If there’s a secret to beating the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs, the Minnesota Wild haven’t found it.
The Wild have fallen to 3-11 against the Blackhawks in the playoffs the last three years. They were eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the first round in 2013, then lost in the second round in 2014 before arriving at the brink in the Western Conference semifinals again this time.
They host the Blackhawks in Game 4 tonight (9:30 p.m. NBC Sports Network) down 3-0.
For all the strides the Wild have made, there’s a question whether that burning desire to finally beat the Blackhawks has created a mental roadblock on top of the long list of challenges they’re faced with on the ice in this matchup.
“I think the past couple years, maybe we came into this series a little more intimidated, facing the Stanley Cup champs,” center Kyle Brodziak said. “The last couple years it was pretty fresh for us, coming into the playoffs. I think we felt that this year was going to be different, the way we were playing and the confidence level we had.”
In NHL history, 180 teams have fallen behind 3-0 in a playoff series. Four of them, including Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles in the first round last year, rallied to advance.
“It wouldn’t matter who it was against. When you’re down 3-0, it’s always a tough spot,” Wild left wing Zach Parise said. “We need to play better.”
ONE STEP AHEAD
The Blackhawks haven’t trailed in the series. They’re 39-10-2 this season, including 4-1 in the playoffs, when scoring first. They’re also 29-0-0, including four wins this postseason, with the lead at the second intermission. For all their skating, passing and scoring skills, they’re a stingy defensive team, too, that only becomes tougher once they have the lead, as evidenced in the 1-0 win in Game 3.
“When you play Minnesota, if you try to score a lot of goals you’ll be in their end all night,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Play smart, safe, reliable, predictable, you’re going to have a chance to have some success. But if you start making plays, it leads to trouble.”
Clearly, for the Wild to have a crack at a comeback, they need a more productive first period.
“We actually started great last game. We had, I don’t know, three or four scoring chances in the first three or four minutes. It didn’t go in, and I think we changed,” left wing Matt Cooke said. “We panicked. We worried too much about scoring the first goal and started to take chances.”
Canadiens at Lightning, Game 4, Lightning lead 3-0, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Network.
Also on the brink of elimination is Montreal, which overcame a weak performance in Game 2 with a strong one Wednesday night. Just not strong enough as Tyler Johnson lifted Tampa Bay to a 2-1 victory with a goal just 1.1 seconds before the end of regulation.
Johnson leads Tampa Bay with eight goals this postseason. Nikita Kucherov is next with three through nine games.
“It’s still a race to four. … We’ve got to go for the jugular when we’ve got the chance,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
Montreal plans to put out a superior effort in Game 4.
“Since I’ve been a Montreal Canadien, one thing we’ve always done is find ways to win games,” Brendan Gallagher said. “It just seems like right now we’re finding ways to lose the games. We’re playing good hockey, we’re doing everything you ask, we’re just coming out on the wrong side of things.
“That said, the team is full of character. No, we’re not going to give up. No, we’re not going to quit. We’ve got to win four. We can’t win four unless we win one.”
BACK TO BACK
There won’t be much time for the teams to recover, with Game 4 coming just 24 hours later.
“I can’t say I’m a big fan of back to backs, especially in the playoffs,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “But both teams have to play, so it’s probably not an advantage to either one.”