In a game that only a mother could love, the Wild stood tall against the Chicago Blackhawks until a late 3rd period double-minor against Luke Kunin turned into a power play goal for the Hawks. In this game, 1 goal was all either team would have needed.
The Wild were out-shot by the Hawks in the first period by a 16-9 margin and that would be a nice cushion to keep Chicago on top in the shot department all game. We start out as many of these games against the Hawks tend to go. A healthy serving of playing the “I wonder if they changed anything this time” game against each other. Eventually at some point both teams get bored of this and move on to just playing the kind of hockey they seem content to play against each other.
Chicago comes on strong with a strong transition game. They almost lull you into their defensive zone so they can rip the puck away from you and shift it quickly up ice. The Wild know this is coming of course and seem to have found a way to stifle the Hawks more often than not. Times of sustained pressure by either team tend to produce a lot of outside attempts and deflections that go wide. And we saw a lot of this tonight. The Wild would get a few opportunities with the puck in the offensive zone. Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker had several opportunities through threaded passes, but bouncing pucks and Corey Crawford would prove too tough to beat.
Nino Niederreiter looked good tonight in 16 minutes on the ice. You could see the rust kind of wearing away. He had his moments, but only 2 shots found their way on goal for him tonight. Joel Eriksson Ek was on the front and back end of a couple chances tonight as well, but the Wild as a whole struggled to put pucks on net.
Crawford was the star of the show for the Blackhawks though. He was only tested 21 times by the Wild tonight, but with the support of his defense he was able to earn his 2nd shutout of the season and spoil the Wild’s longest home stand of the season. The Wild were only afforded 2 opportunities on the PP tonight, and the Blackhawks pretty much had their number there. The Wild probably got 1 good chance on the power play tonight and I’m not even certain that was a shot on goal.
The Wild seemingly weren’t doing much with the power play, so the refs seemingly stopped giving them opportunities. Before you all go torches and pitchforks, the Wild had to find a way to win this game at even strength, they didn’t do that, and that is why they lost. There were a few missed calls, sure. And one of those happened to be before the Hawks empty net goal to seal the game, fine. The Wild needed to not be in that situation though, where they were just kind of hanging on in a dog fight.
The missed calls are a problem though, and that goes both ways. An obvious trip of Chris Stewart in the neutral zone directly led to Alex DeBricant scoring an empty net goal. Maybe the Wild would have converted on the power play, maybe they wouldn’t have. Bruce Boudreau was on fire after the missed call late in the 3rd period. The FSN cameras were kind enough to catch him in the act and if you can read lips you know exactly the kind of venom Boudreau was spitting at the officials tonight.
The Wild played well tonight despite the outcome. The double-minor for high-sticking to Kunin is what gave the Hawks the lead. They would score after the 1st minor had expired, Artem Anisimov would deflect a Duncan Keith shot past Devan Dubnyk and that would be all the Hawks would need.
Dubnyk arguably played better than Crawford tonight. He certainly had a bigger workload and it took a really good deflection to beat him just once tonight. Dubnyk stopped 33 of 34 shots he faced and was given first star honors for the game. Both goalies had some help from the posts and their defense tonight, but we’ll still give the edge to Dubnyk tonight because that would be the proper homer thing to do.
Next up for the Wild, the road calls. Minnesota will be heading out east to start a 4-game road trip against the Boston Bruins on Monday. The Wild will also travel to Toronto and Montreal on this trip before finishing it off with a home-and-home series against the Flyers, the backend of which will be in St. Paul. Perhaps getting away from home will throw enough of a change in routine the Wild can find a new level in their game.