Myers: Wild storm back in series with backing from raucous crowd
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Your "average" Minnesotan has a reputation for being quiet, passive-aggressive and stoic. They face the harshest winters - two years in a row now - with quiet grumbling. Their misery is shared, so there's no use griping about a condition that affects everyone.
Ditto for the world of the Minnesota sports fan, where so often the hopes and dreams are collectively quashed in unceremonious ways. Much like the onset of another long winter, the fortunes of the state's four major pro teams have left their followers feeling cold and unfulfilled, in unison. So on those rare occasions where everything clicks, you can expect folks to be noisy.
It was another long cold winter. Sports wise, it's been a decade of long, cold winters. Not since the 2004 Timberwolves advanced to the Western Conference finals has a Minnesota team made a prolonged run like the Wild are on these days. In other words, the fans in Minnesota have been eager for a chance to erupt for a long, long time.
So if your ears are ringing after another hockey game, get used to it. And with the Wild now guaranteed at least one more home game, on Tuesday, expect more of the same. After Friday's 4-2 win over the Blackhawks evened their best-of-seven series at 2-2, the Wild are now 5-0 at home in the postseason. And while as defending Stanley Cup champs, the folks from Chicago are used to playing before a hostile audience, they're taking special notice of the energy the Wild are getting at home these days.
"It's obviously a loud building," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "We've played in a lot of hostile crowds and good crowds, so it makes it exciting. But it's something you just deal with. It's part of playoffs."
Much is made - too much even - of fans wanting to feel like they're part of the action, and that what they do in the stands with their towels and their lungs and their chants affects what happens on the field of play. After another sellout crowd stood for much of the game on Friday, and waved 19,000 white towels, and repeatedly chanted the name of Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford in a manner that was not complimentary, it was clearly noticed on both benches.
"The atmosphere was awesome," said Wild lightning rod Matt Cooke, who was back on the ice and not part of the audience for the first time since he was handed a seven-game suspension in the Colorado series. "The crowd was amazing. I don't think they underestimate (their impact), but I don't think they realize quite how much they mean to us and how that loud energy really helps us feed emotionally well and go out and do what we do."
And what the Wild do so well, at least at home, is stifle. The Blackhawks offense is scary good. Except in Minnesota, where Chicago was held to just 20 shots, which is well below normal.
"They play well in this building," said Hawks forward Patrick Sharp, who had one of his team's two goals. "They had a lot of speed in their game tonight and put some pucks on net. They also did a good job of keeping us from getting pucks to our net. But I think we can look in the mirror and know that we can do a better job of getting to the net and creating scoring chances."
Chicago, like the Wild, is 5-0 at home, meaning that if current trends hold, the Blackhawks will be moving on to the next round. But the Wild head back to Illinois seemingly more determined to find a way to bottle that Xcel energy and play a more complete game in the road white jerseys.
"We love the crowd here. It feeds into us, our energy, and we just feel comfortable here. We play confident," said Charlie Coyle, who had the prettiest assist of the playoffs to set up Nino Niederreiter's game-winner. "That's how we've got to play on the road though. We've got to bring that confidence with us and play a full 60 [minutes] on the road."
The fans' eruption filed out onto the streets of St. Paul in the early hours of Saturday morning. The repeated late starts are giving fans more time for pre-game revelry, meaning more controlled chaos in the post-game scene. In the odd world of the playoffs, as pent-up Minnesota sports fans voice their long-overdue joy, both teams are feeling as though there's no place like home.
"They get the crowd into it, and they get energized. But they play hard in their building, and they're good in their building, and they check well so it's tough to get momentum in here," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's a tough building, and we should be excited about going home."