ST. PAUL, Minn. — Players and coaches on both sides have gone out of their way to stress that the Wild are not the same team the Blackhawks handled easily in the first round of the NHL playoffs last season.
The Wild continued to drive that point home when they topped the Hawks 4-2 in Game 4 of their second-round series Friday night at Xcel Energy Center.
After handling the defending Stanley Cup champions in the two games in Minnesota, the series heads back to Chicago tied 2-2 with Game 5 set for Sunday night at the United Center. A year ago, the Hawks wrapped up the series in five games, but the 2014 version is already guaranteed a return trip here for Game 6.
"We have respect for what they can do as a team in all areas, not just defensively. They have some great offensive power. (But) we need to stop worrying about what they're so good at and use our strengths as well."
In what won't go down as a textbook case of fundamental hockey, the Wild got a goal and an assist from Jared Spurgeon, scores from Justin Fontaine, Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter and a solid performance in goal from Ilya Bryzgalov to remain unbeaten in five home games this postseason.
The Hawks managed just 20 shots on goal for a total of 39 during the two games in Minnesota as the Wild continued to clog the neutral zone and maintain a furious forecheck to offset the Hawks' speed.
Captain Jonathan Toews also had another reason for the low number of attempts on net.
"It's reflective of our intensity," Toews said. "They worked for their chances. They worked for everything they got. We have to do the same. We have to be better.
"It's frustrating to not get a win the last two games on the road. We could have put ourselves in a great spot had we played the way we need to play. But we didn't.
"This series is long from over. That's the good news. We have a chance to redeem ourselves and be better than we have been."
Corey Crawford had a shaky start and it cost him as the Wild built a 3-2 lead heading into the third before he allowed a power-play score from Spurgeon to seal the deal.
The Wild sent 31 shots on Crawford while suffocating the Hawks at the other end.
"We played tight in all three zones and it paid off for us," Wild center Charlie Coyle said. "They don't get much out of it, not too many chances for them. And we play confident that way. We play tight like that and stick to our structure. That's what we need, and it definitely frustrates them out there."
A return to the United Center should benefit the Hawks as they are 5-0 at home in the playoffs.
"(We need) a real short memory and to remind ourselves of how good we can be in our building," Toews said. "It's playoff hockey. It's not supposed to be easy. There are going to be some moments where your stomach drops, and you're not feeling like everything is going your way.
"You have to find a way to battle through that and create something out of nothing, especially in this building when it's loud. They're playing with energy. Everywhere you look they seem to be there. When you work hard enough, people are going to get lucky."