In the first game of a home-and-home series, the Chicago Blackhawks weren't able to hold serve on home ice, as the Minnesota Wild knocked off the defending champs by a score of 5-3.
Bryan Bickell scored his fourth goal of the season, and Marcus Kruger and Patrick Kane also scored, but those were pretty much the lone bright spots for a team that was consistently outplayed in just about every area in the game.
The Blackhawks got off to a decent start, picking up an early power play thanks to some excellent puck pressure both in the offensive and neutral zones. Unfortunately for them, they once again couldn’t get any sustained pressure going, as their puck movement was slow and the Wild were playing a super-aggressive defensive style to close off passing and shooting lanes.
That excellent penalty kill by the Wild loomed even larger just a few minutes later, as Marian Hossa was sent to the penalty box on an interference call in the offensive zone. Just five seconds into the ensuing power play, the Wild got on the board, as Zach Parise collected the rebound off of a Ryan Suter shot from the point and put it past Crawford to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead.
The Hawks got another power play chance late in the first period, but were unable to capitalize on it as Andrew Shaw ended up committing a penalty in the offensive zone to cancel it out, but neither team was able to score as the Wild went into the intermission with a 1-0 lead.
Just a minute into the second period though, the Wild scored again. After Crawford lost sight of the puck when Matt Cooke fired it to the point, Marco Scandella hit a slap shot towards the net that Kyle Brodziak deflected past Crawford to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead, taking even more wind out of the sails of the Blackhawks.
Towards the middle of the period though, the Hawks finally got some momentum going on offense. Their top line set the tone with a couple of strong shifts, and it appeared that the Hawks got on the board when the puck trickled into the net after a mad scrum in front of Niklas Backstrom’s goal. On replay however, the puck was shown to have bounced off of Shaw’s stick, which he was holding above his head, and even though Clayton Stoner pushed the puck into the net, the officials ruled that Shaw’s high stick rendered the goal no-good, and the Hawks continued to trail 2-0.
That momentum carried over even after the deflating call by the war room in Toronto, when Nick Leddy found Bickell with an excellent pass in front of the net, and Bickell fired it past Backstrom on the far side of the goal to bring the Hawks to within a 2-1 margin. It was Bickell’s fourth goal in four games, and showed that he is continuing to thrive with the lessened pressure that comes with playing non-top six minutes for the Hawks.
Unfortunately for Chicago, they ended up surrendering that goal right back, as Jason Pominville received a pass in the slot from Mikael Granlund and fired it top shelf past Crawford to give Minnesota a 3-1 advantage. To complicate matters, the Hawks picked up a couple of penalties back to back immediately afterwards, giving the Wild a lengthy 5-on-3 at the end of the period.
Fortunately for Chicago, the penalty killing unit stood tall on that series, with Crawford making a couple of key stops and guys like Jonathan Toews really chipping in to get to the second intermission with the Hawks trailing 3-1. The Hawks killed the rest of the penalty off at the start of the third period, but once again, their indiscipline killed them again, as Patrick Sharp went off on a tripping minor to give the Wild yet another power play opportunity.
Once again though, the Hawks were able to kill off the Minnesota penalty with a minimum of drama clearing the puck with ease and only allowing one halfway decent chance towards the end of the advantage.
After a couple of uneventful minutes though, the Hawks got another power play as Shaw was tripped up in front of the benches, hitting his forehead on the open bench door in the process. Once again though, the Hawks couldn’t get anything sustained on the man-advantage, as they had a difficult time moving the puck around the offensive zone and couldn’t seem to find open skaters. In the end, they weren’t able to get a single shot on goal during the two minutes, and they dropped to 0-for-5 on the night.
Right after the power play ended, Leddy turned the puck over on a bad pass in the offensive zone, and the Wild found their way back to the front of the net, where Pominville once again beat Crawford to give Minnesota a 4-1 lead. It was his second goal of the game and sixth on the season, and against a team that barely gives up more than two goals per contest, it was pretty much the death knell for the Hawks.
The Hawks did get another power play opportunity just after the halfway mark of the third period, and after a night full of failure, the Hawks finally managed to score on the man-advantage, as Patrick Kane took a pass from Toews and fired the puck past Backstrom to bring the Hawks back to within a 4-2 margin.
There were several other chances for the Hawks in the waning minutes of the game, including a great pass from Toews that Sharp nearly put in the net, but it was again the Wild that had the answer, as Backstrom stopped the shot. On the very next sequence, Michal Rozsival whiffed on a check, and Justin Fontaine scored at the tail end of a 3-on-1 rush to give Minnesota a 5-2 lead.