The Minnesota Wild silenced the Madhouse on Madison Saturday night beating the Chicago Blackhawks 5-3. The Blackhawks had not lost in regulation at the United Center in their last 14 games on home ice. The Wild never trailed taking a 1-0 lead on a power play goal by Zach Parise 12:39 into the first period. That was the closest Chicago would get for the rest of the night. Minnesota picked up a pair of goals by Jason Pominville and one each from Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine. Chicago had goals by Bryan Bickell, Patrick Kane and Marcus Krueger. This was the second time this season and the second time in three games that Chicago has allowed an opponent to score 5 or more goals in a game. With the win the Wild are now 6-3-3 and tied with Chicago for 2nd in the Central division with 15 points. The two teams have the day off tomorrow then face each other once again, this time at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul Monday night. With 4 more games between the Wild and Blackhawks this season the seeds of a good divisional rivalry have been sown. The Wild’s 5 goal explosion is the most they have scored on the road this season and ties their season high at home. That was a 5-1 win over Dallas on home ice back on October 12th. Minnesota is now on a three game win streak and have picked up points in their last four. The Wild surrendered 3 goals to Chicago, one power play marker, one even strength and a meaningless one with 30 seconds left to play.
The Wild had Nicklas Backstrom back in net tonight, his first start since spraining his right knee back on October 8th. The team said Backstrom wasn’t 100% tonight, but he sure didn’t look it. He had a total of 33 saves on 36 shots and made a bunch of spectacular saves throughout the game. His record now stands at 1-0-2 with a 2.99 goals against average and a .885 save percentage. Backstrom was on his game tonight challenging shooters and playing great positional hockey and flashing the leather on several occasions making the Blackhawks look to the rafters in frustration. Chicago net minder Joey Crawford falls to 5-2-2 on the season stopping 20 of 25 Minnesota shots. Barring any problem with Backstrom’s knee I’d expect to see these same two goalies going head to head again Monday night.
The Wild were 1 of 5 on the power play with Zach Parise scoring on the first man advantage of the evening for Minnesota. He jumped on a rebound of a Ryan Suter shot from the point flipping the puck past Crawford to open the scoring. Minnesota’s power play is ranked fifth in the NHL at 26%, they have scored a power play goal in 9 of 12 games so far this season. While the Wild couldn’t cash in on the other four opportunities they did have some great puck movement on good zone time with one glaring exception. Minnesota had an extended 5 on 3 opportunity at the end of the second period and carrying over into the third that totaled 1:53. The top power play unit of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Ryan Suter and Dany Heatley was horrible. Missed passes, missed shots, confusion, bad decisions and more, what should have been a sure goal scoring opportunity instead was a display of ineptness. Any team in the NHL should be able to score on any other team during a 5 on 3 of a minute or more. The Wild have failed miserably on their last three 5 on 3 power plays, something that a team with this many talented players simply cannot do.
The other thing the Wild cannot continue to do is give opponents 7 power play chances. The Wild did manage to kill of 6 of 7 chances the Blackhawks had, the credit for those kills goes to Backstrom who made save after spectacular save to keep the Blackhawks from climbing back into this game. Five of the seven penalties were for stick infractions, 2 high sticks, 2 hooking and a slashing call. When you see that many stick infractions, a team is getting caught out of position or not moving their feet. These are the type of penalties that give coaches fits, kill momentum, and take the focus away from offense. The Minnesota penalty kill is also ranked 26th in the league giving up 12 power play goals to date. Luckily for the Wild, Chicago has the WORST penalty kill in the league, killing off just 72.2% of infractions.
Jason Pominville, skating in his 600th NHL game, scored a pair of goals on the night. The first coming at the 17:42 mark of the 2nd period off a beautiful feed by Mikael Granlund and the second at 9:18 of the 3rd period with another Granlund feed setting up the goal. Total Pominville has 2 goals on 6 shots, a +2 rating and 14:07 of ice time. It sure was nice to see the Wild’s second line scoring finally. The third line got in on the scoring action as well with Kyle Brodziak scoring just 1:03 into the 2nd period giving the Wild a 2 goal lead. He deflected a Marco Scandella shot past Corey Crawford with Matt Cooke picking up the 2nd assist on the goal. Justin Fontaine scored his 3rd goal of the season going upstairs with a one timer shot on a feed from Mikko Koivu. Nate Prosser has the other assist, his second helper in 4 games played this season. There were plenty of points to go around tonight for the Wild. Parise leads the team in points with 9 (6g, 3a), close behind are Koivu (1g,7a) and Cooke (3g,5a) with 8 each. Next on the list are Suter and Granlund with no goals but 7 assists each. Suter picked up 2 of those assists tonight to go with 2 shots, a +1 rating and 26:58 in ice time. He continues to be the leader in time on ice in every game he’s played this season.
All in all it was a very satisfying win for the Minnesota Wild. They don;t have much time to enjoy it however. They are back on the ice at the Xcel Energy Center Sunday for practice they then face the Bllackhawks in the second half of the home and home series Monday night at 7pm. With a win they will pass Chicago and take over sole possession of 2nd place in the Central Division. Hopefully tonight is the start of a scoring binge by the Wild. They were due for a breakout night and Chicago was a great place for it to happen. I’ll be back Monday morning with a preview of Wild vs Blackhawks part deux. Until then, enjoy the win and this is Scott Drain shouting from the roof tops, “LET’S GO WILD!!”