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Blackhawks hand Wild fifth straight loss

by Brian Hedger /

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks didn't dominate from start to finish, but they got the result they wanted at United Center on Sunday.

Forwards Marian Hossa, Bryan Bickell and Brad Richards each had a goal and an assist, goalie Corey Crawford made 36 saves, and the Blackhawks defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-1 to head into a four-day stretch without a game on a positive note.

After playing five games in eight days, including a back-to-back set on the road prior to the game Sunday, Chicago is looking forward to some time off. The Blackhawks (28-13-2) won't practice until Wednesday, and they don't play again until hosting the Winnipeg Jets on Friday.

"I think we definitely need it," said Crawford, who came up with big saves late in the first period and early in the second to preserve a two-goal Chicago lead. "We've been playing a lot of hockey. It's a mental break too, as well as the physical. It's going to be good for our team, I think."

Chicago's fatigue was evident in a 5-2 loss at the Edmonton Oilers on Friday in the second half of the back-to-back.

The Blackhawks had struggled early in games the past couple weeks. They were outscored 16-7 in the first periods of their previous eight games entering Sunday, going 4-4-0 in them.

The Blackhawks made sure that changed against the Wild (18-18-5), who they've beaten in each of the three games they've played this season. Hossa and Bickell each scored his ninth goal in the first to give Chicago a quick 2-0 lead, and that was enough thanks to Crawford.

Richards and defenseman Johnny Oduya each scored in the second period to push Chicago's lead to 4-0.

"That was huge, because the past couple games I don't think we played our best," said Hossa, who turns 36 on Monday. "Coming into the four-day break, it's nice to know our [good] habits are back. We had the really good start, which was important, and that was the key to the game."

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and right wing Patrick Kane each had two assists to join Hossa, Bickell and Richards with multipoint performances for Chicago, which is second in the Central Division with 58 points.

Forward Matt Cooke scored the Wild's goal at 15:08 of the third, and goalie Niklas Backstrom made 31 saves. Backstrom is 0-3-0 against the Blackhawks this season and 6-12-1 in 20 career appearances.

It was the third straight loss in regulation for the Wild, who have lost five in a row (0-4-1) and dropped to 3-8-4 in their past 15 games. Minnesota is 5-9-4 since the start of December.

"I'm confident in the group," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "I'm confident in what we're capable of, but we have to be better. I'm not going to sit around and just hope that things are going to get better. We have to find a way to be better. We have to bring more to the rink every day."

Secondary statistics support those sentiments.

Minnesota outshot its opponent in each of the three consecutive regulation losses, which came against the top two teams in the Central -- the Blackhawks, who also defeated the Wild on Thursday, and the Nashville Predators. The Wild outshot the Blackhawks 81-55 in the two games, but they were outscored 8-3.

This time, after a slow start, the Wild used a penalty kill midway through the first period to swing momentum in their favor. They carried it for the final seven minutes of the first and opening 10 minutes of the second, but couldn't get a shot past Crawford.

Minnesota failed to capitalize on several prime scoring chances, including defenseman Nate Prosser's shot off the post early in the second period that would've made it a one-goal game.

Another great chance was a penalty shot by forward Jason Zucker, who was pulled down during a breakaway after Richards had made it 3-0 at 11:08. Zucker's backhand sailed wide, drawing a double fist pump from Crawford and giving the Blackhawks an emotional lift.

Oduya made it 4-0 at 18:25 with his second goal of the season to complete the scoring for Chicago.

"I liked how we started," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We had some good stretches throughout the game and some tough stretches, but for the most part, a lot more complete than we saw in our recent games. With the four days off here, at least we're going away feeling better about ourselves than our recent couple of games."

The Wild are last in the Central with 41 points, two behind the Dallas Stars. They still believe they can make a third straight appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the challenge is daunting in arguably the NHL's toughest division.

"It doesn't get any easier," said Cooke, who scored off a rebound of a shot by center Kyle Brodziak. "No one's just going to give us a win. We have to go out and keep tipping the scales the other way. We're only half the season in, there's still lots of time. But today's the day, now's the time."

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