaustion.

What looked like a standing ovation might have been more like a standing eight-count, because this was a night for smelling salts and oxygen tanks.

There are times when sport is routine, and there are times when it is a waste a time, and then there are times like Tuesday night, when two resolute teams elevate their genre to some sort of breathless art.

When it ended, it ended not because of a mistake but because of the kind of bouncing luck that so often defines epic hockey. A puck caromed crazily off a stanchion behind the Wild goal. Blackhawks magician Patrick Kane picked it up, tucked it behind Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, and suddenly players who had been cross-checking each other were lining up to shake hands.

The final: Blackhawks 2, Wild 1. Blackhawks four games, Wild two.

The Wild has given us thrills during this postseason, and has excelled at home, but rarely in the history of this still-pristine building has the Wild and any opponent staged such a neck-wrenching, end-to-end drama.

The Blackhawks started the game as if they wanted to end it in a knockout. They took a 1-0 goal in the first on Kris Versteeg’s goal, which bounced off Bryzgalov from a sharp angle and somehow found the net. That marked the first time this postseason the Wild had trailed at home.

The Wild responded with impassioned hockey, dominating the puck and creating prime chances that only heightened the tension when missed, like a false-alarm scene in a horror movie.

Wild forward Matt Cooke, who has been highly effective as a checker, again terrorized Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy, forcing him into at least two turnovers. But Cooke earned the Wild’s first penalty when he boarded Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya in the first.

Cooke is a strange combination of soft hands and a cold heart. In the second period, he displayed the former, banking a deft pass past a Blackhawks defender and into the open ice. Of course, that pass would work only if intended for one of the league’s fastest players.

Erik Haula qualifies as just that, and he swooped in on the loose puck, veered left and fired a shot over the glove of Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford to make it 1-1. Haula, a quiet kid off the ice, took out his mouthpiece, skated to the corner and began a conversation with the fans.

In the third period, the game regressed from a track meet to a wrestling back. Oxygen debt will do that.

The Blackhawks, seemingly exhausted, couldn’t manage a shot until less than eight minutes remained in regulation. At that point, the Wild, despite a half-dozen close calls, had taken only two actual shots on net.

Wild fans chanted taunts of “Craw-ford’’ most of the night. Crawford must have misunderstood. He played as if inspired by the attention, holding off everything from point-blank shots to blatant net-crashing.

The Wild’s 13 playoff games constituted the best extended drama the Twin Cities has seen in a decade, and Game 6 might have been the best sporting event we’ve seen in five years.

On Oct. 5, 2009, Vikings quarterback Brett Favre faced his old team on “Monday Night Football,” and the Vikings beat the Packers 30-23 in a game as dramatic as the circumstances. The next day, the Twins won Game 163, 6-5, in 12 inning to advance to the playoffs.

Tuesday night, the Wild awakened the echoes of Twin Cities sports dramas. Then a puck bounced the wrong way to the wrong player, the crowd fell silent, and the Wild’s month of drama ended with empty stares and consolation handshakes.

“It’s hard to win,’’ Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “Sometimes, it’s a bounce.’’

Poetry, amid the poetic injustice.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@ startribune.com

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