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Depleted Blackhawks top Wild in shootout

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- It wasn't the prettiest game the Chicago Blackhawks have ever played, but their scrappy effort paid off Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild.

Playing without both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for the second time since the duo came into the NHL together in 2007-08, the Blackhawks found a way to beat the Wild 3-2 in a shootout in a gritty game at United Center.

"I thought we played the way we had to play," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "Playing it simple, advancing the puck, check-first mentality and five-man units all over the ice."

After taking a 2-1 lead early in the third period, Chicago surrendered the lead with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. The Blackhawks then did something they hadn't done in more than two months: They won a shootout, despite missing Toews and Kane, two of their top shooters.

Marian Hossa's goal to start the second round, scored short-side past Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, and three saves by Corey Crawford gave the Blackhawks the second point from the tiebreaker. The win improved Chicago's record to 6-8 in shootouts this season; the Blackhawks had lost three of the past four tiebreakers, their last shootout win coming Jan. 19 against the Boston Bruins.

"That was important," said forward Bryan Bickell, who returned from a six-game injury stint to put Chicago up 2-1 at 2:45 of the third period. "They're a frustrating team to play against. They just shut it down in the middle and keep everything to the outside, but we stuck with it. Nice to get a shootout win -- we haven't had many of those -- and break that slump and move on to Columbus."

The win moved the Blackhawks to 101 points, three behind the Colorado Avalanche for second place in the Central Division. Colorado, which beat the New York Rangers 3-2 in a shootout, has a game in hand. Chicago plays at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.

Crawford, who improved to 30-15-10, made stops in the shootout against Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville after stopping 25 shots through regulation and overtime.

Ben Smith scored the first goal in regulation for Chicago (43-19-15), which came into the game on a three-game losing skid. Charlie Coyle and Erik Haula scored for Minnesota (39-26-12), and Bryzgalov made 24 saves to help the Wild earn a big point.

Minnesota (90 points) holds the Western Conference's first wild-card spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Dallas Stars (85 points), who hold the second wild-card position, didn't keep pace Thursday, suffering a 4-1 loss at the Carolina Hurricanes. The idle Phoenix Coyotes (85 points) remain just outside the West's playoff field.

"It was clear that we didn't have it right from the start, our best game," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "Whether that's a function of the last couple of games, how hard we've had to battle back and fight from behind, I'm not sure exactly. I think that's a huge point for us. Obviously, [we] would've liked to have gotten two, but when you can get points and you're not completely on top of things, then that's a good thing."

The Wild, who won three of five games against the Blackhawks this season, will host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.

Every point the rest of the way is critical if the Blackhawks hold any hope of getting home-ice advantage in the first round, and they must do it without Toews and Kane.

As the game against the Wild proved, it won't be easy.

"I thought we didn't give up much all game and got ourselves back by tying it, and obviously [Bickell] scored a big goal for us," Quenneville said. "Tough one to give up at the end, but I like the way [Crawford] battled back in the shootout. It was fun to get two points in an overtime game, which was something we haven't seen in a long time."

Already down Toews and Kane, plus veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival, the Blackhawks were dealt another injury challenge prior to the game. Defenseman Johnny Oduya was a late scratch after warm-ups with an undisclosed lower-body injury, meaning Sheldon Brookbank got moved up and David Rundblad was added to the lineup.

Brookbank played with Niklas Hjalmarsson on the second pairing, and Rundblad entered the lineup as the sixth defenseman next to Nick Leddy. Oduya won't make the trip to Columbus, Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks struggled to put together much offense early. Minnesota outshot Chicago 9-5 in the first and took a 1-0 lead at 14:19 on Coyle's 11th goal.

Ryan Suter slid a crisp pass along the blue line to Jared Spurgeon at the right point, and Spurgeon fired a shot that hit Hjalmarsson before deflecting off Coyle's stick blade and fluttering into the net.

Chicago came out stronger in the second and quickly evened up the shots count. The Blackhawks tied the game 1-1 when Smith scored by lifting a rebound of Brandon Saad's shot over Bryzgalov at 2:29.

Chicago struck early in the third on Bickell's goal. Jeremy Morin put a shot on goal from the left circle, and Bickell charged to the net for the rebound. Bickell's initial attempt was stopped, but a second whack at the puck sent it into the net.

Chicago nearly made that lead stand, but Haula tied it 2-2 at 18:06 by firing a shot from the right circle through traffic to beat Crawford.

"It was a bit back-and-forth," Wild center Kyle Brodziak said. "They're a tough team to get something going against. It took us until under two minutes left [to tie it], and obviously [Haula] did a great job, put a good puck on net, and it found a way in. It was a huge goal for us. We'll take the point, but [know] that we have to be a little better."

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