Over 19,000 crazed Minnesota Wild fans crammed into the Xcel Energy Center on Friday night for a Game 3 matchup between the Wild and the Dallas Stars. It seemed as though the Wild organization handed out cake and Red Bulls to every fan at the gates coming into the building because the crowd definitely had a truckload of playoff energy right from the opening faceoff. Chants of “Suter sucks” and “Skol” were raining down from the crowd all night.
Wild goalie, Filip Gustavsson, was in between the pipes once again after leading the Wild to a hard-fought, yet exhausting win in Game 1. Just 19 seconds into the game, however, returning Wild center, Joel Eriksson Ek, skated off in pain, perhaps aggravating his lower-body injury from April 6 when he was hit from a Evgeni Malkin shot in Pittsburg. Wild coach Dean Evason said in a press conference this morning that Ek will be evaluated later today. “We don’t push players to come back or hold players back. When they’re ready, they’re ready” Evason added.
Since the Game 1 victory, a game in which Gustavsson made 51 saves and Ryan Hartman battled through injury to score the game winner in double-overtime, a word that has been brought up repeatedly to describe the Wild and their game is “gritty”. That is certainly an appropriate word to not only describe the team’s game, but also the game of guys like Marcus Foligno, Hartman and even new defensemen, Brock Faber. They always seem to be right around the puck, hitting guys, digging in the corner for pucks and just being physical.
The Ek re-injury aside, Game 3 was almost perfect for the Wild in terms of execution and being able to play their style of game. Mats Zuccarello scored two goals, Foligno scored a goal even which was reviewed for a high stick, Gustavsson made 23 saves and Marcus Johansson passed the puck to himself while going right around a Stars defensemen to score his second goal of the playoffs. At the end of the night, the Wild walked away with a 5-1 victory.
Going into Game 4, it will be important for the team to learn from their mistakes in the previous three games and build upon their successes. Dallas is a damn good team, no doubt about it. However, when the Wild are able to be physical, to keep the Stars away from the middle of the ice and with stellar performances in goal by Gus, the Wild can beat anyone.
It will be interesting to see if “Gus” will return for a second-consecutive game in net, or if Coach Evason will keep his normal rotation with all-time great Marc-Andre Fleury, and give Flower the start. It just goes to show how well Gustavsson has been playing when the third-most winning goalie in NHL history is considered by some to be the second-best goalie on the team. Gus is leading the league thus far in the playoffs with a .961 save percentage and has a 1.18 GAA. That’s ridiculous, considering the Wild essentially stole him from Ottawa for a declining, Cam Talbot.
I think if the Wild want to break their first-round woes, they will need to bring Gus back for Game 4 and possibly for the rest of the playoffs as their A-1 starter. The certainly doesn’t want to give up on Fleury at this point. He’s still the third-most winning goalie in history. However, it is said that you have to sometimes have to “go with the hot hand” and lately, it has been hard to beat Gus – as the Stars have learned.
The Wild’s quest for the Cup will continue with Game 4 on Sunday at the X. The opening faceoff will be at 5:30 PM and you can watch all the action on TBS. Continuing coverage of the Wild/Stars can be found on The Morning Skate. Until next time, go Wild!!!