Minnesota came into Thursday night already hurting for forward depth. With Mikael Granlund nursing a lower body injury, and Zach Parise with, who the hell knows, the Wild’s first game against the hated Blackhawks from Chicago would put not just a dent, but a huge fricken gouge into the Wild top nine. But the Wild’s leading scorer, Chris Stewart, of all people, would score two goals en route to a gutty, gritty 5-2 victory.
During a scoreless first period, the Wild, which had lost nearly all of its defensive structure in the second and third periods of the Carolina game last weekend, looked to be playing much tighter defensively. None of the goalies were truly tested in the first period. It wasn’t a pretty period of hockey, but it helped set the stage for a goalie duel.
In the second period, things loosened up as the Wild got many more chances. Jason Zucker used his speed to create chances. Eric Staal got a couple great looks. Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle had some great looks and even had some really solid time in the zone. Minnesota just had issues getting great shots on Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford. Then the push from Chicago came. Devan Dubnyk made some scrambling saves, was helped by a great play by Jared Spurgeon.
Dubnyk even had a nice pad stack save. It was a crazy 3-4 minute stretch where the Wild couldn’t get out of their zone, needed a face off, and icing the puck hardly helped relieve the pressure.
Marcus Foligno and John Hayden got into a tussel. After sitting in the box for his fighting major, Foligno never returned to the ice. He was caught with a pretty good right hand near the end of the fight and likely had to go off for concussion protocol.
The craziest portion of the period was a failed 2-on-1 with Eric Staal and Charlie Coyle ended up with the puck heading back to the Wild end. Ryan Suter made a heavy open ice check on Brandon Saad to remove him as a threat and from the puck. The loose puck was then corralled by Stewart and sent back up to Staal, still near the Hawk line. After getting thwarted at the line, Coyle stepped in front of the breakout pass and found Staal on the wing for a one timer that beat Crawford on the short side.
The third period saw more forwards fall for the Wild. Tanner Kero tried to check Niederreiter and instead landed on the left leg of the Wild’s Swiss forward. Nino immediately hobbled off and went down the tunnel toward the Wild locker room. It looks like the left knee of left ankle could be affected by the play.
Nino headed to the lockerroom after this play pic.twitter.com/0KG4lORwGV— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) October 13, 2017
To compound issues, Charlie Coyle took a slap shot near the Achilles of the right foot shortly after Nino left the game. He did not return to the game. Coach Bruce Boudreau speculated after the game that both Coyle and Niederreiter would not be available for Saturday’s home opener.
Ryan Hartman then scored for the Blackhawks to make a game of it. Kyle Quincey chased his man all the way out to the point leaving both Matt Cullen and Gustav Olofsson alone to protect the area in front of Dubynk. They didn’t and Hartman scored essentially unimpeded.
If this third period wasn’t weird enough, let alone the Wild already down to 9 forwards, Jason Zucker would set Chris Stewart up for the go-ahead goal. On replay, it looked like Zucker was in the Blackhawks’ zone before the puck, so Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville gambled on the offside challenge. It was deemed that yes Zucker was in before the puck, but that the puck was passed into the Chicago zone by the skate of Brent Seabrook, which negated the offside infraction. The goal would count, and the Wild had a 2-1 lead, plus a power play.
onside because it was the blackhawk who pushed the puck back into the zone? thanks to the smart people in my mentions pic.twitter.com/oTdFzxoTC8— steph (@myregularface) October 13, 2017
What do you think? Onside, or offside and be honest.
One of the newest rules heading into this season was that if an offside challenge was unsuccessful, the challenging team would be assessed a bench minor. It would be Zucker on the ensuing power play that would bank a shot in off a sprawling Crawford. It would be Zucker’s second power play goal of the season, in just three games. The former Denver Pioneer had just 1 power play goal all season last season. Not to mention just the 15 seconds of total power play ice time last year. He ranked 17th on the team in PP TOI last year and look at him now....look at him now!
Quenneville then pulled a Patrick Roy and pulled his netminder with four minutes remaining, allowing Stewart to get his second goal of the night. Mikko Koivu would an empty-net goal shortly after. Sadly, a Jonathon Toews goal that pinball wizarded it’s way through traffic and into the net to make what would be the final 5-2 score.
It was a solid performance in net for Dubynk, and by Minnesota’s depth forwards in stepping up big for Nino and Coyle’s absence. It’s one thing to miss one game, but if this is major injury stuff, it’s like the injury bug, who gave the Wild a relatively clean bill last year, has come to collect its dues...and its just 3 games in. It was a gutty, gritty, and overall solid win for the Wild, who were in search of a win.