Mike Yeo wanted more hatred, more physicality after two opening games against the Chicago Blackhawks that didn’t resemble the typical hostile playoff series.
“It shouldn’t be hard for us. They’re trying to take away something from us,” Yeo said a few hours before Sunday’s Game 3 matinee.
The Wild heard its coach loud and clear. Against a high-octane Blackhawks team that is a lot of things — physical is not one of them — the Wild set an abrasive, in-your-face tone early and often against the Blackhawks on Cinco de Mayo and wound up taking a 3-2 overtime victory for its first playoff win in five years at Xcel Energy Center.
In front an electric crowd of 19,238 pumped-up patrons, rookie Jason Zucker scored 2 minutes, 15 seconds into overtime and Josh Harding, making his third postseason start, made 25 saves for his first career playoff win. Zach Parise and Pierre-Marc Bouchard also scored almost identical goals backhand, top-shelf goals as the Wild trimmed the Blackhawks’ Western Conference quarterfinals lead to two games to one.
Game 4 is Tuesday. The Wild, after getting that Parise goal 3:09 into the third period, seemed to go into a defensive shell the last seven or eight minutes. After attacking relentlessly the first two periods, the Wild sat back almost in prevent defense mode and it cost them. After Cal Clutterbuck was slow coming off on a line change, Patrick Kane fed Duncan Keith, who teed it up and beat Harding with 2:46 left to force overtime. But after Matt Cullen was tripped behind the net by Andrew Shaw in overtime, Zucker found a loose puck and blasted it home for his first career playoff goal and the winner.
Zucker is the same guy who was a crossbar away from winning Game 1 in overtime. The soldout crowd at Xcel Energy Center came amped from the beginning. With the fans trying to spur on a Wild team that lost the first two games in Chicago, a touching moment came when Jack Jablonski, the paralyzed student-athlete from Benilde-St. Margaret’s, emerged as the flag bearer prior to the opening puck drop. From there, the Wild established itself physically. Chicago may be one of the most talented and deepest team in the NHL, but physicality is not its forte.
Most feel the way to beat the Blackhawks is to punish them. The Wild was credited for outhitting Chicago 17-4 and 31-12 through regulation. It wasn’t just Clutterbuck, who had a game-high seven. Devin Setoguchi had five. Stephane Veilleux set an early tone by checking Johnny Oduya twice on one shift. At the second period buzzer, Zucker clobbered, then stood over defenseman Brent Seabrook, who took runs at Zucker in Games 1 and 2. After a slow start, the Wild started to pick up pace about midway through the first period. Zucker drew his fourth power play of the series after being tripped by Viktor Stalberg.