Zucker's goal gives Wild 3-2 win over Blackhawks
Beating the Chicago Blackhawks usually requires a certain kind of performance: bruising, aggressive and unflappable.
That's precisely what the Minnesota Wild produced, entertaining the fans at their first home playoff game in five years.
They had a little luck, too, when Jason Zucker blindly sent his bad-angle overtime shot toward the goal.
Zucker scored at 2:15 of the extra period to give the Wild a 3-2 victory on Sunday to pull within 2-1 in the Western Conference quarterfinal series.
"I don't know if I even saw the net. I probably didn't even look at the net," said the rookie Zucker, who raced to the corner and jumped against the glass to celebrate. "I just tried shooting it, and it happened to go in for me."
Pierre-Marc Bouchard had a goal for the Wild after Johnny Oduya scored for the Blackhawks late in the first period. Patrick Kane had two assists for the Blackhawks and has five in the series.
Zach Parise's first goal of the series came early in the third period, but Duncan Keith got one back for the Blackhawks with 2:46 left in regulation after a slow line change by the suddenly conservative Wild.
That forced the second overtime in three games of this best-of-seven series. But rather than losing their edge in the locker room, the Wild returned to the ice after the third intermission with the same fire they had all afternoon.
"They just took it to another level," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said.
He added: "You can't go out there and try to make pretty plays. It's got to be ugly. We're not doing that enough. Once we start doing that, we've got the strength, the speed and skill to get on the board and make things happen."
Game 4 is here on Tuesday night.
"I think we have to get greasy goals if we want to be successful. There's too much on the outside. We've got to get determined in that front area," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
After taking the top-seeded Blackhawks to overtime in Game 1 at Chicago, the Wild fell flat and lost 5-2 in Game 2. They took full advantage of the shift in venue and fed off the noise and excitement in the building.
Trying to match the Blackhawks and their speed, deft passing and seemingly infinite depth would be an impossible task for the Wild, so they knew they needed to bring more energy to fuel the announced crowd of 19,238 and a nasty streak to distract the visitors a bit from their finesse-based game.
The hits in the first period were 17-4 in favor of the Wild and 34-13 for the game, with eight by Cal Clutterbuck and seven by Devin Setoguchi.
"They've got some physical players, and I think the crowd was really into the game too," Keith said. "Loud building. They got that rave music going all game long. It gets the place rocking in there."
Corey Crawford made 34 saves for the Blackhawks, but the Wild found a potential weakness on the top shelf. All three of their goals went high. The last two of them came off a feisty forecheck.
Rookie Charlie Coyle fished the puck off the end boards to set up Parise, the first goal of the series for the first line. Then Matt Cullen didn't give up on maintaining possession after falling on his stomach behind the net in overtime, poking a pass to Zucker before Oduya swooped in.
"I'm a Minnesotan, so I know how long people have been waiting for playoff hockey. It's a lot of fun," Cullen said.
Bouchard and Stephane Veilleux are the only two players left from the 2003 Wild team that reached the Western Conference finals, and Veilleux played for two other teams before returning last season. They're two of five players, with Mikko Koivu, Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom, remaining from 2008, the last time they made the playoffs.
"You've got to go through it, and you've got to experience it," Parise said. "Remember that some of these guys have only been in three playoff games. But the good sign is that we got better from the first two games."
The Blackhawks started slowly in the playoffs in 2010, too, when they won the Stanley Cup. With 10 players still around from that season's roster, including most of their star-packed core, they're poised to make another run for the title.
Three years ago, they fell behind Nashville 2-1 in the first round before winning the series in six games. They needed six games to beat Vancouver next, too, before sweeping San Jose to reach the finals.
"We had the momentum going into overtime, but we're just going to have to forget about that one," Crawford said.
The Wild outshot the Blackhawks 29-17 over the first 40 minutes. Harding stopped 25 shots in all.
"It was a close game, but I think at the end of the day, they deserved to win tonight," Keith said.
NOTES: Richard Park, who scored the winning goal for Minnesota in Game 6 of the first-round series in 2003 against Colorado, was shown on the video board in a suite right after the clip of that play. ... The Blackhawks played again without injured backup goalie Ray Emery and center Dave Bolland. Quenneville said both of them skated before the game and their status remains day to day. As for whether they'd be able to play in Game 4? "We'll see," the coach said. ... Koivu, who took eight of his team's 16 penalty minutes and posting a minus-3 rating over the first two games, won 15 of 20 faceoffs.
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