The “Flying Finns” might be on murals around the X by the time this postseason ends.
After 40 minutes of the Wild and Chicago Blackhawks making the goal lights irrelevant and putting the shot counters to sleep, Finnish pals Erik Haula and Mikael Granlund scored back-to-back dazzling goals Tuesday night to lift the Wild right back into its second-round series with the defending champs.
Hours after coach Mike Yeo said it was time the Wild got over the “mental hurdle” of facing the Chicago Blackhawks, Haula and Granlund scored 2 minutes, 37 seconds apart early in a four-goal third period as the Wild soared to a 4-0 victory at Xcel Energy Center.
“You see how important they are for our team, but how much better they’re getting even in this postseason,” Zach Parise said of the young Finns. “They’ve been so good for us at such big times of the games.”
Granlund later added an empty-netter, Parise scored a power-play goal and had an assist, Jason Pominville had two assists and Ilya Bryzgalov made 19 saves for his fourth career playoff shutout and first since May 7, 2006. The Wild trails the best-of-seven series two games to one with a critical Game 4 Friday night at the X.
“No one said it was going to be easy. They are a tough team,” Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford said. “They play hard and they showed us they have some skill.”
After a two-period game of chess, the Wild finally broke through a suffocating Blackhawks trap with some rare-seen speed in the game.
Haula, the Wild’s best forward in the series, scored his second goal of the playoffs after starting a rush out of nothing. Haula passed across the neutral zone to the far boards, then turned on his jets to catch the Blackhawks snoozing. Justin Fontaine made an exquisite foot-high saucer pass beyond defenseman Michal Rozsival, one that landed on Haula’s stick for a tap-in goal after Haula raced past Patrick Kane.
“Just driving the net and I knew Fonzie looked, so I just kept going,” said Haula, who could have been awarded a first-period penalty shot when he was hooked on a shorthanded breakaway. “I was hoping to get another chance after that breakaway.”
A few shifts later, Ryan Suter’s stretch pass created a Parise-led 3-on-2 led into the Blackhawks zone. One tic-tac-toe play later, and Jason Pominville fed Granlund, who cut to his right into the slot before roofing a backhander over Crawford’s glove.
“That first goal [by Haula] was huge for us. It opened up the game a lot,” Granlund said.
There was nearly reason to panic late in the second when Suter, last year’s Norris Trophy runner-up and the NHL’s ice time leader the past two seasons, got hurt. In a puck battle with Marian Hossa, Suter grabbed on to Hossa with his left arm, then had his legs kicked out. Hossa fell on top of him and Suter fell on his right arm. He barely moved his left arm as he left the game, but every Wild fan took a big sigh of relief when Suter emerged for the third.
“It was nothing,” Yeo said.
In the third, Suter played nearly 10 minutes and helped set up the Granlund and Parise goals.
Knowing the Wild wanted to come out flying to get the crowd on its side, the Blackhawks sat back and made the neutral zone look like a cobweb.
“Patience. We didn’t crack,” Pominville said. “Good teams usually find a way to not crack. Last game, we were the first team to crack. Tonight, we weren’t.”
Big win, to say the least.
“A must-win,” Bryzgalov called it.
“Now it’s a new series again,” Granlund said.
Last season, the Wild also won Game 3 against the Blackhawks before losing Game 4 at home and eventually the series in five games.
“We know we’ve got another really big challenge,” Yeo said. “We’re not sitting here patting ourselves on the back. We know that we’re still not leading the series. They are, so our goal is to come back and even it up.”