Posted at: 05/10/2014 7:40 AM
Minnesota Wild left wing Matt Cooke, left, celebrates after Wild right wing Justin Fontaine scored on Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, right, during the first period of Game 4 of an NHL hockey second-round playoff series in St. Paul.
(AP) - Jason Pominville scored for Minnesota in the second period off the back of Chicago goalie Corey Crawford's skate and the Wild beat the Blackhawks 4-2 on Friday night to even the Western Conference semifinal series at two games apiece.
Matt Cooke returned from his seven-game kneeing suspension to give the Wild a jolt, assisting on Justin Fontaine's opening goal. Nino Niederreiter and Jared Spurgeon also scored.
Crawford made 27 saves, but he gave up four goals for the second straight game.
Patrick Sharp snapped out of his slump by scoring for the Blackhawks and Michal Handzus had a goal, but the defending Stanley Cup champions again found themselves unable to establish a consistent attack against the Wild's stifling defense.
The teams will return to Chicago for Game 5 on Sunday night and be back in Minnesota for Game 6 on Tuesday night.
The Blackhawks, blanked 4-0 in Game 3, were shut out twice in the postseason last year and responded with four and six goals, respectively, in their ensuing games. Coach Joel Quenneville shuffled up the lines this week, moving Ben Smith to the first group with captain Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell and bringing defenseman Nick Leddy back to the lineup in a search for more speed and flow.
The Wild wouldn't let that happen.
Leading the NHL in takeaways in the playoffs and allowing an average of fewer than 21 shots on goal per game in the series, the Wild improved to 5-0 at home this postseason with a 16-5 goal differential. The franchise record at Xcel Energy Center was a mere 5-10 prior to this year.
Sharp, coming off a 34-goal, 44-assist season, got just his second goal in 10 playoff games. The Blackhawks, though, managed just 20 shots on Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov after stressing the importance of testing him more.
Cooke set Fontaine up for a slap shot on a two-on-one rush early in the game, and the puck sailed over the glass. Fontaine buried his next chance, though, a bad-angle attempt from the front edge of the circle that skidded through Michal Rozsival's legs after Cooke swiped the puck from the defenseman.
After two full periods of trap-filled, tight-checking play in Game 3, the pace in this one was quick from the start to help the Wild get their crowd going. The fans resumed their sing-song jeering of Crawford's last name from the last game, and the chants grew louder throughout the night.
The buzz in the building was killed for a bit when Sharp, whose struggles prompted a move down to a new third line with Handzus and Marian Hossa, caught defenseman Clayton Stoner stuck in the offensive zone on a turnover by Niederreiter and beat Mikko Koivu to slip a wrister between Bryzgalov's pads with 38 seconds left before the break.
But the Wild roared right back in the second period. Pominville, the other leading scorer having a quiet postseason, got his first goal of the series with the good bounce to beat all good bounces with his soft shot from the end boards. Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook slammed his stick against the boards in disgust.
Handzus retied the game by boxing out Mikael Granlund and redirecting Seabrook's try, but the Wild pulled ahead again when Crawford whiffed in his attempt to squeeze his glove on Niederreiter's uncontested shot. Bryzgalov did his part by sticking his pad out to stop Sharp's breakaway with a thud.
Then early in the third period, Koivu fed Spurgeon for the power-play score to push the lead to two. That was just the fourth goal in 42 opportunities against the Blackhawks in the playoffs, the best penalty-kill percentage in the league.
NOTES: Both teams lost a player to injury late in the second period on penalized contact. Brandon Bollig was called for boarding on the Wild's Keith Ballard, sending him to the locker room. Then Spurgeon was whistled for elbowing Marcus Kruger of the Blackhawks. Kruger returned, but Ballard didn't. ... Quenneville on Leddy being a healthy scratch: "Sometimes it gets their attention. It's never personal." ... Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, drafted from Louisville the night before, took in his first hockey game.
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