The Minnesota Wild lost the back end of a home and home series to the Chicago Blackhawks by a 5-1 final score. What the Wild learned tonight is what a determined, focused and extremely talented Chicago Blackhawks team looks like. The Blackhawks showed why they are the defending Stanley Cup Champions Monday night, capitalizing on the Wild’s mistakes and limiting their own. The Wild were set for a celebration and then Chicago crashed the party. The start of the night had a playoff like atmosphere. Minnesota wore their new road white sweaters for the home crowd and every seat back was festooned with a white rally towel. An announced crowd of 18,685 were ready for some division rivalry hockey. By the end of the night the majority of the crowd left in the seats seemed to be Blackhawks fans and a few shocked Wild supporters. The loss drops the Wild out of a tie for second place in the Central Division at 15 points. Chicago, with 17 points, now trails the fist pace Avalanche by 3 points for the Division lead. Minnesota is now 6-4-3 on the season.
Niklas Backstrom took the loss for Minnesota, their first loss in regulation at the Xcel Energy Center. He allowed 5 goals on 27 shots, dropping his record to 1-1-2 with a goals against average of 3.42 and a save percentage falling to .871. While Backstrom did give up 5 goals his teammates bear the burden for making mistakes that hung their goal tender out to dry. Wild head coach Mike Yeo in his post game comments said, “There were plays out there, that were odd execution wise, we weren’t on top of it.” “We can pinpoint a mistake or three or four … before every goal that went into our net”. The game started off well enough with both teams playing tough defensively and giving up relatively few good scoring chances. Minnesota’s Matt Cooke will see one in his nightmares, a great opportunity at the 3:39 mark. Blackhawks net minder Corey Crawford was down and a yawning net in front of Cooke beckoned, and his shot sailed high over the net and into the glass. Chicago opened the scoring at the 17:33 of the first with a goal by Patrick Sharp on a feed by Marian Hossa. That would be the extent of scoring in the first period.
The Wild came out at the start of the second period skating well and putting some good shots on Blackhawks net minder Crawford. The Chicago goalie was definitely sharper than he was Saturday in Chicago, he turned away a total of 21 wild shot in the first two periods. The lone Wild goal came at the 11:27 mark of the period as Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville hooked up one again on a highlight reel goal. Granland slid a nice pass to Pominville who blasted a slapshot from the top of the right circle that Crawford didn’t react to until it was past his should and in the top corner of the net. Pominville now leads the Wild in goals with 7 while Granlund take the assist lead at 7 one ahead of Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter. The Score would only be tied for 54 seconds when Mathew Dumba got tangled up with Backstrom at the side of the Wild net. Patrick Kane dished the puck to Sheldon Brookbank who hammered a shot into the open net before Backstrom could regain his footing. That provided a lead the Blackhawks would not relinquish. The ‘Hawks would add a power play marker at the 15 minutes mark of the period with Marco Scandella in the box for holding. Minnesota native Nick Leddy would pound home a slapshot extending the Blackhawks’ lead. Chicago converted 1 of their 3 power play chances while Minnesota was o for 3 on the night. The second period ended with a two goal lead for Chicago and momentum firmly in their favor.
In the final period the Blackhawks would tack on two more goals to completely put the game out of reach. The 4th Chicago score came when Brandon Saad skated around rookie defenseman Mathew Dumba like he was a pylon. Approaching the Wild net Saad pulled a spin-o-rama move and slid the puck across the slot to a waiting Kane who had an easy tap in goal extending the Chicago lead to three. The final goal of the night went to Saad who beat Backstrom five hole during a 2 minute 4 on 4 session with Clayton Stone and Brandon Bollig in the box. A failed clearing attempt by Captain Koivu led to tic tac toe passes by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and the finish move by Saad.
It was a disappointing night for the Wild and their fans it definitely evened out the high from Saturday night’s victory in Chicago. Right now I’ll take a split with Chicago at this point in the season. The Blackhawks looked as good Monday as they did bad on Saturday. There were bright spots for Minnesota. The second line combination of Pominville, Granlund, and Nino Nieederreiter was the Wild’s best line of the game playing consistently and generating multiple scoring chances. The Wild’s coaching staff has a big decision to make by Friday concerning Mathew Dumba. He played in his 9th NHL game Monday. If he plays one more game the first year of his rookie contract will kick in. Minnesota can send him back to his junior team, The Red Deer Rebels, with out burning a year of his deal or theycan keep him in St. Paul. The Wild need to decide if Dumba can help the Wild now and later this season, especially with their injury depleted defense corps. The other concern is will Dumba’s development be better served by another year in juniors or by staying and paying with the big boys in the NHL. Due to his age, 19, he must return to his junior team and cannot be sent to the Iowa Wild of the AHL. In post game interviews, Dumba admitted that Monday night’s game 9 was on his mind. I don’t think that was the reason for his poor performance against the Blackhhaws. He’s a rookie in the best hockey league in the world. There will be some bad games. Ryan Suter was not always the minute munching, defensive juggernaut you see today. In Suter’s rookie campaign he scored a single goal and picked up 15 assists in 71 games. Dumba could easily eclipse those totals this season with the Wild.
The Wild now have three days until their next game to rest, recharge and practice. The Montreal Canadiens come calling to start the weekend and continue this 4 game home stand. By the weekend we may also see the return of some of the Wild’s injured players including Charlie Coyle, Keith Ballard and possibly Jonas Brodin. The Wild snapped their 3 game win streak but haven’t lost the momentum they’ve built up recently. I’ll be back Friday morning with a preview of the Wild vs Canadiens contest. Until then this is Scott Drain still shouting, “Let’s Go Wild!!”