The Chicago Blackhawks entered Tuesday’s Game 1 matchup with the Minnesota Wild heavy favorites, but the momentum was apparently on the other side of the ice as the 8-seed Minnesota Wild, sans their starting netminder, came into the United Center and delievered a punch right on the chin of the Blackhawks to start the series.
Most people gave the Wild at least one game in this series, but that was really out of pity. But after their intense Game 1 performance against the best team in hockey, this series might be a little more tight than initially anticipated.
Right off the bat it was looking like the Blackhawks would coast through Game 1, as Minnesota’s starting goalie Niklas Backstrom pulled a groin in pre-game warmups and was a last minute scratch for the Wild. This meant that backup Josh Harding, who had previously logged just one period of playoff hockey in his career, had to come in and keep the Wild afloat.
And boy did he ever.
Harding came in not expecting to play but he ended up turning in one of the more impressive performances we’ve seen this season, and likely the best of his career. It’s not just that he kept the hottest team in hockey at bay all night, it’s that he did it on a whim, coming in at the last minute and getting the job done.
This is no secret to Wild fans who know they have two solid netminders, but Harding’s brilliance and the force the Wild came out with changes the dynamics of this series. Not only did the Wild play the Blackhawks hard and close, they were amped and fresh the entire game, and even in the extra period didn’t seem to tire.
It’s yet to be seen if that was first game adrenaline or if it was the Wild showing deadly longevity.
Minnesota struck first and early on Corey Crawford, who was in net for the injured Ray Emery. BUt the Blackhawks got that goal back in the second period but a scoreless third meant we were in for some bonus sudden death hockey.
Brian Bickell put an end to Harding’s great night in that overtime period, but the Blackhawks needed virtually the whole extra period to get past the Wild in Game 1.
Regardless of the outcome, the Wild surprised everyone with their performance on Tuesday night and have changed this series. Before, the Wild would have been lucky to win one, now Minnesota might end up dragging this series out to seven games and seem very capable of pulling off the upset and knocking out the Blackhawks.
Game 2 is Friday night in Chicago.
Stay tuned to Fansided all postseason long to stay up to date with the latest news and information throughout the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.