First goal looms large for Wild, Blackhawks in Game 3

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — There’s no team in the league that would rather play from behind than with a lead. But for the Minnesota Wild, it’s particularly important to get ahead early. With their defensive-minded, trapping style of play, they’re structured to protect a lead, not to chase one.

So with the Wild trailing 2-0 in their second-round series with the Blackhawks, and back in their own building in front of the self-proclaimed State of Hockey, you can be sure Minnesota will be doing everything it can to jump out to an early lead in tonight’s Game 3.

“Ideally, we’d love to get that early one and play with the lead,” Zach Parise said. “That would be the perfect game plan. But it’s not always like that.”

It hasn’t been at all this series. Remarkably, the Hawks led for a grand total of 29 minutes and 34 seconds in their six-game first-round victory over the Nashville Predators. Through two games against the Wild, the Hawks have led for 77:46. So the plan tonight is to weather the initial and inevitable storm from the desperate Wild, then try to get them chasing again.

“They are a different team with the lead,” Hawks winger Bryan Bickell said. “They trap more, they keep everybody on the outside. I think when they don’t have the lead, they’re trying to spark some offense and kind of cheat in different ways to create offense that way. Hopefully we can get the lead early and get them running around.”

The Wild had the fifth-best record in the league during the regular season when scoring first, going 35-6-4. When the opponent scored first, Minnesota was 21st in the league at 11-22-4.

But as they showed in Game 1, when they turned a 3-0 deficit into a 3-3 tie in the second period, they’re still confident in any situation.

“You never know what’s going to happen in a game,” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. “So for sure, we want the lead. For sure we want it. But we can’t think too far ahead of ourselves. … We need to play the right way, instead of thinking about the goals and all that. We’ve been successful by playing our own game plan, and with our strengths, and that’s what we need to do tonight.”

The Wild can also draw on last spring’s experience, when they dropped the first two games of the series at the United Center, only to win Games 3 and 4 4-0 and 4-2, respectively. The Hawks, meanwhile, have lost seven straight Game 3s on the road, and are 1-9 in such situations under Joel Quenneville. Johnny Oduya was surprised by the stat, but said he fully expects to get the Wild’s best shot tonight.

“Usually teams come out pretty hard when you come in to a situation like this,” Oduya said. “It’s just a matter of will today. We know they’re probably going to play their best game of the season, so we have to do that, too.”

NOTES: There was a power outage at XCel Energy Center Monday night, and while Bickell said the ice was a little slower than usual, nobody expected it to play a role of any kind in Game 3. “It’s still better ice than the [United Center],” Andrew Shaw said. … Minnesota will be without Chris Stewart, who suffered a right arm injury in Game 2. Wild coach Mike Yeo said he’s “day to day.”


Twiter: @marklazerus

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