Brand new series.
Just like the first round, the Wild has rallied from an 0-2 deficit to even the best-of-seven series with the Chicago Blackhawks at 2 wins apiece following tonight's dominant 4-2 victory.
Game 5 is at the United Center on Sunday night (8 p.m., CNBC).
Justin Fontaine, Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter (second playoff GWG, tying Wes Walz for first in Wild history) and Jared Spurgeon scored the goals and Ilya Bryzgalov made 18 saves, including a huge stop on Patrick Sharp's second-period breakaway to preserve a 3-2 lead (came right after Mikael Granlund had a goal disallowed because the ref blew the play dead prior to puck entering the net) and a huge stop in the third on Jeremy Morin to preserve a 4-2 lead.
The pressure is on the Blackhawks now. Obviously things change by the series heading back to Chicago, but they cannot feel good about what's transpired in this series. The Wild is frustrating the Blackhawks to no end defensively. For the fourth consecutive game, the Blackhawks registered 22 or fewer shots.
"I think it's reflecting of our intensity," Jonathan Toews, who was shut down in Minnesota largely by Mikko Koivu's line and Ryan Suter. "They worked for their chances. They worked for everything they got. We have to do the same. I don't really know how to explain it, we have to be better. It's frustrating to not get a win the last two games on the road. Could have put ourselves in a great spot had we played the way we need to play to try and get a win these last two games. But we didn't. This series is long from over. That's the good news. We have a chance to redeem ourselves and be better than we have been."
Added Duncan Keith: We played them during the regular season and it was different games than last year. We have a lot of respect for these guys; we know they're a good team."
Matt Cooke made an immediate impact. He had five hits, three blocked shots, were causing Blackhawks players to dodge checks left and right and stole a puck from Michal Rozsival to set up Fontaine's first career goal for the first goal of the game.
"You never know the way it's going to go or how it's going to play out, but I felt like I had a lot of jump," he said. "I should have fresh legs. I've got to go out there and lead the way and hopefully my energy is contagious and I felt like we were ready to go before the drop of the puck.
"I wanted to make sure when I got the opportunity to play again, I didn't want to be a guy on the perimeter that wasn't able to go help my team. They helped me a lot, so I wanted to go out and return the favor."
Added Niederreiter, "He's such a physical guy. I don't know how many hits he had tonight, but I feel he had five-plus hits and that shows the kind of player he is. He's playing very hard down low and he's a guy that is definitely frustrating to play against."
Added Charlie Coyle, "We love the way he plays here. He gives us a boatload of energy out there and he gets the guys going no matter what he does. He's always hitting, playing physical and that's what we need. He knows how to play to our strengths and it feeds into us."
The Wild did lose Keith Ballard to head injury. He was boarded by Brandon Bollig and left clearly dazed. Ballard was only two games back from missing almost two months with a groin injury. He has had his season devastated by injuries this year with a concussion and broken ribs and a groin.
If Ballard is out, which I'd suspect he will be, Nate Prosser will probably slide back into that spot instead of Jon Blum.
Wild players know they have to figure out a way to bottle up this pace and this stinginess and bring it to Chicago. The good news is the Wild played a pretty decent Game 1 there and even though its game wasn't up to par in Game 2, the Wild could very easily have won either game. So it knows it can play in Chicago, and it won there this season.
"We have to play smart, not give them any freebies," said Zach Parise, who is second in the NHL with both 10 assists and 14 points. "Just play pretty stingy like we have been in our rink.
"We're always making them come through five guys. That gets them frustrated. We're working hard. We're making it tough. We're just playing a good defensive game and that is in turn letting us have the puck more."
Most amazing about tonight is how different tonight's pace was to Game 3.
"It seemed like it was a little more open, a little more in-zone play, especially for us," Parise said. "Some more cycles, some more puck possession time in zone. Not as much choppy neutral-zone play as there was last game."
In the third period, Parise actually stood up Patrick Kane at the blue line. Not something you see everyday – 1) Parise crushing somebody; 2) Kane getting smoked. He's so good at being slippery.
"That doesn't happen often," Parise said. "He's a hard guy to hit. I think I guessed right."
So many good performances on the ice. Spurgeon had a goal and assist. Marco Scandella again was great. The young kids like Erik Haula, Niederreiter, Fontaine, Mikael Granlund, Coyle were very good. Koivu was stellar defensively against Toews.
Here's Yeo, courtesy of Rachel Blount:
The atmosphere in the building tonite was amazing.
(Cooke) he's a playoff performer. He's brought in here obviously to do a lot of things and help you get to the playoffs. But the experience he has, the way that first goal was created, that's what we're looking for. We want him to finish checks, we want him to play an honest, hard game, and he's got the ability to make plays, the ability to be a hard guy to play against defensively, but also to help you create some stuff offensively too.
(first goal, how set up) we need everyone doing that. We're playing a great team, a team that plays with a lot of structure. Even in the first period, breaking up a lot of plays off the rush, a lot of entries that are broken up, and they're scary because they turn things back so quickly. So when it's not there, you have to be willing to get in on the forecheck, and you have to be strong on the forecheck because it's a good team. You can do the right things, but if you're not following up with a good forecheck, then they're going to break it right out and come right back at you again. You gotta be strong in a lot of areas. For the most part we saw that tonite.
(nino goal) It was big. There was a lot of responses tonight. There was a great response by Bryz, too. There was a possibility of a momentum swing. We think we go up by 2 goals, then all of a sudden, they have a breakaway and he makes a huge save on the breakaway. He made another huge save in the third period, so I thought that was a great response from him. I felt we were playing very well. We got a 1-0 lead. It's tough to give up a goal in the last minute of any period, that's always tough for a team. I liked the way we came out, the focus we had the way we started the second period. You grab the lead and then it doesn't take long and they tie it up. But we stuck with it, that's the key for us.
(team growing) it's a step but the next one's bigger. That's the key. We're not here to just try to make a series of it. We know we're playing a great team. We know we're playing a team that won the stanley cup last year. They know the grind, they know how hard it is, and they've been through it. This is an extremely skilled team, but that said, we think we have a really good team. We're playing because we think that we can win. We know it's hard and we know the hardest is still yet to come, but we're taking steps.
(gaining confidence) It goes back to what we've seen from this group over and over again, just as far as when you're faced with some adversity, when our backs are up against the wall, this group comes out fighting. I point to our leadership. For me, most of all, I really like the way we played the game. We have to play smart but we haven't been playing safe. We're getting on the attack. That was an exciting game, it was going back and forth, it was high paced, there were a lot of scoring chances. If we keep playing like that, we're giving ourselves a chance, but that's all we can focus on right now. We played a good game tonight, but we have to know that going into that next one that we have to play even better.
(showed team film this morning, making plays) For us, we won the last game. We're gonna look at some things we did well and we need to keep doing and look at some things we can do better. That changes from game to game, as the series goes on. Hopefully you start to get to know the other team a little bit better, but it changes from game to game. It's just a real challenge for us now to put this game aside. Listed, the last series we played a great game 4, our 2nd game at home, maybe the best game we played in the series. Then we follow up with a loss in Colorado. We have to be careful how we handle this. It was great we won the game, I'm real happy about that, I'm real happy to be even in the series. But we know there's a lot of work ahead of us still.
Ballard—I don't have an update for you, I'll have a better one for you tomorrow
(parise hit on kane) We want to be a physical team, and we're kind of asking everyone to play a certain way. And when you see skilled guys blocking shots and finishing checks, and your leaders doing it, obviously it has an impact on the rest of the team.
(lot of changing line combos in third period) I had no idea what I was doing. What was happening is we were having trouble catching up because we had some guys that were getting caught on long shifts and we had some other guys that were coming on. So yeah, it was sort of just trying to have the freshest guys on the ice.
(still played well despite changing line combos) We talked at the start of the year that we wanted to make more changes through the course of the year so we'd be able to be more used to it when the situation called for it. But mostly we have a way we're supposed to play as a team, where every guy goes out there and whether you're a 1st line guy or a 4th line guy there shouldn't be a big difference as far as what the intentions are. Obviously that helps chemistry wise when we're going out there like that.
(bryz, how impt to have 2 good games) Important for him and important for our team. I said after game 2
he needed to get a win, we needed to get a win for him. What I like about Bryz right now is he's just part of the team. He's doing everything he can for his teammates. After the last game I'm reading his quotes and all he does is praise his teammates, all he does is talk about what a great job they're doing in front of him. For us that makes us want to play harder for him. Getting that win for him was big for his confidence, I think he showed it tonight. And then get a 2nd one. Like everybody, like our team, we have to make sure that we can't get too satisfied on this. It was a big win for us, but the next one's gonna be harder.
(is the key to come out hard in first period at Chicago?) The first 2 games there was a lot of things we were doing that were similar to what we've been doing at home, but it's just making that one big mistake. What we've been trying to do and what we've been trying to build on is to build on the things that we're doing well but limit the mistakes you're making. Our guys have been doing a good job. What we're trying to do through this entire playoff series and through the whole playoffs so far is we're trying to get better every game. You don't always do that by making nicer plays. You do that by making the best plays you can make, but also getting rid of the worst plays and you bring your game up that way.
That's it for me. Wild has noon availability, and then I'll have to hustle for my flight. So not sure when I'll blog, but for real-time updates, follow me at Twitter at @russostrib.