In many ways, today is a day that the Chicago Blackhawks will want to forget ever happened. After Rocky Wirtz’ questionable comments at a town hall meeting earlier in the day grabbed the pre-game headlines, the Minnesota Wild embarrassed the team on the ice with a dominant 5-0 victory at the United Center in Chicago.
Kevin Fiala earned a goal and assist to tie the franchise mark for longest scoring streak, Mats Zuccarello and Freddy Gaudreau also had multi-point games and Matt Boldy continued the strong start to his NHL career with his 10th point in his first 10 appearances, while Cam Talbot had a strong performance stopping all 30 shots he faced to earn the shutout.
With the Wild missing Marcus Foligno and Matt Dumba due to injuries, Chicago decided the best way to stop Minnesota’s five-game winning streak (and points in their last nine straight) was to come out hitting and dominate physically. Alex Debrincat especially got the memo, first with a hard hit on Zuccarello, and then a brutal open-ice shot to Connor Dewar - one that looked questionable on replays and might earn a long look at NHL headquarters for contact to the head. In all, the Blackhawks laid 11 hits on Wild players in the first seven minutes.
debrincat steamrolls dewar at center ice? what is happening pic.twitter.com/l7DdqNNIR2— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) February 3, 2022
But while the physicality certainly put the Wild on their heels early, all the hits didn’t translate into many offensive chances for Chicago. Kirby Dach had the best chance early with a wide open net but couldn’t find the handle.
Once the Wild weathered the early storm, the chances started coming. Kirill Kaprizov had the Wild’s first good scoring opportunity on a two-on-one, but couldn’t find the five hole under Marc-Andre Fleury.
kaprizov and hartman get a 2-on-1 but fleury stops them pic.twitter.com/qx0aKS1Frp— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) February 3, 2022
The Wild kept racking up the shots, but it was Talbot who kept the game scoreless in the final minute, first by stoning Seth jones on a strong give-and-go with Patrick Kane with about 30 seconds left. Talbot stopped Jones again in the final 10 ticks of the first period as the two teams entered their locker rooms scoreless after one.
jones ➡️ kane ➡️ jones ➡️ brick wall pic.twitter.com/FhCJ9AgVgS— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) February 3, 2022
In the second, Jared Spurgeon drew the game’s first penalty with a tripping call on Henrik Borgstrom. With two seconds left on the man advantage, Gaudreau launched a slapper past Fleury that put the Wild on the board, earning his first career power play goal and gave Fiala an assist to stretch his points streak to a franchise-tying 12 games, matching Mikael Granlund.
gaudreau with a rocket for the power play goal that gives the wild the lead and fiala a 12-game point streak pic.twitter.com/kF3iX7aJGN— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) February 3, 2022
Two minutes later, Jordan Greenway had a strong shift entering the Chicago zone, absorbing a check by Connor Murphy but staying with the puck, eventually finding Zuccarello on the short side who buried the shot and gave the Wild a 2-0 lead.
THREE MORE YEARS! THREE MORE YEARS! greenway to zucarello! pic.twitter.com/Yb9BIWBZL9— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) February 3, 2022
The Blackhawks earned their first power play of the game when Greenway pitchforked the puck out over the glass, and Talbot came up big again when Dach went spin-o-rama and DeHaan rang the pipe on the power play.
let’s just throw in a talbot highlight for good measure pic.twitter.com/pp10czAVGV— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) February 3, 2022
But the Wild took their penalty kill momentum back down the ice, where Zuccarello and Kaprizov teamed up for one of the prettiest goals the Wild have seen all season. Lizard put on the brakes to let the diving defenseman slide helplessly out of the way, and then put a pass on a platter for Kaprizov who drove the puck home into the yawning net for a 3-0 lead.
zuccarello and kaprizov is just magic. 3-0 wild! pic.twitter.com/MAjSHcmhpB— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) February 3, 2022
Towards the end of another strong period, the Blackhawks had two glorious chances to get back in the game and take the wind out of the Wild’s sails with under a minute to play. First, Phillip Kurashev one-timed a shot that hit the inside of the far post and trickled through the crease behind Talbot. Then, Ryan Carpenter tried to tap the rebound home, and whiffed on the second attempt, but when Talbot nearly knocked the puck in with his glove, Brandon Dumhaime miraculously swept the puck away just before the puck crossed the line, preserving Talbot’s shutout and the Wild’s three-goal lead heading into the final frame.
Chicago came out flying in the third, but Talbot stopped every shot he was offered. Minnesota, on the other hand, wasn’t done on offense. Boldy continued his hot start to his career with a sweet feed to Fiala, who scored his second point on the night with a five-hole goal.
kevin fiala from boldy! 4-0! pic.twitter.com/Ac59N6cVr3— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) February 3, 2022
About a minute and a half later, a poor decision with a pass behind the net by Fleury led to a chaotic string of plays around the Blackhawks net, and Nico Sturm cleaned up the mess by blasting the loose puck past Fleury, who took out his frustrations on the goalpost before exiting the game down 5-0.
Despite a bit more pressure by the Blackhawks, Talbot was able to preserve the shutout and earn the Wild their sixth-straight victory, earning Minnesota a third-place spot in the Central and pulling to within a single point of the Nashville Predators in second.
And after what happened off the ice with Blackhawks ownership, handing the team an L like that... well, you just love to see it.
Most of the Wild will rest up during the NHL’s All-Star Weekend, where Kaprizov and Talbot will take part in the festivities, before concluding their road trip against the Winnipeg Jets next Tuesday. After that, buckle up for a fast and furious finish to the season, with not much in the way of breaks as Minnesota will play a compacted schedule thanks to all the makeup games due to COVID postponements from earlier this season.
Can Mats Zuccarello pick up where he left off?
Lizard’s line looked phenominal tonight, and Zuccarello’s side-stepping stop and pass to an open Kaprizov was an absolute beauty. Zuccarello certainly didn’t allow the big hit he took in the opening minutes of the game slow him down, and getting right back on the horse with another multi-point game is exactly what you want to see from one of the Wild’s stars.
Can Boldy keep up his point-scoring?
It took until the third period, but young Boldy extended his franchise record for points to start an NHL career with 10 points in his first 10 games. And more than just a meaningless second assist or an empty net goal, his feed to Fiala was a thing of beauty. Boldy was strong all over the ice in setting up plays and generating chances, and you just knew he was going to be able to convert at some point.
We know Boldy will be a big part of the Wild lineup for seasons to come, but considering the chemistry he has with Fiala, you’ve got to think the Wild have to now try to find a way to keep Kevin on the roster as well. Breaking up those two players because of cap constrictions would be an absolute crime.
How can Nico Sturm and Jon Merrill impact the lineup?
Sturm only enjoyed 12 minutes of ice time against the Blackhawks, but he did manage to score the last goal of the night on a broken play thanks to Fleury mishandling the puck behind the Chicago net. Sturm also finished with a hit and a blocked shot, and went 1-for-3 in the faceoff dot.
Jon Merrill, however, finished behind only Brodin and Spurgeon in terms of defensive icetime, and the pairing of himself and Dmitry Kulikov resulted in seven blocked shots. All told, the entire defensive crew for Minnesota did a pretty good job at shutting down the offensive output of Dach, Debrinkat and Kane.