The Minnesota Wild have been perfect on home ice so far in these playoffs, and they continued that trend on Friday night as they knocked off the Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 4-2 at Xcel Energy Center.
Nino Niderreiter broke a 2-2 tie in the second period with what proved to be the game-winning goal, and Jared Spurgeon added a key insurance goal early in the third period to seal it. Michal Handzus scored his first goal of the playoffs in the loss, and Patrick Sharp added his second tally of the postseason.
The Wild got into the swing of things early on, and after failing to convert on a power play, they were able to rebound nicely and score to take the early lead. Michal Rozsival turned the puck over in the defensive zone on a nice pokecheck by Matt Cooke, and eventually Justin Fontaine ripped a shot past Corey Crawford to make it a 1-0 lead early on.
The Blackhawks continued to try to pour gasoline on the fire as Jeremy Morin was sent off for slashing, but once again, the penalty kill was stellar as they kept the deficit at one. Crawford had to step up with another solid save a few moments later as Zach Parise rushed up the ice, but the Hawks' goaltender kept his post well as he stopped the short-sided attempt.
After a failed power play of their own, the Blackhawks scored at even strength to tie things up with less than a minute to go in the period. After Mikko Koivu had to come back to the blue line to cover for a pinching defenseman, Sharp noticed the matchup advantage, and he made sure to score on it. He blew past Koivu and fired a shot toward Ilya Bryzgalov, but the Wild goaltender couldn't corral it as it squeezed between his leg pads to tie things up at 1-1.
As the second period got underway, the Hawks had a couple of good chances to take the lead snuffed out by offside infractions. First Brandon Saad and then Jonathan Toews received stretch passes from Duncan Keith, but both were just inside the blue line when they got them, and the game remained tied as a result.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, those lost opportunities ended up costing them just a few minutes later. After a shot from Ryan Suter deflected up over the net following a failed clearing attempt by the Hawks, Crawford lost sight of the puck. He also didn't get back to cover the near post as a result, and Jason Pominville's shot from behind the net bounced off Crawford's leg pad and into the net to give Minnesota back the lead at 2-1.
Two and a half minutes later, the Blackhawks were able to stop the momentum from swinging over to the Wild and they tied things up. After some excellent work to move the puck around the zone, Brent Seabrook teed off on a huge slapshot from the point, and Handzus ended up getting a stick on it to deflect it past Bryzgalov, and the Hawks tied things up 2-2 as a result.
The Wild weren't ready to cede control of the game just yet however, and they scored about 30 seconds later to give themselves a lead they would never relinquish. Following a neutral zone turnover by the fourth line, Minnesota flew up the ice, and eventually Niderreiter found the back of the net on the ensuing rush, beating Crawford glove side and firing the crowd right back up again as the Wild seized the lead.
In the closing stages of the third period, head coach Joel Quenneville set his line shuffling mentality on "puree," and the Hawks got a few good chances. The best of those came on a Sharp breakaway after he stole a pass at the defensive blue line, but Bryzgalov was able to make a nice save with his leg pad to keep his team in front.
The two teams traded penalties in the closing minutes of the period, with Brandon Bollig heading off for a boarding minor and Jared Spurgeon following suit after delivering an elbow to Marcus Kruger along the boards. Neither team could take advantage of the additional space on the ice, and the game remained a 3-2 affair after two periods of play.
When the third period got underway, the Blackhawks immediately committed two silly penalties. They were able to kill off Keith's minor penalty, but when Rozsival was sent to the box for closing his hand on the puck, the Wild added a key insurance goal. This time, it was Spurgeon doing the damage, firing a shot past Crawford on the man-advantage to give Minnesota a 4-2 lead.
For the rest of the period, the Blackhawks got a few more chances, but they couldn't get any sustained possessions going as they struggled to get back in the contest. Jeremy Morin had the best one of all as he flew through the slot untouched, but despite a tremendous feed from Bryan Bickell, the youngster couldn't get either of his two shot opportunities past Bryzgalov, and from there the Wild largely cruised to an easy victory.
The Blackhawks will look to get out of their funk on Sunday night when they head back to the United Center for Game 5 of the series. Puck drop is scheduled at 8pm Central time, and the game can be seen on CNBC.