The Chicago Blackhawks’ offense finally produced at a good level on Friday night, but the Minnesota Wild were just a little bit better as they grabbed a 5-4 victory at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild victory was the fifth consecutive win on home ice this season, and it marked the second straight defeat for the Blackhawks after they won four consecutive games earlier this month.
The Blackhawks scored early in the first period of their last game, but on Friday it was Minnesota that jumped out to the early lead. Scott Darling was in a position to stop the puck initially, but after a shot directed into the slot, Zucker picked it up and fired it home to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead just 18 seconds into teh contest.
When the Wild got a power play a few minutes later, it was Chicago that actually scored and tied things up. Jonathan Toews attempted to make a pass to Marian Hossa for a give-and-go, and even though the puck kicked back to the captain, he was able to make a play as he ripped a shot past Devan Dubnyk to knot things up at 1-1.
Just after the halfway mark of the period, the Blackhawks scored again to take the lead. Brent Seabrook collected the puck out at the point, and with Andrew Shaw providing a screen in front of Dubnyk, the defenseman ripped a slapshot through traffic and into the back of the net to put Chicago ahead by a 2-1 margin.
With five minutes remaining, Minnesota tied things up again. This time it was Ryan Carter getting in on the action, as he rushed in on a 2-on-1 and flipped a wrist shot past Darling to make it a 2-2 game.
Just before the end of the period, Minnesota scored again to seize the lead. Charlie Coyle got the puck off an excellent cycle by the Wild, and his shot made it through traffic and past Darling to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes of end-to-end action.
The Wild got another early power play in the second period, and they were able to score to extend their lead. Marcus Kruger allowed Justin Fontaine to get an easy entry into the offensive zone, and when Trevor van Riemsdyk was slow to cover, the winger fired a shot into the back of the cage to make it a 4-2 game.
Slowly but surely, the Blackhawks racked up scoring chances, and they ultimately scored. Toews was the beneficiary as the Hawks got an odd man rush. Ryan Garbutt got the play started as he stole the puck from Coyle, and his stretch pass sprung Toews. The captain faked a pass to Teuvo Teravainen and then fired a shot just inside the near post to make it a 4-3 game.
Erik Gustafsson made his NHL debut a night to remember a few minutes later as he picked up an assist on a great play. From below the Blackhawks’ goal line, the youngster fired a stretch pass up the ice to Artem Anisimov, and the center scored on a backhanded breakaway goal to knot things up at 4-4.
Early in the third period, Minnesota established a nice possession in the offensive zone, and they managed to score yet another early goal. This time it was Nino Niederreiter doing the scoring, as Darling yielded a rebound off a Zucker shot and the young forward pounded home the loose puck to give Minnesota a 5-4 lead.
The Blackhawks had a slew of chances as the midpoint of the period went by, but Dubnyk was able to make some big saves. Garbutt was stoned on an excellent rebound shot through traffic, and just before that the winger flipped a shot just wide as Dubnyk came out of his net. Trevor Daley also had an opportunity, but his shot skipped wide as well.
The Hawks pulled Darling late in the third period, but an offside violation and an icing infraction helped to kill any momentum and the Blackhawks fell for the second consecutive game.
The Blackhawks will be able to take the weekend to lick their wounds before they welcome the Los Angeles Kings to the United Center on Monday night.