The Chicago Blackhawks have had a difficult time starting games well over the past few weeks, but they reversed that trend in a big way on Sunday night as two first period goals lifted them to a 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild at the United Center.
Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell scored goals for the Blackhawks in the first period, and Brad Richards and Johnny Oduya each picked up insurance tallies as the Hawks bounced back from a difficult loss on Friday night. Matt Cooke scored the lone goal of the night for the Wild.
Just four minutes into the game, the Blackhawks used some great passing by their first line to seize an early lead. Brandon Saad pushed the puck into the zone for Jonathan Toews, who drove hard toward the goal crease. Instead of shooting at Niklas Backstrom, who had the post covered, Toews fed a pass through the blue paint and Hossa was there to whack in the one-timer to give Chicago a 1-0 lead.
The teams traded a few chances over the next few minutes, but it was Chicago that came out with the critical second goal to extend their lead. Patrick Kane was the man making the big play happen for the Hawks, driving to the net and getting tripped up in the process. Before he went down, he fed a pass across to Bickell, who tapped in a one-timer to make it a 2-0 game about eight minutes into the game.
The two teams each got power play chances as the first period wore on, but neither side could convert. Both Backstrom and Corey Crawford made some key saves during that stretch, but despite the pressure at both ends of the ice the Blackhawks saw the first period expire holding just a two-goal lead.
The second period opened with the Blackhawks still on the power play, but they couldn’t convert. Toews and Andrew Shaw both made excellent shots from the slot on the man-advantage, but Backstrom stood tall and kept his team within shouting distance.
That effort ended up proving fruitless for the Wild as Chicago managed to score again with about nine minutes to go in the period. With the second line back out on the ice, Kane ripped a shot toward the net that was blocked down in front. The Wild defenders scrambled to grab it, but Richards beat them all to the puck and flipped in a quick shot to make it 3-0 Blackhawks.
The Wild had a couple of chances to climb back into the game as the second period wore on, including a Jason Zucker penalty shot, but his attempt skipped wide of the net and Chicago made him pay. On a 2-on-1 rush, Toews attempted to feed a pass across to Saad, but it was knocked away by Jared Spurgeon. Oduya came in on the play from the blue line, and he picked up the loose puck and ripped it home to give the Hawks a 4-0 lead.
Minnesota did continue to chip away at the Hawks’ defense, but they were only able to capitalize once in the third period. Kyle Brodziak brought in the puck on a rush up ice, and his shot was saved by Crawford. The rebound proved to be too juicy to resist for Minnesota, as Cooke picked up the puck and flipped it into the empty net to get the Wild on the board.
That goal was as close as Minnesota would get, and the Blackhawks ultimately picked up their second win over the Wild in four days.
The Blackhawks will have a lengthy four-day break between games (their longest break of the season outside of the All-Star break), and they will return to the ice on Friday night as they take on the Winnipeg Jets at the United Center.