It won't be easy for Wild, Hawks


ST. PAUL, Minn. -- If this playoff hockey game was a circus act, it would be The Dog-Faced Boy.

If it was a color, it would be a lighter shade of beige.

A song? Wreck On The Highway.

And in the Minnesota Wild locker room?

Pure joy. Well, maybe joy with more than a pinch of relief.

After meandering their way through more than two periods of some of the most lackluster hockey produced by any two teams anywhere this spring, the Wild struck for two picture-perfect goals in a span of 2 minutes, 37 seconds early in the third period to break open a scoreless game and go on to a 4-0 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.

"We know it's going to be a really [tight-]checking game," offered Mikael Granlund, who scored the Wild's second goal and added an empty-netter to round out the scoring. "You don't have a lot of room there, you don't have a lot of time to skate with the puck. Both teams are in their face all the time. Sometimes the games are like that and you need to find a way to get a win. Tonight we were able to do that."

The victory, regardless of its pedigree, was significant on a number of fronts.

First, it allowed the Wild to narrow the Blackhawks' lead in this Western Conference semifinals series to 2-1. It was, not to overstate the obvious, a victory the Wild absolutely had to have.

It also marked the team's fourth straight home victory in this playoff season, which is critical given they are 1-5 on the road.

It was also a victory that halted the Chicago Blackhawks' six-game playoff winning streak and dulled -- at least for a couple of days -- the sheen that had reflected so brightly off the defending Stanley Cup champions since they dropped the first two games of the opening round against St. Louis.

Hard to mix in a term like "juggernaut" after this dishwater-dull effort from the Blackhawks.

"No one said it was going to be easy. They are a tough team. They play hard and they showed us they have some skill," said Chicago netminder Corey Crawford, whose streak of four straight games of allowing two or fewer goals was snapped.

"They tend to play that game once in a while, where they like to shut things down and put you to sleep. We were fine in here going into the third period. Things just got away from us there."

In outscoring the Wild 9-3 in the first two games of the series, there was a certain sameness to last year's first-round series between these two teams, a feeling that once again the Blackhawks were simply too good for the Wild, a class above.

A year ago, the Wild won Game 3 in overtime and then went meekly in the next two games.

This year there seems to be better resolve among this group.

Certainly, if Game 3 s any indication, there is more patience.

Tuesday night, the Wild could find no offensive rhythm, managing just five shots on Crawford in each of the first two periods.

To the Wild's credit, they were much stronger defensively and allowed the Blackhawks' vaunted offense no room to maneuver to exercise their significant skill advantage, limiting Chicago to just 15 shots through the first two frames.

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