Myers: Wild's win serves as reminder of what playoff hockey is about
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In case you had forgotten over the past five years, as teams from hockey hotbeds like Nashville and Phoenix, Tampa Bay and Anaheim cavorted in the playoffs, while fans in Minnesota spent an extra weekend or two getting the cabin ready for the summer, what happened Sunday at Xcel Energy Center was exactly what the NHL postseason is supposed to be.
It's about hard hits and pretty goals. And it's just as much about cheap hits and ugly goals. It's about superstars who have led their teams all season doing a disappearing act, and rookies you have never heard of playing the hero's role.
On this day, it was about heading to the rink on a cloudy afternoon, with your team that just barely made the playoffs in a huge hole against a juggernaut that nobody thinks is beatable.
And three hours later, it was emerging into the bright sunshine of a gorgeous evening, to a world where we have got some fun on our hands, where the Wild are one poorly-placed crossbar away from actually leading this series.
In Game 1, in overtime, rookie forward Jason Zucker threw a puck on net that was so very close to winning the game. The Las Vegas native's gamble didn't pay off, as the puck clanked the crossbar, and a few minutes later the Chicago Blackhawks had won.
But on Sunday in Game 3, with the Wild down 2-0 in the series and their coach preaching that they must play with hatred and desperation, Zucker's big bet finally paid house money, as he threw another puck on net in overtime, and this time it found a jackpot to give the Wild a 3-2 victory.
"He creates a lot and opens up a lot of space for Devin (Setoguchi) and I with his speed and his ability to get in on pucks," said Zucker's linemate, Matt Cullen. "I think tonight you saw that. That play there, a lot of guys probably wouldn't have even shot that. But he's got that nose for the net. He easily could have won that first game, he hit the bar in overtime and it could be an awfully different series. He's a goal scorer and it's nice to have that."
In the quiet Chicago locker room, where this team that was so good and so dominant at home and on the road throughout the regular season contemplated a 0-1 record away from home in the playoffs, the ice bags were kept out of sight.
But in the Wild's win the Blackhawks had gotten a glimpse of an opponent that has decided the best way to beat an opponent is to beat up said opponent. That was in evidence early on, as any time Wild players saw a white sweater with that politically incorrect Indian head on it, they drove it into the boards.
"That's the playoffs for you," Wild star forward Zach Parise said. "It's not about running around and running out of position, but you can't skate by guys, and when you get an opportunity, when you're within a stick's length of a guy, you've got to finish him."
This Chicago team is far from finished. The Blackhawks took an early lead, and refused to go quietly in the third period when Parise had given the Wild a 2-1 lead and the sellout crowd was roaring, hungry for their first May win in a decade.
In a flash Chicago star Patrick Kane found defenseman Duncan Keith streaking into the zone, and Keith blasted a 40-foot slap shot past Josh Harding to force overtime. In the extra period, the Blackhawks tested Harding two more times, and on either shot could have taken a 3-0 lead in the series.
Instead, Zucker threw a puck on net in the other end of the rink, and the red light flared, and the crowd went - pun intended -- wild, then filed out into the sunshine, satisfied with their reminder of what late spring hockey is all about.
"Certainly this is something we can build off of," Wild coach Mike Yeo said, relishing the way his team bounced back from a 5-2 loss in Game 2. "I think we did a good job after Game 2 of taking what we needed from that game and finding a way to raise our level and be a better team."
If you can do that, and throw some checks, and throw some pucks on net, you give yourself a chance.
To be sure, the Wild still need to win three of the last four games in this series - and at least one in Chicago - to truly shock the world and capture the flag, which is a very high hurdle. But on this night the home team left smiling, and the visitors left with their bodies, and their egos, bruised just a bit.
In case you had forgotten, that's the playoffs for you.