Published January 13, 2015
The eighth-seeded Minnesota Wild will try to build off their first playoff win in five years when they host the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
The Wild ended a four-year playoff drought this spring, returning to the postseason tournament for the first time since 2008. But, Minnesota lost the first two games of the best-of-seven series in Chicago before breaking through with Sunday's Game 3 overtime win at Xcel Energy Center.
It was the first playoff victory for the Wild since beating the Colorado Avalanche in Game 3 of the Western Conference quarterfinals on April 14, 2008. The Avalanche claimed the next three games to win that series in six.
Minnesota lost a 2-1 overtime decision to the Blackhawks in Game 1 before dropping a 5-2 decision on Friday at the United Center to fall behind 2-0 in the series. The Wild finally got on the board in the series on Sunday, however, earning a 3-2 overtime decision on Jason Zucker's tally 2:15 into the extra session.
Zucker, who hit the crossbar in a Game 1 overtime loss, fired a loose puck home from along the goal line to the left of the Chicago net for his first career playoff marker. Matt Cullen did most of the work prior to the score, battling a Blackhawks defender behind the cage and slipping the puck in front while falling to the ice.
"(I wanted to) jump into the glass," Zucker said when asked what his initial reaction was following the end of the game.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Zach Parise also lit the lamp for the Wild, while Josh Harding made 25 stops to earn his first career playoff victory.
Harding has been forced into a starting role in this series since netminder Niklas Backstrom was injured in warmups prior to Game 1. Backstrom returned to skating on Friday, but his undisclosed injury kept him from even suiting up as the backup in either Game 2 or 3. Darcy Kuemper has been serving as Harding's backup instead and that could be the scenario again tonight.
However, with Harding posting a solid 2.41 goals-against average and terrific .928 save percentage in the first three games of this series, it's unlikely head coach Mike Yeo would make the switch to Backstrom even if he was ready to go for Game 4.
Johnny Oduya and Duncan Keith scored for the Blackhawks, with Keith's tally tying the score at 2-2 with just 2:46 remaining in regulation. Patrick Kane assisted on both goals and Corey Crawford posted 34 saves in defeat.
"They played like they had to win, and we didn't," said Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville.
The top-seeded Blackhawks, who went 18-4-2 as the visiting team in 2013 to help them claim the Presidents' Trophy, will try to rebound with a win in Game 4. A victory tonight would set up a potential series-clinching contest when the conference quarterfinal battle returns to Chicago for Game 5 on Thursday.
The Wild were 14-8-2 on home ice during the regular season.
Although the Blackhawks and Minnesota North Stars faced off six times in the playoffs over a 10-year stretch from 1982-91, this is the first postseason encounter between Chicago and the Wild.
The Blackhawks won two of three meetings against Minnesota during the season series and Chicago also gained a point in its only loss, a 3-2 shootout setback in St. Paul on Jan. 30.