The Minnesota Wild knew they’d have to come up with a big effort to beat the deep and talented Hawks in Game 3, and that’s what they did Tuesday. But it still wasn’t good enough, and Chicago won 1-0 to put the Wild down 3-0 in their second-round series.
Before they stepped on the ice Tuesday night, the Minnesota Wild knew a loss in Game 3 to Chicago would put them in the worst place on earth (yes, worse than Siberia, Russia, or Toronto highways during the peak hours of 12 a.m.-11:59 p.m.): down 3-0 in their second-round series to a Blackhawks team that has Johnny Big Moments and the Prime Time Patties on the payroll. So they understood they had to throw everything including the kitchen sink at the Hawks to win in front of their own fans and attempt to tie the series Thursday. And for the most part, they did. They outshot Chicago 30-22, and had 10 takeaways to the Hawks’ six. They were disciplined, taking just a single minor penalty (the Hawks were called for three minors). They had chances. Windows.
But – and maybe you know where I’m going with this – the Hawks responded by denying those chances, by closing those small windows, and by catching Minnesota’s kitchen sink, strapping it to their backs and winning anyway. Chicago’s Corey Crawford stopped all 30 Wild shots for his first shutout this post-season, and all the Blackhawks needed was an opportunistic goal from sniper Patrick Kane late in the first period to win 1-0 and push Zach Parise & Co. to the brink of elimination.
As was apparent after Game 2, when Crawford is on his game, the Blackhawks are virtually unbeatable. And Crawford was as sharp as a Mensa member in Game 3, turning aside Mikael Granlund’s game-high five shots and the six shots Parise and Thomas Vanek combined for. He helped kill off all three Wild power plays, and he never wilted when Minnesota outshot Chicago 22-13 in the final 40 minutes of regulation time. It took Crawford some time to get to the level he’s at now, but don’t let his pedestrian playoff numbers (including a .916 save percentage and a 2.52 goals-against average) fool you. In his past four games, Crawford has stopped 103 of 107 shots and is giving his organization everything it could want in a netminder.
Wild counterpart Devan Dubnyk was just one shot worse than Crawford and still posted a .955 SP in Game 3, so the loss can’t be pinned on his shoulders. The painful truth for the Wild is clearer with every period: they became an excellent defensive team with Dubnyk in their run to the playoffs and their first-round win over St. Louis, but they’re now taking on the Chicago Blackhawks, who themselves are an excellent defensive team and as capable of smart, safe decisions as they are. The Hawks dominated Minnesota in the faceoff circle Tuesday (winning 37 draws and losing just 22) and blocked 19 shots to the Wild’s 10. And when you play a team like that and don’t get any production on offense – from established stars such as Parise and Vanek, or secondary role players like Kyle Brodziak and Ryan Carter – you need to play a flawless game in order to win.
One flaw, one more loss, and now just one defeat away from no more games this year. That was the Wild’s story Tuesday, and maybe that’s why you could sense their players’ frustration beginning to build as Game 3 went on. Two of the three games in this series have been one-goal losses, and it’s not mere good fortune Chicago has been on the winning side of them. For the third straight playoff tournament, the Hawks have beaten Minnesota thanks to their superior depth, experience and top-end talent. And those elements aren’t likely to drastically differ in Games 4-7.
Of course, stranger things have happened than the possibility of the Wild somehow making this a real series. Crawford did struggle at the start of the post-season, and Dubnyk has earned the respect of everyone in the hockey world with his resilience, so maybe there is a combination of events that leads to a Game 7 and a Wild appearance in the Western Conference Final.
But be honest, Wild fans: after Game 3, how are you feeling about the likelihood of four consecutive Minnesota victories over the Hawks? If you’re answering “good,” for heaven’s sake, don’t drive a car or operate any other heavy machinery, because you’re not watching the same series the rest of us are.