The Minnesota Wild went to Chicago looking to repeat their performance from January 30th against the Blackhawks. They leave Chicago with zero points, after giving up four goals in the first period that they couldn’t overcome. After the game, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said,“We can’t play the game the way we did and expect to win.” That contrasts sharply with Chicago Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quenville’s comment about his team,“They’ve been doing it game in game out. They’re doing it. The consistency of our team has been in place.” The Blackhawks go to 20-0-3 on the season, extending their NHL record to 23 games with a point to start a season. With the loss, Minnesota falls to 11-9-2 for the year.
Chicago remains at the top of the Western Conference with 43 points. Minnesota remains in 9th place, but only because the two teams right behind them, Dallas and Nashville didn’t play tonight. The Wild most certainly will fall in the standings, as they are off until Saturday night when they face Nashville. They get to play the Blackhawks one more time this season, that’s coming up on April 9th in the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild did some of the things they needed to to beat the Blackhawks; they scored first, they scored a power play goal going 1 for 2, were perfect on the penalty kill, scored 5 on 5, they out hit the ‘Hawks, and blocked more shots. Unfortunately, they didn’t outscore the Blackhawks, so all the other points are moot.
The game started off well enough for Minnesota, as Chicago took a penalty just 1:46 into the first period. The Wild didn’t score, but did generate a couple of chances. A sign of things to come was a shorthanded break by Marian Hossa, passing to Jonathan Toews who just missed wide right. That was the best scoring chance either team had on that initial power play. Niklas Backstrom looked strong in net at that point. The Wild would open the scoring at the 11:45 mark, when Matt Cullen forced a turnover, passed it to Jason Zucker, who passed it back to Cullen, who then put a shot on net. Devin Setoguchi pounced on the rebound, and scored his fifth goal of the season, putting Minnesota up 1-0. The goal gave Setoguchi seven points in the last seven games. That line of Matt Cullen, Jason Zucker and Setoguchi was Minnesota’s best line all game, totaling a goal and two assists. The three also were a combined plus-2 on the night.
The wheels came off the Wild’s wagon when they found themselves down 2-1 just 2:01 later. Two goals :44 seconds apart by Brandon Saad and Bryan Bickell put the Blackhawks in the lead to stay. At this point in the first period, Chicago led in shots on goal by a total of 14 to four. An interference penalty by Matt Cullen was killed nicely by the Wild. Just after the power play ended for the ‘Hawks, Bryan Bickell would score his second goal of the period. Chicago would add another goal by Marian Hossa shortly thereafter, giving Chicago a 4-1 lead over the stunned Wild. Hossa’s goal was the eventual game winner. That’s fitting, given the pregame celebration of his 1,000th career game in the NHL. All four of the Chicago goals came in a span of 5:43. The goals showed just how explosive this Blackhawks offense can be. They outshot Minnesota 17-six for the period.
Rookie netminder Darcy Kuemper was in goal to start the second period, as Head Coach Mike Yeo had seen enough of Backstrom, and was trying to light a fire under his players. Kuemper would give up just a single goal on 15 shots through the second and third periods, making several spectacular saves along the way. Minnesota couldn’t put one past Chicago goalie Corey Crawford in the second, and registered only four shots on goal. Those gave the Wild a two period total of 10, while the Blackhawks put a total of 28 shots at Backstrom and Kuemper through 40 minutes. During the second period, the same old refrain was heard–the Wild are getting chances, but just can’t seem to capitalize on them. Minnesota would also kill off two more penalties in the second, while having zero power plays of their own.
During the third period, the Wild’s offense seemed to come alive. Whether it was from a “pep talk” in the locker room between periods, or out of sheer desperation, Minnesota was able to put 13 shots at Crawford. Just 3:10 into the third, the Wild’s top power play unit scored. Ryan Suter scored his first goal of the season, and first as a member of the Wild. He sent a cannon of a slap shot past netminder Crawford to cut the Chicago lead to 2. The assists on that goal went to Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley. The Wild defense also was looking good, keeping Chicago without a shot on goal until more than six minutes had elapsed in the period. The Wild also had their second, and last, power play opportunity of the game which, came up empty. Just past the 10 minute mark of the third, the Wild struck again, with Kyle Brodziak scoring on a back hand shot. The assists went to Torrey Mitchell and Mike Rupp. Suddenly we had a game, the Wild were getting excited and suddenly Chicago had to protect a 1 goal lead. The jubilation on the Minnesota bench would evaporate just a minute later, when Patrick Kane scored the fifth of the game for the Blackhawks. Kane put a backhander up stairs on Backstrom, to finish the scoring for the night. The play started with a Tom Gilbert turnover at the blue line, and the resulting Chicago shot led to a juicy rebound for Kane, when Justin Falk failed to clear him out of the crease. It was a complete defensive meltdown for Minnesota that put the Blackhawks back up by two. The Wild kept battling and battling, but just couldn’t solve Crawford, as they put shot after shot at him. The defense stepped up as well, only allowing four Chicago shots in the third. Minnesota kept the pressure on, as Kuemper was pulled with 1:18 to play, but it was to no avail, as no goals were forthcoming for the Wild.
It was an ugly night statistically, as well. Granlund, Bouchard and Heatley were a negative-3 on the evening. Defensemen Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner were a negative-2. The only plus-rated players for the Wild were Devin Setoguchi, Mike Rupp and Jason Zucker. After the game, an unhappy Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo summed up the game in four words,“We were not good.” Regarding the Nashville game on Saturday, Yeo said,“We have to bounce back. We had a bad game. I’m more curious to see how we come out next game.” Yeo added,“We can’t play the game the way we did and expect to win,” The Wild’s coach is ready to put this game behind him, and the team needs to do the same. It’s time to focus on the Nashville Predators. The Wild have a couple of days at home to lick their wounds, and get some practices in, before they hit the road to Nashville for a Saturday evening game. The Wild are down tonight, but not out. The logjam in the Western Conference remains, with the difference between 14th and 4th place just six points. There’s still 26 games to go, so don’t panic yet, Wild fans. Minnesota has the players and coaches to get the job done, and not only make the playoffs, but win a round or two. Until next time, Minnesota Wild fans, keep checking GonePuckWild.com for all the latest in Wild news and information. LETS’ GO WILD!!