Jacques Lemaire’s decision to put his top three scorers – Brian Rolston, Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra – on one line generated the kind of offence the Anaheim Ducks had stifled in the first three games of this series. Marian Gaborik scored a rare power-play goal and Niklas Backstrom made 28 saves to help the Wild avoid a sweep with a 4-1 victory over the Ducks in Game 4 on Tuesday night.
“All the guys we were waiting for, they all scored tonight,” Lemaire said.
Rolston, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Mark Parrish also scored for the Wild, who had been thoroughly dominated by Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and the defensive Ducks in the first three games of the series.
Minnesota still faces an incredibly daunting task. Only two teams in NHL history have come back from 3-0 deficits to advance in the playoffs, the 1975 New York Islanders and the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs.
Game 5 is Thursday in Anaheim, Calif.
For at least one more game, the Wild can hope.
Trailing 1-0 after Pronger’s power-play goal just over six minutes into the second period, the game changed about 10 minutes later when Lemaire went with the Big Line, assembling a potent unit that accounted for 86 of the team’s 225 goals during the season.
That’s more than 38 per cent of the Wild’s total, a mark made more impressive by the 49 games missed between them.
But through the first three playoff games, Gaborik, Demitra and Rolston had a grand total of two goals and one assist, and Bouchard, a 20-goal scorer, didn’t even have a shot on goal.
The Wild’s strategy Tuesday night was simple: Shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. After getting only 20 shots on goal in Game 3, the Wild had 40 on Tuesday night.
“They played desperate,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.
Bouchard tied it with less than two minutes remaining in the second, and Gaborik’s power-play goal in the third highlighted a three-goal period for Minnesota.
Six minutes later, the Big Line was on the move again, when Rolston grabbed a loose puck at along the boards to start a three-on-two. Demitra fed the puck back to him, and Bryzgalov didn’t stand a chance to get over to make the save.
“Jacques changes lines around, and I think it was a great move,” Gaborik said. “It worked well for us. We had a couple of goals there, and we had great chances.”
That kind of room in front of Bryzgalov just wasn’t there in the first three games of the series, when the Ducks suffocated Minnesota’s high flyers and forced them to play dump and chase with little effect.
“Those are guys that obviously they look at to supply a lot of their offence and when they’re all on one line, we’ve got to shut them down,” Pronger said.
Bryzgalov entered the game 3-0 with a 1.34 goals-against average in these playoffs, but was pulled after Parrish tipped in a shot from the point to make it 4-1. He made 32 saves on 36 shots, but saved only six of the nine shots he faced in the third.
“We didn’t really create as much of a forecheck as we did in the previous game and that gives them a lot more time to make plays,” Pronger said. “When they’re able to make plays, they’ve got guys back there that can do that.”
As encouraging as the offensive outburst was for the Wild, their fans were more thrilled by the grit they showed in Game 4 after a lifeless effort in Game 3 left them on the brink of elimination.
The Wild showed on Tuesday night that they’re not going down without a fight, literally.
After Parrish’s goal essentially sealed the game for Minnesota, Anaheim forward Corey Perry charged Minnesota defenceman Brent Burns, who levelled Perry with three straight overhand rights.
The bad blood kept flowing in the final 1:30, when Ducks Kent Huskins and Shawn Thornton went after Wild forward Adam Hall.
During the fracas, Anaheim’s Brad May punched Wild defenceman Kim Johnsson from behind, crumpling him to the ice. The attack drew a match penalty and a game misconduct for May, who faces a possible suspension by the league.
Johnsson sustained a head injury and will remain under observation by doctors overnight, the team said. His status for Thursday is unknown.
“The league will take their steps,” Carlyle said. “If he committed a foul they feel is necessary, they will hand out the punishment they feel is due.”
Thornton also drew a game misconduct, but it was May’s shot on Johnsson, not known as a fighter, that infuriated the Wild.
“It shows that a guy like Brad May has no respect, so he deserves no respect from anybody,” said Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard, who stalked the ice looking for a fight in retaliation, but got no takers. “And that’s how he’s going to get treated.”
Notes: J.S. Giguere saw his first action in goal since March 31 and made four saves. … Anaheim D Francois Beauchemin did not dress after taking a puck to the face late in Game 3 on Sunday. “He didn’t feel very well today,” Carlyle said. … Boogaard was back on the ice after missing Game 3 with an illness.