MINNEAPOLIS—The weather was reasonably temperate, not that the Blackhawks would want any portion of Sunday’s Stadium Series game to be frozen in time.
What’s somewhat comforting about losing outdoors—and they did comprehensively, 6-1 to the Minnesota Wild—is that the Blackhawks know they’ll be able to try again before too long.
The defending Stanley Cup champions are in high demand as friends of fresh air. This was their fourth outdoor assignment. Almost half the National Hockey League teams remain shut-ins, awaiting their roofless debut. And if the grapevine bears fruit, it will be toque time for the Blackhawks again next January.
The Blackhawks have endured a busy week, true. New York on Wednesday, White House on Thursday, fly to Minneapolis Friday. But it was unlike them to lay such a snowball, particularly on national TV. Hockey Day in America did not treat the Blackhawks kindly. This was nothing to write home about, but it is my job to do so, win or lose.
Perhaps we should have known it wouldn’t be a Chicago kind of weekend on Saturday, when Troy Murray, the excellent radio analyst, injured himself in the locker room. Attempting to affix rubber guards to his skates, Murray sliced his left thumb on the blade and bled profusely. That was not only before the Alumni Game, but before the warm-up to the Alumni Game.
The former Blackhawks bowed to the Minnesota North Stars and Dino Ciccarelli, who said he once led the league in police escorts from enemy rinks but was showered with affection here. Then came Sunday. Put it this way. It was not the kind of effort that would prompt President Obama to grab his recently acquired United Center parking pass and watch hockey anytime soon.
But it was only one game, and the Blackhawks have a knack for being quick healers after suffering wounded pride. Captain Jonathan Toews succinctly diagnosed Sunday’s problem as absence of emotion to match that of foes who are truly desperate, like the Wild. All you needed to see—if you were still tuned in—was Minnesota’s sixth score.
With Scott Darling, who relieved Corey Crawford at the start of the third period, pulled for a fifth skater upon coincidental minors, Erik Haula was about to feast on an empty net. Patrick Kane detained him, and Haula was credited with an automatic goal while on horizontal hold. You don’t witness that every day.
The Wild’s victory was their third in as many starts against the Blackhawks this season, and when the fourth occurs, Minnesota might recall a collision in the second period here. Michal Rozsival led with his shoulder while bumping Jason Zucker, who reeled backwards and banged his helmet on the ice. Rozsival was tagged with a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
Generally, the Blackhawks are ready, willing and able to effect mid-course corrections when necessary. But after seizing a 2-0 lead in the first period, the Wild continued to have their way in the second when they doubled their advantage. They’ve been manufacturing goals in quantity—21 during their four-game win streak. Sunday, they also scored via an impressive variety of methods before 50,426 at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Wild opened the barrage when Ryan Carter split the defense and fired on Crawford, and Matt Dumba converted the rebound. Then on a power play, Thomas Vanek redirected a drive past a screened Crawford. The third goal resulted from splendid passing down low, Nino Niederreiter finishing what Haula and Jason Pominville conceived. Then Pominville made it 4-0 from afar with Toews, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin on to collect minuses.
Kane’s 35th goal of the season did foil Devan Dubnyk’s shutout, well after the Blackhawks had a score nullified because of goalie interference by Toews. The Wild has a habit of handling the Blackhawks during the regular season, but when the playoffs begin, the Blackhawks are the tormentors. For the last three years, the Blackhawks have eliminated the Wild from the postseason. Last spring, the Wild imagined their time had come, but the Blackhawks swept four straight.
Running the bench for the Wild was John Torchetti, who recently replaced Mike Yeo. Torchetti was an assistant with the Blackhawks before Kane and Toews became famous. Both mention him fondly as a positive sort. Torchetti hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010, then moved on.
Torch, who made a lot of friends in Chicago, is wearing multiple labels as head coach of the Wild. Energetic, interim and undefeated.