ST. PAUL, Minn. — Xcel Energy Center worked its magic again Tuesday night, giving the Minnesota Wild life in another Stanley Cup Playoff series.
Erik Haula and Mikael Granlund scored goals early in the third period for the home team, playing before a franchise record crowd of 19, 416, to help fashion a 4-0 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of this Western Conference Second Round matchup. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov made 19 saves for the shutout.
Zach Parise added a power-play goal with 2:35 remaining for Minnesota’s first man-advantage goal in this series, and Granlund scored an empty-net goal with 77 seconds left to end Chicago’s run of six straight playoff victories, dating back to the first round against the St. Louis Blues.
“They just keep on outdoing themselves,” Parise said of the fans, who roared at deafening levels every time Minnesota was able to establish a beachhead in the Chicago zone. “They really pushed us on.”
Minnesota hosts Game 4 on Friday (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS) with hopes of evening this best-of-7 series at two victories apiece.
The Wild erased a 2-0 series deficit against the favored Colorado Avalanche in the first round by winning the three games here before winning Game 7 at Pepsi Center.
“It’s kind of like the same situation but we’re playing against a different team,” Granlund said. “This is a new challenge. … Now it is a series again.”
After being stifled for two periods Tuesday, Minnesota found the goal, and the lead, it was desperate to get. From there, things went according to plan for the Wild.
“They got one early and they got the momentum and they just kept going from there,” Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. “It just comes down to at the end of the day, we hung around a couple periods where we were kind of waiting to see what would happen. We didn’t have that killer instinct that we’re going to need.”
Chicago lost the first road game of a Stanley Cup Playoffs series for the ninth straight time, dating back to the 2010 Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks. Chicago has gone on to win seven of those nine series.
On the opening goal, Matt Moulson keyed a 3-on-2 rush across the blue line, getting the puck to Justin Fontaine inside the blue line. Fontaine then saucered a pass in the direction of Haula speeding down the left-hand side, but the puck bounced before reaching Haula, forcing him to bunt it home on the half-volley at 1:41.
“[I’m] just driving to the net,” Haula said. “I knew [Fontaine] looked, so I just kept going. It was a great play.”
It was Fontaine’s first point of the postseason. More importantly, it gave the Wild their first lead in the series and a much-needed boost of confidence.
“That first goal was huge for us,” Granlund said. “It opened up the game a lot. We were playing against a really good team and the first goal is really big in these games.”
Not even three minutes later, Minnesota doubled its lead on a beautiful individual effort by Granlund, who cut into the slot past the checking efforts of both Chicago defensemen and ladled a backhander past the glove hand of Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford at 4:18.
Minnesota’s goals came on back-to-back shots against Crawford, who had allowed one goal in the previous five periods. Crawford stopped 14 of 17 shots Tuesday.
“No one said it was going to be easy,” Crawford said. “They are a tough team. They play hard and they showed us they have some skill.”
Minnesota had managed three goals in the first two games and has struggled for offense, especially in the first half of games against the Blackhawks. Through three games of this series, Minnesota has yet to score in the first or second periods.
Bryzgalov made his biggest series of saves in the second period, stopping a blast by Niklas Hjalmarsson from the point and then sealing the ice in his butterfly to keep it in front of him while various Blackhawks poked at the uncovered puck in a spirited goalmouth scrum.
“Today was a tremendous team effort,” said Bryzgalov, who recorded his fourth career playoff shutout but first since 2006. “We played nice hockey. We tried to avoid big mistakes, tried to not let them play where they play best.”
Minnesota wanted a fast start to build on the momentum built on home ice during the previous round, but it was not in the cards early. The Blackhawks were able to turn the neutral zone into a quagmire until the Wild’s third-period outburst.
“We knew it was going to be like that,” Haula said. “They are a great team over there. We just had to stick with it for 60 minutes.”
The teams now have two days to digest what happened Tuesday, to realize this series is on the brink of becoming a best-of-3 if Minnesota can find another win at friendly Xcel Energy Center, a place at which the Wild have won four straight playoff games and five of six.
“To us it doesn’t matter,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. “We knew we have to play better than we did [Tuesday]. We’re still looking for that type of game we know how to play; we just haven’t brought it yet. It has nothing to do with being the first game on the road. Obviously, we won two games on the road [in the first round], but I don’t think we’re happy with the way we played [Tuesday] either. I think tonight we realized we have to bring it on Friday.”