The Minnesota Wild beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in a thriller at the Xcel Energy Center Wednesday evening. Marco Scandella‘s goal with 1:48 to play gave the Wild all the lead they needed for the win and vaulted them into third place in the Central Division. When asked about the goal Scandella said, “We were relentless tonight. It was a great test for us, especially going down against a team like Chicago, to come back, it’s a great feeling.” Minnesota is now just 2 points back from the St. Louis Blues in second place are and 5 points behind division
leading Chicago. The Avalanche, Blues, Blackhawks and Wild are all within striking distance of the lead and that group has at least a 7 point lead on 5th place Dallas. The victory raises the Wild’s record to 17-8-5 for the season and an amazing 12-3-2 on home ice. The Wild have now beaten reigning Stanley Cup Champions Chicago twice this season with Thursday’s win being the first of the season for Harding and the Wild’s first home ice win against the Blackhawks since October of 2008.. Harding’s record climbs to 15-4-3 with the win, good for a third place tie for most victories in the league. Harding’s 1.52 goals against average is tops in the NHL and his three shutouts are tied for the league. His .935 save percentage ranks third in the NHL.
For the second straight game the Wild scored first, this time it was on a goal by Matt Cooke at the 4:23 mark of the opening period. Minnesota would extend the lead to 2-0 with a power play goal by Zach Parise, his 12th of the season. That lead would not last long as Chicago rattled off two straight 2nd period goals to tie the game heading into the third period. The Blackhawks would take the lead just 43 seconds into the final period quieting the noisy Xcel Energy Center crowd of 18,852. Chicago went ahead for the first time in the game. With Nino Niederreiter serving a holding penalty, Marian Hossa cruised down the wall and beat Harding just inside the far post. Minnesota would not score again until the 14:21 mark of the period on a power play goal by Jonas Brodin, tying the game at 3 goal apiece. The Wild’s final tally came on Scandella’s goal, a shot from the blue line that found the net just inside the post. Taking the lead and then holding off 6 Backhawks as net minder Crawford was pulled for the extra attacker for more than 1:40 left on the clock. The loss drops Chicago’s record to 20-6-4 while the rest of the division closes the points gap.
The Wild were relentless, controlling play for long stretches and capitalizing on scoring opportunities. There was no slow, anemic start to this game as the Wild were clicking. Making tape to tape passes, finishing checks, and not letting Chicago get into any kind of rhythm were the keys to the victory for Minnesota. In his post game comments Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “That was probably 57 of the best minutes we’ve played all year. “You’re not going to play perfect against that team. They have a boatload of skill and they find ways to make plays. But I thought we did a really good job of limiting them, for the most part.” All three of the Blackhawks goals came in a 7 minute span at the end of the second period and into the third. Those three goals show just how explosive the BlackhawksThis was one of those games that the Wild refused to lose, showing that they can indeed take everything an opponent has to offer and still take the victory. The Wild’s power play units also looked good, scoring a pair of goals on the man advantage. Minnesota only drew 3 penalties all game but you can’t complain when they turn 2 of 3 power play opportunities into goals. The Wild penalty killers were .500 for the game, allowing one goal, on two Blackhawk power play opportunities. The power play was the main focus of Wednesday’s practice and it was nice to see the fruits of that labor.
The Wild victory raises their record to 2-1 in the season series with Chicago and tightens an already close Central Division race. I especially liked the response of the team after they blew a two goal lead. They stuck to the game plan, kept skating hard and scored a pair of third period goals to take the two points. There is not a team in the league the Wild can’t beat and even when they have lost a couple of games in a row the Coaching staff and players make the needed changes quickly to get right back on track. In 5 of last 7 wins, the game winning goal has been scored in the 3rd period.
Next up for the Wild are the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Wild jumped right on a plane after the game for the quick flight to Ohio and a Friday night battle at Nationwide Arena. I’ll be back with a preview of the Wild vs Blue Jackets game later this morning. The Minnesota Wild are entering a tough stretch that sees them on the road for 8 of their next 10 games. That stretch should give us a pretty good idea of how the Wild match up against the rest of the league with only two of the next 10 against divisional foes. Until next time this is Scott Drain victoriously shouting into the cold, frigid Minnesota night, “Let’s Go Wild!!!”