A shot goes wide and behind the net as Minnesota Wild's Nick Johnson, left, tries to position himself and Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford and Chicago's Nick Leddy defend during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, April 5, 2012, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/ Jim Mone)
Cal Clutterbuck's game-tying tip-in with 3:12 left in regulation and Devin Setoguchi's shootout goal lifted the Minnesota Wild to a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night.
Setoguchi's glove-side shot was the only one that went in during the skills contest. Josh Harding made 22 saves and was unscored upon after midway through the first period when Jamal Mayers gave the Blackhawks an early lead. The Hawks had only two shots on goal over the last 25 minutes of the game, one in the third.
Their struggling special teams didn't help. The Wild gave them four power plays over the first two periods, including a five-minute man-advantage situation, but the Blackhawks didn't score on any of those. Then their penalty kill let in a late goal.
Bryan Bickell's slick tip-in of a blue line slap shot by Niklas Hjalmarsson would've given the Blackhawks a two-goal lead midway through the third period, but the score was waved off after a video review because Bickell's stick was too high. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, his arms folded across his suit jacket, just shook his head on the bench after hearing the call.
That became more critical when defenseman Marco Scandella, who set a Wild franchise record with more than 33 minutes of ice time, sent a slap shot toward Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford. With Clutterbuck tangling for position with Duncan Keith, the puck glanced off Clutterbuck and in to tie the game with 3:12 left.
Entering the game, the Blackhawks were 23rd on the power play and 28th on the penalty kill in the league.
The Blackhawks have put that nine-game losing streak they skidded through two months ago in the past, not to mention those decade-long doldrums of bad hockey and barren United Center seats.
With their fourth straight playoff appearance already clinched, they're bringing plenty of momentum to their chase of a second Stanley Cup championship in three years.
They'll have to start away from home, thanks to Nashville's win at Dallas. The Predators have 102 points. Detroit lost to New Jersey, so the Blackhawks (99 points) can still finish fifth by beating the Red Wings (101 points) on Saturday afternoon.
An extra road game shouldn't be so bad for the Blackhawks, who are 5-1-2 in their past eight games away from home. And if they lose to the Red Wings on Saturday and finish sixth, well, that means a first-round matchup against a potentially weaker Pacific Division winner than one of their rivals in the packed, stacked Central Division.
More important than site or foe, though, is the return of captain Jonathan Toews, who missed his 21st straight game because of a concussion. He has been practicing with the team and could play on Saturday, but his absence always leaves a void.
With forwards Andrew Brunette (lower-body injury) and Dave Bolland (upper-body injury) also out, Mayers and his fourth-line mates were more of an offensive asset than usual.
Keith brought his 36 assists back to the lineup on this night, following a five-game suspension for elbowing Vancouver Canucks star Daniel Sedin in the head, and the Blackhawks held the Wild to just three shots in the first period and five over nearly the first of the game until the home team woke up.
The Wild beat the Blackhawks 5-4 in a shootout on Sunday, a game filled with 58 penalty minutes. There was some carry-over, with several scrums but no fights. Wild defenseman Nate Prosser was given a five-minute major penalty and ejected from the game for head-butting Mayers in the face a few minutes after his goal, which was put together with pure hustle.
Mayers, who won nine of 12 faceoffs against the Wild on Sunday, took a draw and knocked the puck back to Michael Frolik, who skated behind the net with Warren Peters all over him and threw a shot at Harding with a quick pivot. Mayers was there for the rebound.
The Wild raised their record to 4-0-1 in their past five games, all of them lasting past regulation. This late surge is pushing them down the draft board for this summer, but they've insisted playing well to finish the season is more important. They've got the seventh-worst record in the league. The last five teams get in the lottery for the first overall pick.
Still, with 81 points, they'd need to beat Phoenix on Saturday to avoid their worst finish in 10 years, despite notching the NHL's best record at the 30-game mark this season.