The Chicago Blackhawks had a golden opportunity to gain some ground in the Central Division on Tuesday night, but the Minnesota Wild had other ideas as they scored two third period goals and picked up a 2-1 victory at the United Center.
Bryan Bickell scored late in the game for the Blackhawks, but Devan Dubnyk stopped 32 saves as Minnesota clinched a playoff spot and kept alive their slim hopes of catching the Blackhawks for the third seed in the Central Division. Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker scored goals for Minnesota in the contest.
The Blackhawks looked like they were playing with a purpose in the early stages of the game, and they had several good scoring opportunities right off the bat. The best came about eight minutes into the period, as Michal Rozsival fired a low shot through the zone and Jonathan Toews got his stick blade on it to deflect it on net. Dubnyk made the save, but no Blackhawks skater could get close enough for a rebound chance.
Over the final minutes of the period, Minnesota turned the tables on the Blackhawks, but Corey Crawford was up to the task. Jason Pominville had a good chance on a breakaway that Crawford stopped, and Zach Parise picked up one of his own that ended up ringing off the post. Zucker ended the period with a breakaway, but Crawford stopped him to keep things scoreless after 20 minutes of play.
Early in the second period, Crawford had to be in top form again as the Wild got two straight chances. Kyle Brodziak got in behind the defense and got a breakaway that Crawford turned aside, and Thomas Vanek got a one-time shot from the slot a few moments later, but the goaltender made another key save for the Hawks.
The end of the period saw both teams get power play opportunities, but neither one was able to convert on their chances. The Blackhawks didn’t get a single shot on goal during their power play, and Minnesota had similar misfortune as the Blackhawks’ defense jumped lanes and blocked shots throughout. Brandon Saad did get one final chance to end the period, but Dubnyk made another save to keep the game scoreless after two periods.
Crawford continued to keep the game close as the third period got started, making a couple of incredible saves. His best moment came about nine minutes in as Pominville’s shot from the slot was gloved down, and then Parise whacked a puck out of midair and Crawford was able to smother it with his leg pads to keep things tied up.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they weren’t able to capitalize on the momentum, and the Wild scored right out of the ensuing TV timeout. Parise deflected a shot from the corner on net that Crawford was able to stop, but Granlund got inside positioning for a rebound and fired in a rebound shot to make it a 1-0 game with about 10 minutes to go.
Just a few minutes later, the Wild scored again. This time it was Zucker doing the good deed for Minnesota, capitalizing on a nice dish on a 2-on-1 rush to put the puck past Crawford and make it a 2-0 game with less than seven minutes to go.
It looked as though the Blackhawks were going to be shut out in the game, but they were able to score with less than two minutes to go. Patrick Sharp made a great play to screen two players off of the puck as he broke into the zone, and Bickell was able to get off an excellent wrist shot that beat Dubnyk to make it a 2-1 game.
Crawford was pulled again in the closing seconds of the game, but the Blackhawks were unable to score. Dubnyk made one good save late, and the Wild were able to clear the puck out of the zone as they secured the victory and the playoff spot.
The Blackhawks will have one last opportunity to gain ground on the Central as they take on the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.