Wild lose Game 4, goalie vs. Blackhawks
Blackhawks forward Viktor Stalberg challenges Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck during Game 4 of their NHL Western Conference quarterfinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., May 7, 2013. (ANDY KING/Reuters)
The gigantic “Fight to the End” mural on the outside of the Xcel Energy Center is a little vague, but it’s catchier than “Fight ‘til Thursday.”
Either way, it doesn’t look like the Minnesota Wild will survive another 48 hours in these cursed NHL playoffs.
It’s probably for the best. Any more games and they won’t have any players left.
Nobody knows who this franchise betrayed in another life, but the Wild are paying for it now as they’ve dropped three games and two goalies through the first four dates of their Western Conference quarterfinal with the Chicago Blackhawks.
They began the post-season with Nik Backstrom and Josh Harding in net, but 10 periods into this Greek tragedy they both got injured and the Wild are down 3-1 in the series heading back to Chicago. Their faint hope is now in the hands of a 23-year-old rookie who’s never been in an NHL playoff series before.
“It’s frustrating, but injuries are part of the game ... the bad part,” sighed Wild defenceman Ryan Suter, after a 3-0 loss that was only the second worst thing that happened to them Tuesday. “It sucks, but no matter who’s back there we’re going to play hard. It’s tough to re-set, but we’ll have to go in there with a mindset that we have nothing to lose.”
They certainly don’t have any more goalies to lose.
“It’s a tough situation for him to go into, but he handled it very well,” said captain Mikko Koivu. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a goalie or a player, it’s part of the game to lose guys. We just have to help him out even better.”
It’s been one kick in the groin after another for these guys.
Key trade deadline acquisition Jason Pominville was concussed with two games left in the season, Backstrom was injured 15 minutes before Game 1, defenceman Clayton Stoner got hurt in Game 2, Mike Rupp in Game 3 and Harding in Game 4.
“We can’t make any excuses here, we just have to focus on the next one no matter who’s in the lineup,” said Koivu. “You wish for a healthy lineup and hope guys get better, but we’re not going to start finding any excuses.”
Harding hurt himself late in the first period, but stayed in for the final two minutes, flexing his left leg and struggling to get back to his feet when he dropped to make a save. He didn’t return for the second and his status for Game 5 is clearly in question.
“You guys have counted us quite a bit,” Zach Parise told the media scrum in Minnesota’s dressing room. “We’ll have to rebound and work on winning the next one and getting the series back here (for a Game 6).”
Already trailing 1-0 after 20 minutes, the Wild’s worst nightmare became reality in a hurry when Kuemper let in the first shot he faced, a long weak one from Patrick Sharp just 1:02 into the second.
“I had speed coming over the blueline and tried to use their defenceman as a screen,” said Sharp. “Those pucks seem to find a way in more often than not. The fact that that was his first shot of the period, I wasn’t thinking that at all.”
Bryan Bickell put one over Kuemper’s shoulder as he pulled away from the post to seal it with seven minutes left in the game.
AND BABY MAKES 3-1: Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith flew home to Chicago for the birth of his first child Tuesday morning, then hopped on a plane and flew back to Minnesota for the opening faceoff. “I think I’ll sleep until next game,” he said. “It was kind of a whirlwind. So much excitement, getting to see my little boy.”