Wild prep for bruising bounce back from Blackhawks

Trying to keep up with the Chicago Blackhawks would be unwise
for the Minnesota Wild.

Running into them over and over and over again, as Game 3 of
this Western Conference quarterfinal matchup proved, is probably
their best bet.

After a rough-and-tumble effort in an overtime victory, the Wild
were bracing for the inevitable pushback from the top-seeded
Blackhawks in Game 4 on Tuesday.

”A lot of teams respond well after losses, and that’s obviously
a tough loss for them. They’ll be ready to go,” said Minnesota
rookie Jason Zucker, who got the winning goal in the 3-2 decision
Sunday that cut Chicago’s series lead to 2-1.

The Blackhawks acknowledged without prompting they needed to
bring more intensity. But whether they’re actually focusing on
bruising and banging more with the Wild, well, that depended on who
was talking after practice on Monday.

”They played like they had to win the game,” Blackhawks coach
Joel Quenneville said, ”and we didn’t. We wanted to make sure we
had more urgency to our game.”

Yes, but teams aren’t successful in the spring if they change
their style too much.

”Sometimes if you’re worried about bringing too much
physicality and intensity then you’re not worried about doing the
things we did to score a lot of goals this year,” star Patrick
Kane said.

Defenseman Brent Seabrook blamed himself for not playing ”very
physical,” the way games usually go in May. But he stopped short
of prodding his team to get into a checking challenge with the
Wild.

”I don’t think we need to give them any kind of response. We
have to play our game, and we have to play the way that we know we
can play,” Seabrook said.

That means staying in the offensive zone and keeping the puck as
much as possible and relying on superior depth to wear down the
Wild.

”We’re a fast team, and we need to use that to our advantage,”
rookie Brandon Saad said.

The Blackhawks have only one goal, by Marian Hossa, from their
first line. Saad and captain Jonathan Toews have been shut out. But
in the postseason, games are always tighter. The Wild have only one
goal, by Zach Parise, from their top group, too.

Gritty usually trumps pretty.

The Blackhawks are clearly missing the tenacity and playoff
touch of center Dave Bolland, who’s been practicing but was
declared out for Game 4 because of a lingering lower-body injury.
Quenneville was even asked whether enforcer Daniel Carcillo would
be inserted on the fourth line for some extra energy, much like the
Wild did with Stephane Veilleux on Sunday.

”He could play,” Quenneville said.

And if not?

”He might not,” the coach said, grinning slightly.

Yes, postseason gamesmanship was on full display. Wild coach
Mike Yeo, asked if fourth line forward Mike Rupp was hurt, coyly
declined to answer whether his absence from practice was for rest
or due to injury. One reporter reminded the coach that Rupp played
only four shifts, totaling 2:37 of ice time, in Game 3.

”They were hard shifts,” Yeo said, deadpanning.

The veteran forward the Wild acquired for more punch for the
playoffs, Jason Pominville, hasn’t participated in two weeks since
taking an elbow to the chin in a game against Los Angeles.
Pominville was back at practice Monday, but Yeo left his status
vague too.

The 21-year-old Zucker, whose uneven, undisciplined play
prompted the Wild to keep him at their AHL affiliate much of the
year, was recalled from Houston right before the final regular
season game. Aside from 36-year-old center Matt Cullen, Zucker is
one of the only forwards the Wild have with the speed to match the
Blackhawks. He showed that in Game 1 when his overtime shot hit the
crossbar, an inch that’s the difference now in the lead of this
series.

But after his blind, bad-angle shot got past goalie Corey
Crawford in Game 3, Zucker has been more interested in talking
about the importance of physical play than his scoring touch or
skating ability.

”Obviously that’s a big part of our game, so we had to come out
strong. We have a lot of guys that hit all night and every night,
so we had to keep that going,” Zucker said.

The Blackhawks lamented their lack of puck possession in Game 3,
and the Wild were quick to point out that their extra effort along
the boards and in the corners was the key to them controlling the
game. They realized, too, that they’re only one-fourth of the way
toward finishing an upset of the Stanley Cup favorite Blackhawks.
This, after all, is a best of seven.

”Guys are going about their business. That’s the nature of the
playoffs. You have to put that behind you pretty quick,” Cullen
said. ”You can’t be in here running around like an idiot because
you won a game. We won one game.”

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