The Blackhawks, fresh off winning four straight against the St. Louis Blues, put a beating on the Wild in the first two games. Chicago outscored Minnesota 9-3, and one of the biggest issues the Wild was dealing with was sitting between the pipes. Ilya Bryzgalov, the fifth different goalie Minnesota has started this year, was struggling in a big way. At the same time, injuries left the Wild out of options, forcing them to roll the dice with a goalie who’s become a bit of a punch-line in the NHL. It certainly wouldn’t have been a leap to wonder if Bryzgalov would end up being Minnesota’s downfall.
For one night, at least, he was anything but. The Wild, desperately needing to claw their way back into the series, won a much-needed Game 3 last night over the Blackhawks. Not only did they win, they completely blanked a Chicago team who’d been scoring at a frightening clip. Bryzgalov stopped all 19 shots he faced, resulting in his first postseason shutout since 2006. Anyone who had seen the Russian netminder’s stats during these playoffs and still predicted he’d eventually shut a team out, well, you’ve got a future in Vegas.
Now, it may be easy to write off Bryzgalov’s night. Yes, he only faced 19 shots, which doesn’t exactly imply he was dealing with a barrage all night. Minnesota was checking better than ever, limiting Chicago’s chances over and over. It was an impressive performance all around, with many Blackhawks crediting the Wild after the game for their defensive presence throughout the evening.
At the same time, while Bryzgalov didn’t have a ton of shots fired his way, he’s allowed more goals on less attempts this postseason alone. He let by three goals on 14 shots in Game 2 of Minnesota’s series against the Colorado Avalanche, a game in which he was eventually pulled. Though he faced just 21 shots in each of the first two games of this series, he allowed four goals in Game 1, three in Game 2. So, there’s no need to sell Bryzgalov short just because he wasn’t facing an onslaught of pucks last night. At the end of the night, Chicago didn’t score, and I’d like to think that’s all the Wild really care about.
Now, can the embattled goaltender do it again, or at least put up a performance remotely close to what he did in Game 3? That’s anyone’s guess at this point. At the end of the day, it’s just one game, and he’ll need to play just as good if not better if Minnesota wants to even this series up Friday night. The Blackhawks certainly don’t look like a team that’ll go offensively quiet anytime soon.
However, the Wild needed a big-time performance from a goalie who hasn’t shown a lot of them lately, and they got it. If Bryzgalov somehow settles into a groove, this series becomes a lot more interesting.