For the Minnesota Wild, it was pretty much a Game 7.
So they came out and played like there was no tomorrow, knowing a 3-0 series deficit meant the end of their season.
Well, Minnesota can cancel the tee times and plan for at least a couple more games after the Wild outplayed the Blackhawks from start to finish and scored 2:15 into overtime to take Game 3 and cut their series deficit to 2-1.
Corey Crawford didn’t deserve the result, but the Wild certainly did.
In a do-or-die match Sunday afternoon, Minnesota dominated on home ice and it was only because Crawford came up huge that the Hawks got this game to a fourth period.
“He was amazing,” said captain Jonathan Toews of his goaltender. “There’s no way we would have stuck around without his effort. It’s as good as he’s been all year.
“A lot of us in this room need to look at that and take it to the next level the way he did. We have to be better in front of him.”
It’s hardly a disaster for the visitors, who can win Tuesday night on the road and return to Chicago with a 3-1 lead.
But if there’s a concern, it’s that the Wild now know how to take the Hawks out of their game — and it’s hardly a new story.
Hit them, hit them and hit them some more.
“They took it to another level,” Toews said. “It’s something we have to be ready for next time.”
The surprise is that the Hawks didn’t see it coming, especially after Wild coach Mike Yeo said his team needed to approach the Hawks in Game 3 with “hatred” and “hostility.”
“We should have expected that from the start,” Toews said. “We didn’t dictate the game for 60 minutes. They did. We have to come back and try to do that.”
Assuming the Hawks advance, they got a taste of what awaits them in the next round, both from an energy and physical standpoint.
“We knew they were gonna come out strong,” Crawford said. “Obviously, they’re gonna run around with their crowd behind them. We didn’t let that get to us. We stayed strong and stuck to our game.”
Minnesota had 34 hits to only 13 for the Hawks. The Wild also outshot the Hawks 37-27 and won 40 faceoffs to 32 for the Hawks. In the first period alone, Minnesota had a huge edge in hits (17-4), shots (15-9), blocks (7-2) and faceoff wins (13-8).
“They definitely outplayed us,” said Joel Quenneville. “They played like they had to win and we didn’t.”’
The scoreboard could have looked a lot different in regulation if Crawford hadn’t stood tall, because Minnesota was all over the ice and the Hawks had very few good scoring chances.
“We’re passing up chances and trying to make too many plays,” Toews said. “They have active sticks and there’s a lot of obstruction out there.”
So far, the Hawks’ offense — outside of Patrick Kane (5 assists) — isn’t making much happen. Patrick Sharp (1 assist Sunday) had 2 goals in Game 2 and Marian Hossa had the Hawks’ first goal of the series and had an assist Sunday.
But both goals came from the defense Sunday, Michael Frolik had a pair of goals in Game 2 and Bryan Bickell had a goal in each of the first 2 games. Toews, Brandon Saad and Brent Seabrook are without a point.
“You can’t go out there and try to make pretty plays,” Toews said. “It’s gotta be ugly. We’re not doing that enough. Once we start doing that, we have the strength, the speed and the skill to get on the board and make things happen.”
The overtime goal was a bit of a fluke, as Andrew Shaw tripped Matt Cullen behind the net, and the Hawks seemed to relax.
Shaw trailed the play, Johnny Oduya thought he would gain possession, Viktor Stalberg let Jason Zucker walk right past him to the front of the net, Crawford never got back up, and when Cullen — from his belly — slipped the puck to Zucker, five Hawks were within 10 feet of the net watching as Zucker fired home the game-winner.
It was symbolic of the entire game.
“They have some good players and they’re a hardworking team,” Toews said. “But when we focus on what we have to do and how we can bring our best game, our best effort and the intensity you need in the playoffs, we’re a very difficult team to handle, too.”
The Hawks weren’t that team Sunday, and if they’re not on Tuesday, the series will arrive back in Chicago tied at 2-2.
Toews may have something to say about that.
źListen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score’s “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.