Like the majority of teams in the Western Conference, the Minnesota Wild
are right in the thick of the playoff race. They took another step in the right direction Tuesday night with a 4-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks
Despite losing an early 1-0 lead in the first period and trailing 2-1 to start the second, the Wild (25-19-5) found a way to stave off some strong offensive attacks by the Hawks and finish the pre-All-Star break portion of their schedule with a tough road win.
"There's definitely a confidence [building]," Minnesota coach Todd Richards said. "That's part of learning how to win - bending but not breaking. We came out and had a big second and got the win. It wasn't perfect, but we got the win."
Goalie Niklas Backstrom was strong from start to finish, making 31 saves for the Wild, who've won four of their last five to get themselves back into the playoff picture. The win pulled Minnesota within one point of the eighth-place Hawks (26-20-4) -- and the Wild have a game in hand.
Leading the way offensively for the Wild were Chuck Kobasew and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who each finished with a goal and assist - getting their assist on the other's goal. Former Blackhawk Martin Havlat and Antti Miettinen added the other Minnesota goals, while young defenseman Jared Spurgeon picked up the first point of his NHL career on Kobasew's goal that tied it 2-2 at 2:31 of the second.
Spurgeon was originally credited with the goal. Instead, it was changed to Kobasew's goal during the second intermission after it was ruled that he deflected Spurgeon's shot from the top of the right circle between Chicago goalie Corey Crawford's pads into the net.
Spurgeon was just happy to get his first point at a key moment.
"Any goal for us at that point in the game was a big goal for us," said the 21-year old Spurgeon, who's played 21 games. "Once we started playing in their end, momentum started coming our way. We were talking about it before the game, how big the two points were. Seems like if you win one game you jump a couple spots and if you lose one game you drop a couple spots."
The Hawks know the feeling well, dropping their second straight at home and seeing their home record fall to 16-13-0. They have just 12 of their last 32 games at home.
Patrick Sharp and Troy Brouwer scored both goals for the Hawks, who played without star forward Marian Hossa (illness). Chicago captain Jonathan Toews picked up assists on both goals after missing practice on Monday and then missing Tuesday's morning skate with a lower-body injury.
He also appeared to be involved in another one that was waved off with 4:33 left to play after referee Stephane Auger ruled the whistle blew before the puck crossed the goal line during a scramble in front of the Minnesota goal.
Toews and other Hawks threw their hands in the air thinking they'd just pulled within a goal, but it wasn't allowed.
"I don't know why he blew it so fast. It's beyond me," Toews said. "[Patrick Kane] throws a quick puck in front of the net, and you should be allowed to have a few seconds there -- be given the benefit of the doubt to see what happens in front of the net when there's a scrum there. But I guess he lost sight of it quicker than usual."
Chicago and Minnesota won't play again until after the All-Star break this weekend and the Hawks won't play at home again until Feb. 16 -- when the Wild come back for their second visit of the season.
It didn't take long for either team to get on the board in this one.
Havlat, who was told before the game he'd be going to the 2011 All Star Game presented by Discover as an injury replacement, scored his 14th goal just 1:47 into the game to give the Wild a 1-0 lead. The former Blackhawk star beat Crawford to the glove side, wristing a shot from the right circle that clanged off the right post into the net.
"I've always loved scoring in this building," said Havlat, who played three seasons with the Hawks before signing with Minnesota as a free agent in July 2009. "I think that was the first time I've done it as the away team, so I was happy it went in. I just tried to get it on net and see if [Crawford] was ready."
The lead lasted only 2:02, as Sharp scored his 26th goal at 3:49 to tie it 1-1. Kane fed a cross-ice pass from the left circle that Sharp collected in the right circle and buried into a large area left open by Backstrom for a power-play goal.
A fortunate bounce then led to Brouwer's goal that gave Chicago a 2-1 lead at 9:24 of the first.
Toews picked up his second assist of the game by skating behind the net and attempting to throw the puck in front. It landed right in front of Brouwer just to the left of the goal and behind Backstrom, who never saw it. Brouwer tapped it home for his 15th marker of the season.
The Hawks took that lead into the first intermission after testing Backstrom several more times with good scoring chances. However, Kobasew's goal knotted it 2-2 early in the second and Miettinen's gave the Wild a 3-2 lead with 3:47 left in that period.
It was Miettinen's ninth goal and first since Dec. 18, tapping home a crisp pass from the corner by Andrew Brunette. Then it was time for Backstrom to shine, as the Wild goalie made some key saves down the stretch to preserve the lead.
Midway through the third, Backstrom plus some good fortune kept the 3-2 lead intact after Duncan Keith rung a shot off the post that landed in the blue paint. Backstrom was able to corral the puck before the Hawks could knock it home. A minute later, Bouchard grabbed a loose puck in the low slot and backhanded a shot over the sprawled Crawford for a two-goal lead.
Adding to the Hawks' frustration, Brouwer also missed a the net a couple of times in the game on great scoring opportunities that could've changed the outcome. All in all, it wasn't the way the defending Stanley Cup champs wanted to go into a long layoff.
Now they have no choice but to look forward.
"Tonight was frustrating, a tough one," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "[After the All-Star break] we should all come back with an attitude that we're not happy -- we're sour. Let's make sure we come back rested and excited."