Dany Heatley #15 of the Minnesota Wild controls the puck against Bryan Bickell #29 of the Chicago Blackhawks during the first period of the game on January 23, 2014 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Jason Pominville and Matt Cooke scored early goals, and goaltender Darcy Kuemper did the rest as the Minnesota Wild knocked off the Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 2-1 on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center.
Patrick Kane scored the Hawks’ lone goal with just 31.2 seconds remaining in the game, but it wasn’t enough as the Hawks lost to the Wild for the third time this season.
Perhaps tired from playing on Wednesday night, the Hawks came out of the gate with precious little energy, but the Wild didn’t seem eager to push the pace. Neither team got a shot on goal through the first six minutes of the game, with the Hawks finally breaking that deadlock with a Kris Versteeg wrister that Darcy Kuemper managed to steer away.
That shot seemed to wake the Wild up, and they took advantage of some bad Blackhawks back-checking to score the first goal of the contest. When Versteeg went in behind the net to battle for the puck, Bryan Bickell and Michal Handzus were lulled to sleep in the slot. The Wild won the puck and sprinted up the ice, and the two forwards were slow to come back in support as Jason Pominville pounded home a rebound off a save by Raanta to make it 1-0 Wild.
The Blackhawks sent the Wild onto a full 5-on-3 power play a short time later as both Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook went to the box for separate infractions, but thanks to a lot of ill-advised passes by the Wild and some disciplined defense by Niklas Hjalmarsson, the Hawks were able to kill the penalties off with a minimum of drama.
Instead of gaining momentum from the kill, the Blackhawks instead watched the Wild score another goal. On the rush, Michal Rozsival jumped to Johnny Oduya’s side of the ice to try to cover Justin Fontaine, and Matt Cooke skated in untouched towards Raanta. Settling the puck down with a deft kicking motion, Cooke forced a weak wrister past a surprised Raanta, and the Wild grabbed a 2-0 lead with less than five minutes remaining in the first period.
The Blackhawks did get a power play with less than two minutes left when Cooke tripped Versteeg, but they weren’t able to convert on any of their chances, as Seabrook’s slap shot was saved easily by Kuemper to send the Blackhawks into the first intermission trailing by two goals.
As the second period got underway, the Blackhawks were unable to score, and Marian Hossa was quickly sent to the box with slashing to put the Wild back on the power play. Minnesota once again couldn’t generate much in the way of possession, but a Kyle Brodziak redirection in front of the net did require a sprawling save by Raanta, and the score remained 2-0 in favor of the home team.
The Blackhawks did finally get some decent push shortly after the penalty kill ended, with a Marcus Kruger steal of a Dany Heatley pass in the neutral zone getting the possession started. Both Brandon Bollig and Rozsival picked up shots on goal in the sequence, but Kuemper was once again up to the task, stopping both shots and keeping his shutout intact.
As the period wore on, both teams seemed to settle into a comfortable slow pace, with neither side really getting any quality chances. Charlie Coyle did have a good slapshot that Raanta had to steer aside with a quick flash of his blocker, but other than that the remainder of the second period was uneventful, and the Wild still held a 2-0 lead after two periods.
The Blackhawks came out of the dressing room for the start of the third period with their hair on fire, and racked up four straight shots on goal within the first minute and change. Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, and Andrew Shaw all took turns pelting Kuemper with shots, but none of the wristers could find the mark, and the game remained 2-0.
After that push, scoring chances came few and far between for both sides, with a sequence featuring shots by Bollig and then Torrey Mitchell towards the middle of the frame serving as some of the best chances that either team had gotten. Both Kuemper and Raanta were up to the task though, and the deficit remained two.
Joel Quenneville opted to pull Antti Raanta with about 2:30 remaining in the game, and the Wild had several quality chances on the empty net, but both of them ended up sliding just wide. Then, after the Hawks finally established a good possession with less than a minute left, they were able to score. Nick Leddy got the puck along the boards, skated in a stride, and feathered a perfect pass across to Kane, who was able to beat Kuemper and cut the lead to 2-1 with 31.2 seconds remaining.
Quenneville called a timeout to get his offensive stars some fresh legs, but it wasn’t enough as the Wild jammed up passing lanes and prevented the Hawks from getting a good shot on net as they lost in regulation for only the second time in their past 18 games.
The Blackhawks will have a couple of days to get their house in order before they take on the Winnipeg Jets at the United Center on Sunday night.