Updated: May 7, 2014 7:15PM
ST. PAUL, Minn. — It was ugly. It was grinding. It was, for excruciating stretches, flat-out boring.
For the Minnesota Wild, it was pretty much perfect.
“They tend to play that game once in a while,” Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford said. “Where they like to shut things down and put you to sleep.”
The Hawks woke up too late on Tuesday night, blanked 4-0 by Ilya Bryzgalov and the Wild in Game 3 of their second-round series. It ended the Hawks’ six-game win streak and cut their series lead to 2-1. It also extended their peculiar streak of losing the first road game in nine straight playoff series.
Game 4 is back in St. Paul on Friday, but with two days off, the Hawks headed back to Chicago late Tuesday night to think about the loss, and to figure out a way to break through the Wild wall. After mustering just 22 shots on goal in a Game 2 victory, the Hawks fired just 19 shots on Bryzgalov in Game 3.
“They want to try and take away our speed, take away our pace of play and keep us under 20 shots,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “So we’ve got to just find a way around that.”
For two periods, with the home-ice advantage of making the last line change, the Wild were content to sit back and play their ultra-defensive style. The score was tied 0-0 after those 40 minutes, but the Wild were doing nearly everything they wanted to do, and the Hawks couldn’t do anything they wanted to do. The Hawks mishandled the puck, their passes weren’t crisp, and their shots were off target all night.
Meanwhile, the Wild filled the neutral zone with five bodies at a time, cutting off stretch passes and preventing the Hawks from carrying the puck into the offensive zone with any speed (being without speedy defenseman Nick Leddy, a healthy scratch for the first time in more than three years, didn’t help). They sagged in front of Bryzgalov, forcing weak shot attempts from the outside. And they rarely took chances offensively, giving the Hawks precious few opportunities to create offense in transition.
“We don’t want to be the team that cracks first,” Wild winger Jason Pominville said. “I think we did in Chicago. We gave up a rush chance, they end up capitalizing on it. Tonight was a little bit the opposite.”
Indeed, after putting just 10 pucks on Crawford through the first two periods, the Wild poured it on in the third. First, Erik Haula scored at 1:41 of the third. Then the Wild stars — suffocated by Toews’ line and Joel Quenneville’s matchup game through the first two games — finally stepped up a couple minutes later, as Mikael Granlund scored a pretty goal set up by Pominville and Zach Parise.
In Game 2, Parise played 25 shifts, with Toews on the ice for 22 of them. With Mike Yeo controlling the last change, this goal came against Brandon Saad, Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom.
Parise scored on a power play with 2:35 left and Granlund added an empty-netter with 1:17 left to seal it.
Toews said it’s up to the Hawks to plow through the Wild’s stifling play.
“We can’t let it frustrate us, we just have to do something about it and get even,” he said, citing the lack of deflections, rebounds and other second-chance shots. “They’re a smart defensive team, give them credit. But I think it’s more about what we’re not doing.”
On this night, the Hawks weren’t doing much of anything. The Wild made sure of it.
But the Hawks still have the series lead, still have home ice, and still have a wealth of experience bouncing back from lousy efforts.
“So what, it’s one game,” Crawford shrugged. “We’ll move on to the next one.”