The Minnesota Wild hosted their first playoff series inside the Xcel Energy Center in five years, and the atmosphere seemed to morph the Wild into a team ready to make a real run at upsetting the 1-seeded Chicago Blackhawks. Something key changed for the Wild and it may be something they can draw on to make this a series they can win.
In the first two games of the series, the Minnesota Wild were a passive team, and the matchup between the Blackhawks really lacked the physicality of the previous Blackhawks-North Stars series of yesteryear. But playing in front of a sold out arena chanting their name changed Minnesota from a passive team into a blood-thirsty mob ready to take the Hawks best shot.
Physicality was key for Minnesota in their Game 3 win, and it’s something they need to continue moving forward. They played the Blackhawks hard in Game 1 — which they nearly won– but they weren’t knocking the Hawks skaters around the way they were on Sunday. And it wasn’t even just knocking skaters into the boards, it was the Wild getting into the faces of guys like Johnny Oduya who like to play after the whistle has blown and rattle guys into submission.
Case-and-point of the Wild’s Game 3 physicality was how forward Cal Clutterbuck played until he was sent to the locker room. He was in Oduya’s face, smashing bodies into the boards and overall pumping up the Wild bench. Ryan Sutter came alive and we saw other guys follow suit and get physical with the Blackhawks, and it worked.
Obviously, this style of play takes it’s toll as Clutterbuck left the game after taking a legal stick to the face. If the Wild are going to play this way, they’d better do it smartly as the Blackhawks can be an equally physical team and if it’s an endurance race, the Wild might be back at square one.
But they figured out how to rattle Chicago a bit, and the surprisingly physical play on Sunday led to a big win that tightens the series and guarantees a fifth game and a return to Chicago this series. The only question now is can the Wild keep it up, or will they end up tiring themselves out before they can get the upper hand on the Blackhawks?