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Hawks survive Wild in matchup of West's best

by Dan Myers /
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In a matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference, it was no surprise it took a shootout to decide the winner Wednesday night.

Shootout goals by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane provided the Chicago Blackhawks with the extra point in a 4-3 win against the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center.

Chicago was 10-0-1 this season when scoring the game's opening goal. The Blackhawks scored first Wednesday night, but would need to overcome a pair of Wild rallies to pick up a second point in the standings.

"We were exactly where we wanted to be up 2-0 in the second period," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Everything changed when they did score. They got the momentum back on their side and got the crowd going."

That goal, by Kyle Brodziak, stemmed the Chicago tide and turned a Hawks-dominated game into the one most people expected. Less than three minutes later, Matt Cullen tied the score -- essentially hitting the reset button on the contest. The teams traded goals in the third period, but the Blackhawks grabbed momentum in overtime, nearly winning the game there.

Hawks goalie Ray Emery, who made 27 saves to earn his seventh win this season, stopped shootout attempts by Cullen and Dany Heatley.

"We know that we just need to be patient because we'll find a way to win it in the end," Toews said. "If we would have stayed on our game, kept pressuring them and limiting their shots on net, I think it would have been a different game there in the third."

Wild coach Mike Yeo said he was happy with his team's determination to come back from being down, not once, but twice.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's a win for our guys," Yeo said. "There were a lot of things I liked about tonight. It (stinks) we don't get two points, but this is a win for me."


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Tied on the scoreboard after two, Minnesota definitely had the better of the opportunities -- both in quality and in quantity -- in the third period. After being outshot 21-12 through two periods, the Wild out-chanced Chicago 16-7 in the third.

Chicago took its second lead of the night at 6:54 of the third on a great individual effort by Toews, who gathered in the puck in the corner, cruised to the slot and fired a shot past Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom to make it 3-2.

The Wild tied it again with just over five minutes to play on a nice team play, taking advantage of an extra skater with a delayed penalty being called on Chicago. Minnesota rotated the puck down low to Cal Clutterbuck, who centered a pass to Mikko Koivu in the slot. His wrister -- the captain's eighth goal of the season - beat Emery glove side.

Chicago struck first in a crazy -- and controversial -- stretch early in the second period. With Minnesota killing a penalty on Koivu in the second period, Cullen tipped the puck ahead to himself on a breakaway. But before he could get a shot off, he was hauled down by Duncan Keith. No penalty was called, much to the chagrin of the hometown crowd.

And much to the chagrin of Cullen.

Shortly after, he was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from the bench after voicing his disagreement. The call set up 41 seconds of two-man advantage for Chicago, and while the Wild killed the remainder of Koivu's penalty, the Blackhawks took advantage of Cullen's, as Marian Hossa cashed in, diving on a loose puck in front with just over a minute of power-play time remaining.

With the crowd -- and the Wild bench -- still buzzing from the sequence, Michael Frolik pushed the Hawks lead to 2-0 just 1:29 later, wrapping a nifty touch pass by Marcus Kruger into a wide open net at the left post.

Apparently, that's what it took for the Wild to get back into the game.

Brodziak got Minnesota on the board at 13:10, waiting out Emery and roofing a shot just under the crossbar to narrow the lead to 2-1.

But even that goal was accompanied by controversy.

Minnesota had cleared the puck and appeared to get away with an icing call when two Blackhawk defenders reached it first. But Colton Gillies, forechecking on the play, forced the puck to the corner, where Nick Johnson pounced on it and centered it to a wide-open Brodziak.

"We started to execute better," Yeo said. "We started going north with pucks. In the first period, it was a lot of east-west plays."

Cullen got his own retribution two minutes later when he capped a 2-on-2 rush with Clutterbuck with his ninth goal of the season.

"We were playing well up until about the 10-minute mark of the second period," Toews said. "If you ask me, we probably became a little over confident and let them back into the game."

Minnesota was sleepy to start the game, being outshot by the Hawks 11-2 in the first period. Their first shot on goal came 17 minutes in -- on a tipped shot from the point that fluttered into Emery's glove. The corresponding addition in the shots category on the scoreboard produced the loudest response of the first period -- a Bronx cheer directed at the home team.

The announced crowd of 19,254 was late-arriving, but amounted to the largest audience to take in a Wild home game this season -- and the sixth largest in team history.

"Definitely didn't get off to the start we wanted," Brodziak said. "But there is a lot of character in the room and the guys showed it again tonight. We only got one point, but it's a critical point, and we'll take it, for sure."

The victory was Chicago's seventh in its last nine games. Each of its last three and four of its last five has come in overtime or in a shootout.

"Getting points is what it's all about," Quenneville said. "A lot of games recently have gone to overtime. But, you find out about different guys in different situations and you get more comfortable as you get later into the season."
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