Sure, no game is a must-win this time of year. Still, the Chicago Blackhawks couldn't afford to slip much further behind the Minnesota Wild.
Jonathan Toews scored a power-play goal 3:09 into overtime to lift the Blackhawks over the Western Conference-leading Wild 4-3 on Wednesday night.
The Blackhawks closed within five points of Minnesota for the conference lead. The Wild also have two games in hand, and the Blackhawks admitted feeling a sense of urgency heading into the game.
"There was some added meaning to it, for our team anyways," said Toews, who also had two assists.
Ryan Suter was called for holding midway through the overtime, and with the man advantage, Toews slipped a rebound between the skates of goalie Darcy Kuemper.
"It was a huge win," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We had to win the game to keep us within striking distance."
Corey Crawford stopped 35 of 38 shots as the Blackhawks snapped an eight-game regular-season losing streak against Minnesota. He came up huge in the overtime, stonewalling Mikael Granlund alone in the slot and stopping Suter on a breakaway.
"We had the opportunities, but when they needed a save, they got it," Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Usually when you don't score on your great opportunities, bad things happen."
The Wild salvaged a point when Erik Haula scored with 3:03 left in the third period to tie it at 3. Defenseman Marco Scandella carried the puck from behind his own blue line deep into the Chicago zone, then flipped a backhanded pass across the goalmouth, where Haula was waiting to tip it past Crawford.
"It was kind of a playoff game environment, a little bit," Haula said.
Nino Niederreiter had two assists for the Wild, and Kuemper made 28 saves.
Minnesota closed a four-game Canadian road trip on Tuesday night at Winnipeg, while the Blackhawks had been resting since a Feb. 4 game at Dallas. Perhaps feeling the effect of that late-night flight, the Wild looked sluggish early as Chicago raced to a 2-0 lead.
Ryan Hartman started the scoring at 10:54 of the first period when Vinnie Hinostroza carried the puck deep into the Minnesota zone and centered to the slot, where Hartman one-timed it past Kuemper.
Chicago doubled its lead 1:09 into the second period as Toews found Nick Schmaltz alone in front of the net for an easy tap-in.
Minnesota got one back 37 seconds later when Jared Spurgeon finished a rush with a wrist shot over Crawford's left shoulder.
That goal energized the Wild, who outshot the Blackhawks 19-10 in the second period and dominated the next 15 minutes of play.
Zach Parise tied it at 7:15 of the second on a disputed goal. Charlie Coyle threw the puck toward the net, and Parise, with his back to the goal, tipped it between his legs. Crawford made the save, but Parise spun around and chipped the rebound over the goalie.
Chicago challenged the play, arguing that Parise had been offside when Minnesota's rush began. After a lengthy delay, the officials ruled the video evidence was inconclusive and the call stood.
Late in the period, Panik put Chicago on top 3-2 when he controlled a pass from Niklas Hjalmarsson and tucked the puck just inside the post.
"We got back to the way we want to play these road games right away early tonight, especially against this team," said Toews, whose team is in the midst of a six-game road trip. "Nice for us to find that resiliency and find a way to get a power-play goal at the end."
NOTES: Wednesday's game was the first of a franchise-record eight-game homestand for Minnesota. ... The Wild recalled D Gustav Olofsson from Iowa of the AHL. He replaced D Mike Reilly, who was sent to Iowa. ... Coyle played in his 284th consecutive game, breaking Antti Laaksonen's franchise record. Laaksonen played for the Wild from 2000 to 2004.
Blackhawks: Chicago's road trip continues on Friday night at Winnipeg.
Wild: Minnesota hosts Tampa Bay on Friday night.