Minnesota Hockey Magazine

The Kids Are Alright

Minnesota’s Matt Moulson (foreground) and Erik Haula (left) celebrate Haula’s third-period goal which turned out to be the difference in the Wild’s 4-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center in Game 3 of their Stanley Cup Playoffs best-of-seven series. (MHM Photo / Jeff Wegge)

 

Wild’s young stars take center stage in 4-0 Game 3 win over the Blackhawks.

SAINT PAUL—The goal light at the west end of the Xcel Energy Center rink, the end where Minnesota shoots twice, flashed for nearly the first two minutes of Tuesday night’s clash between the Wild and Blackhawks in Game 3 of their Stanley Cup Playoff series. After two periods of tight checking, scoreless hockey, there was more than a hint of irony in the malfunction.

As it turns out, however, it was merely a prelude of what was to come at that end of the ice.

Former Gopher Erik Haula broke a scoreless tie just 1:41 into the third period, batting fellow rookie Justin Fontaine’s one-hop saucer pass out of midair behind Chicago goalie Cory Crawford, as the Wild scored four times in the final 20 minutes to beat the Blackhawks 4-0.

“When I received the puck I could see [Haula] flying on the outside and their D was taking the center of the ice away,” said Fontaine, Haula’s one-time WCHA rival at Minnesota-Duluth. “I just threw an area pass to the backdoor area and he was able to beat [the defenseman] to the puck.

“He was fast in college and he’s fast here. That’s a guy you’ve got to watch out for.”

“What I saw tonight was everybody was good in their role and he played a real important role for us like he has and he’s continued to grow,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said of Haula. “His speed to get there and to drive the net on that goal was evident.”

Haula, who saw the puck roll off his stick on a first-period breakaway attempt, had redemption on his mind as his game-winning play with Fontaine developed.

“I just kept thinking in my head [that] I hope I get another chance to bury one,” Haula said. “And [Fontaine] made a great play for me to do that.”

Embattled Wild goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov made 19 saves to earn his first postseason shutout in eight seasons to help Minnesota cut Chicago’s lead in the series in half at two games to one. Crawford finished with 14 saves.

Zach Parise had a goal and an assist while Jason Pominville assisted on two goals, but this was a night for the Wild’s younger players to shine.

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Nino Niederreiter was a physical presence in Minnesota’s crucial Game 3 win. (MHM Photo / Jeff Wegge)

In addition to Haula and Fontaine—who earned his first career playoff point—Mikael Granlund scored twice, including an empty netter, with Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter each adding an assist on the final tally.

“We see how important they are for our team but how much better they’re getting even in this postseason,” Parise said. “They’ve been so good for us at such great times in the games and I think they’re just going to keep getting better.”

While Coyle and Niederreiter ended up on the score sheet, that’s not where they made the greatest impact on the game. Both played outstanding physical games, winning battles along the boards, in the corners and, in Niederreiter’s case, behind the Chicago net.

“Your top skilled guys on both sides are getting very, very keyed on so that’s when you need other parts of your lineup to come through,” Yeo said. “You need other parts of your lineup to make plays.”

It’s something Granlund and his fellow twenty-somethings fully understand.

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Mikael Granlund watches as his shot heads for the back of the net for the first of his two third-period goals as Chicago’s Brent Seabrook dives in a futile attempt to stop it. (MHM Photo / Jeff Wegge)

“Obviously we have a lot of young guys, we have our roles, and obviously we need to step up,’’ Granlund said. “Every player on this team needs to play at a high level.’’

Granlund’s first goal, coming just 2:37 after Haula’s, was a thing of beauty. Pominville’s cross-ice pass found the trailing Granlund in the left circle who got Crawford to bite on his forehand before shoveling a backhand shot inside the right post.

Not only did it serve to electrify the record 19,416 spectators, the goal gave Minnesota a playoff rarity: a multi-goal lead, one the Wild refused to surrender for a change.

Yeo said his young stars haven’t been daunted by the postseason challenge, primarily because it’s simply not an option.

“They play prominent roles and we need these guys to be really good,” Yeo said. “They’re learning on the fly and … this game is another opportunity to grow and so is the next one.”

The Wild have a day off on Wednesday and return the practice ice on Thursday to prepare for Friday’s Game 4 back at Xcel Energy Center. Faceoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. CT and can be seen nationwide on NBC Sports Network.