Chicago Blackhawks: Jason Zucker

Zucker among standout Wild rookies

May, 5, 2013
Burnside By Scott Burnside

ST. PAUL, Minn -- Rookie Jason Zucker, the overtime hero of the Minnesota Wild’s crucial 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, admitted he wasn’t aiming for a spot but just hoping to get the puck on net.

He did more than that, of course, snapping home his first-ever playoff goal 2:15 into overtime to move the Wild within a game in their Western Conference quarterfinals series. Chicago leads 2-1, with Game 4 set for Tuesday.

Zucker praised the pass made by linemate Matt Cullen, who was on his belly behind the Chicago net when he sent the puck to Zucker.

"The passes that guy makes are ridiculous. I don’t know how he makes half of them," he said.

Zucker had a chance to win Game 1 in overtime but clanged one off the crossbar as Chicago ended up with a 2-1 victory.

Was he owed one?

"You never deserve anything. You’ve got to work for everything. I just tried keeping the puck on net," he said.

Wild head coach Mike Yeo praised the work of his young players.

"They’re in our lineup for a reason. We need them to go out and not play like young kids. We need them to play like good players," Yeo said.

The Wild outshot the Blackhawks by a 37-27 count. Chicago was outshot by 10 or more shots just twice this season.

Wild win a huge payback for suffering fans

May, 5, 2013
Burnside By Scott Burnside

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- On a day when life was breathed back into the State of Hockey, it turned out to be the kid from Newport Beach, Calif., who did the resuscitating.

Go figure.

In what now ranks as one of the most important victories in franchise history, rookie Jason Zucker delivered the Minnesota Wild’s first home playoff victory in more than five years, snapping home the overtime winner just 2:15 into the extra session Sunday to give the Wild a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks still lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 set for Tuesday, but for a host of reasons, Sunday’s game was a significant test of character for the Wild and a huge payback for a fan base that might have wavered in recent years but has never let go its love affair with the team.

"It’s been a long time coming. And it was an entertaining game, an exciting game. Obviously, an overtime win is always great at home but in the playoffs and you’ve been waiting for so long, it’s very big," said center Matt Cullen, who was born in Virginia, Minn., and returned home to play for the Wild in 2010.

"It’s been a long time coming, and I’m a Minnesotan, so I know how long people have been waiting for playoff hockey. It’s a lot of fun," said Cullen, who was one of the Wild’s players, setting up the winning goal by shoveling a pass to Zucker from his belly behind the Blackhawk net.

After playing by far their best game of the series with a vigorous forecheck and more physical play, it looked like the Wild was actually going to slide into playoff oblivion. Holding onto a 2-1 lead late into the third period, the Wild lapsed into a passive mode, allowing the Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith to blast home the tying goal with 2:46 left in regulation.

"Yup, that sucked," Zach Parise acknowledged.

Had the Blackhawks finished the job in overtime to take a commanding 3-0 series lead, it would not have been a surprise to anyone, even the 19,238 holding their collective breaths in the Xcel Energy Center when the extra session opened.

"It didn’t matter how we got there, whether the whole period was tied 2-2 or whether they got one late, you can’t let that bother you. I think that was a little bit of the message between the third period and overtime," Parise said.

One of two key additions made by the Wild last offseason to help rejuvenate the stagnant franchise -- Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter signed identical 13-year deals worth $98 million last July 4 -- Parise had been frustrated by his lack of production as the Wild dropped the first two games in Chicago. He had zero points and was minus-three heading into Game 3 but scored on a backhand Sunday to give the Wild the 2-1 lead that looked for a long time like it would stand as the deciding marker.

Like Cullen, Parise is a Minnesotan and his desire to play in his home state was one of the key factors in his decision to leave New Jersey, where he’d played his whole career.

He said the vibe in the building was special, different on Sunday.

"They’ve been patiently waiting for a playoff team here. And we finally got one, got a team into the playoffs and then, most importantly, in the first game, you get a big win," Parise said. "You get the excitement and hopefully you carry that over into the fourth game. Like I said, the energy in the building was awesome and when we got the winning goal it was so loud, it was great."

Before Game 3, head coach Mike Yeo acknowledged he wasn’t sure how his team would respond after dropping Game 1 in overtime and then being crushed 5-2 in Game 2. But on Sunday it resembled the team that had for the middle part of the shortened regular season challenged Vancouver for the Northwest Division lead. The Wild outshot the Blackhawks 37-27 and outhit them 34-13.

And when it looked like all that hard work might be for naught, they found a way to reward not just their fans but themselves with a key win and what was the team’s first home playoff win since April 11, 2008.

"I think, at the end of the day, they deserved to win the game," Keith said.

"They were a little quicker than us tonight. I think our strength is using our speed and our skill and we need to use our speed. We didn’t use it enough tonight."

After the game, as many teams do, the Wild gathered near center ice to salute the fans with upraised sticks. On this day the gesture seemed to carry more meaning.

"Obviously, it's pretty special. Definitely for these fans but for our team too," said rookie Charlie Coyle, who picked up the primary assist on the Parise goal, his second assist in the series.

"We have a good group of guys in here. We’ve been working all season -- this is the result we want, this is where we wanted to be at the end of the season and we’re just going to keep going from here."

Rapid Reaction: Wild 3, Blackhawks 2 (OT)

May, 5, 2013
Powers By Scott Powers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Here’s a quick look at the Minnesota Wild’s 3-2 overtime win over Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series at the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday.

How it happened: Wild forward Jason Zucker delivered the game-winning goal after two minutes and 15 seconds of overtime. The Wild put an emphasis on being more physical and aggressive after dropping the first two games to the Blackhawks, and that’s exactly what they did. The Wild hit the Blackhawks up and down the ice and made everything difficult on them. The Wild outhit the Blackhawks 34-13 and also carried that over to their offensive game by outshooting the Blackhawks 37-27. It wasn’t until the later stages of the third period that the Blackhawks found some life again. Down 2-1 in the third period, Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith blasted a shot from the left circle into the net to tie the game at two at 17:14. Wild forward Zach Parise initially put his team ahead with a backhanded shot into the top right corner at 3:09 of the third period. Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya scored the game’s first goal in the first period, and the Wild’s Pierre-Marc Bouchard answered later in the period. Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane accounted for two assists and has five assists in the series. Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford made 34 saves, and Wild goaltender Josh Harding made 25 saves.

Player of the game: Zucker came through with the game-winner.

What it means: The Wild needed to win Sunday to keep their series hopes alive. The Blackhawks still lead the series 2-1, but the Wild found a formula which they will continue to try to use in the coming games against the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks could have shrugged off a loss against a desperate team, but Sunday’s loss has to be disturbing to them in the way the Wild dominated most of the game.

What’s next: Game 4 of the series will be held in Minnesota on Tuesday. Game 5 will be in Chicago on Thursday.



Patrick Sharp
6 2 4 -1
GoalsP. Kane 3
AssistsB. Saad 5
+/-J. Oduya 3
GAAA. Raanta 1.52