For the third straight time, The Chicago Blackhawks have eliminated the Minnesota Wild. This time with a 4-0 sweep. the Blackhawks didn't just win against the Wild; they never gave them a chance. Chicago took Game 4 with the way they took every game - they frustrated the Wild by shutting them down with a smothering, stifling defense.
The Wild, and Wild fans, started the game with a load of energy. With one of the loudest, "Let's Play Hockey," declarations I've ever heard, Minnesota was ready to "fight to the end." They came out swinging too. With lot's a good physical play, the Wild were able to get good pressure on Corey Crawford when they seemingly shot from everywhere. Ryan Suter may have had the best opportunity, and most glaring miss of the first period, when a long rebound from a Mikko Koivu shot came straight out to Suter in the high slot. Suter took a big wind up with half a net to shoot at, but the rolling puck bounced right over Suter's stick blade as he swung through and caught air rather than puck.
Chicago was able to weather the Wild storm. They started getting chances of their own. It was a nice pass catch that sprung Brent Seabrook into the zone. The shot from Seabrook glanced off of Marco Scandella's shin guard and over the glove of Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk. He took the shot from the right faceoff circle and beat Dubnyk. The puck did change direction, but Dubnyk should have had time to adjust and get the catching glove on the puck. Then the Blackhawk defense put the clamps on. Minnesota just couldn't make clean passes or get clean looks at the net.
The Wild came out for the second period looking to break through the Crawford wall. Ryan Suter got hooked by Jonathan Toews just 18 seconds and got an early power play. Yeo took Jason Pominville off the number one power play unit in favor of the Matt Dumba. Dumba got the best hcance on the power play when he rang a one-timer off the post. The second unit was then deployed and Marco Scandella was spotted with Spurgeon and he had a number of shots that got deflected just wide. Then Jon Toews got free from the penalty box and had a 2-on-1 with Marcus Kruger crashing the net. Nino Niederreiter was forced to take a hooking minor to save a goal. The ensuing power play, Andrew Shaw found the puck underneath a downed Nate Prosser and through the five-hole of Dubnyk for the power play goal. The Xcel Energy Center crowd was silenced. It was a gut-check for a team that was trying to stave off the dreaded sweep.
Thomas Vanek got loose at the Hawks' blue line and was able to get through Michal Rozsival for a breakaway chance that was blockered away by Crawford. Rozsival laid on the ice in a feeble position and had to leave the game with an apparent lower-body injury. Five seconds later, Erik Haula would get the Wild on the board. For a guy that was only getting his second chance to play in these playoffs, he came though with a huge goal to cut the lead in half. The Wild and Blackhawks played out the rest of the period pretty evenly as the Wild really amped up the pressure and got some decent goalmouth scrums, and the Blackhawks just forecheck so effectively that a goal is imminent at any time. The period ended with the Wild trailing 2-1 with 20 to play.
Minnesota tried all period long to get the equalizer. Crawford was just so good and didn't falter. Even with Rozsival gone and the top 4 defensemen getting heavy minutes, the Wild just couldn't get on to go. Then Patrick Kane happened. At 13:20 of the third period, Kane, like he has all series long, put the final nail in the coffin with a shot that caught Dubnyk short-side as he cheated on what he thought was a pass to Bryan Bickell crashing the crease. Minnesota got a late power play just under four minutes remaining and with the season on the line, Mike Yeo chose to pull Dubnyk to make it a 6-on-4 man advantage. Marian Hossa sent a 175 footer into the open net to make it 4-1. Then Jared Spurgeon scored to make it 4-2 on the power play. Nino Niederreiter followed it up to make it 4-3 and the final minute got a little more interesting in front of their home fans. Andrew Shaw and and Toews had a 2-on-1 and hit the post, giving life to the Wild as the Blackhawks took a Too Many Men penalty and a faceoff in the Hawks' end. The last 15 ticks of the clock were frantic, but Suter and Koivu shots barely missed the net and time ran out on the Wild.
It was the bitter end of a fantastic run in the second half. Some people think there will be changes, but the team will likely remain mostly the same.
The offseason isn't fun to watch when you're not in it. But Hockey Wilderness thanks everyone for a great and successful year with another fun playoffs, albeit not much of a fun ending. We will be covering the NHL draft in June, Free Agency in July, and all of your Wild offseason news and notes. We also plan on doing some fun things this offseason with feature series and a unique look at the time of year without hockey. Thanks to all our loyal readers and community members for really making this site a fantastic place for Wild discussion and camaraderie.