Following Wild games, Content Coordinator Evan Sporer will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at the Wild's 4-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks at Xcel Energy Center.
It had been 76 years since a team had swept a five-game, season-series from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Read: had been.
See: The Wild's win against the Blackhawks in Saint Paul on Monday, the fifth in as many tries against its Chicago rival this season.
Not an easy task, but add in the meaning behind the game, what the stakes were, and this was no ordinary win against the Chicago Blackhawks. It was the Wild's sixth straight, extending a season high. During those streaks, the target is planted firmly on your back.
It's a concept the Blackhawks know all too well.
The out-of-town scoreboard was also turning up the heat, causing reason to perspire. A Colorado Avalanche win Monday night against the Nashville Predators meant, entering Wednesday, the Wild's lead in the wild card race could be back down to a point.
But the Wild, in a position to control its own destiny because of its current winning streak that featured a stop in Denver on Saturday, continued to do just that. Minnesota was the better team from start to finish on Tuesday, controlling puck possession, limiting Chicago offensively, and coming out with the 60-minute effort it knew it would need to win.
A trademark of the Wild's winning streak has been a lack of a trademark. No consistent thread or motif, just finding a way to win at a time of the season when winning is the most paramount.
The theme Tuesday was sacrifice.
"Charlie's bleeding, Dumba's fighting; that's what it's all about," interim Head Coach John Torchetti said. "That's playoff hockey for me. That's the fun part of watching. When you want to commit and give up more for your teammates, better things happen, and that's what's happening."
So with the Avalanche losing to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, the Wild's cushion is a bit softer, or firmer, depending on what you find more comfortable. But with a five-point lead, and five points separating the Wild from the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it's full speed ahead.
"Every single game is important for us right now, so I don’t think it matters who you play against," Mikko Koivu said. "But for sure, getting that (sweep) against a team like they are, it’s good for confidence and moving forward."
Erik Haula said it's about knowing your role, but that doesn't make what his line is tasked with every night any easier.
No matter the opponent, Haula, Nino Niederreiter, and on most nights, Jason Pominville (besides when he was injured) are matched up against the opponent's top line.
On Tuesday, its focus was shifted toward the NHL's leading scorer Patrick Kane, one of the league's top offensive rookies Artemi Panarin, and another highly skilled forward Tuevo Teravainen.
But 60 minutes later, the Chicago line was held scoreless, Haula provided a key goal of his own in the third, and his line again was up to the task and then some in what is a critical matchup for the Wild.
"These guys, they’ve been animals, all of them," Matt Dumba said. "[Haula], Nino, everyone is contributing. Whoever gets put on that line seems to have success as well."
The line's contributions on both ends of the ice have been vital to the Wild's success the past seven weeks, and it hasn't gone unnoticed by its teammates.
"It’s just hard work with those guys," Dumba said. "They’re working each day for their opportunities and it seems like they’ve built some pretty good chemistry together."
That chemistry is something observable in their game. On Haula's goal in the third, a sigh-of-relief insurance-marker to make it 3-1, he chipped the puck up the boards into an area for Niederreiter, who caught up to it, before returning it to a wide-open Haula in front.
"They trust it," Torchetti said. "That’s it. The little chip play there, Nino is just going to skate and trust Haula to chip that puck. That’s our job to get it to him. You’re driving it, and it’s the puck-carriers job to make the decision."
In each of the Wild's past five games, all victories, Minnesota scored before its opponent.
It's been part of a recent trend of starting games off well, goal or no goal (one of those first-goals came in the second period), and the Wild started out with its right foot forward on Tuesday when Jarret Stoll scored 2:37 into the first.
The entire play started with Stoll doing something that goes unnoticed, but something Torchetti constantly stresses. He asks his centers to come back low in the defensive zone to provide puck support on breakouts, which Stoll did, sending a cross-ice pass to Jordan Schroeder.
From there, Schroeder made a good hold-up play at his own blue line, allowing Mike Reilly to meet the puck. With Stoll streaking up ice, Reilly maneuvered his way through two Blackhawks, kept his head up, and picked out Stoll at the offensive blue line with a two-line pass.
With Stoll and Fontaine in on a two-on-one, and the defenseman taking away the passing lane, Stoll fired the puck just below the crossbar in the far corner, and in.
"I looked up and just saw him flying up on the far blue line and he made a great shot," Reilly said. "He made all the play there."
It was an important play to begin the sequence by Stoll, and everyone who touched the puck bettered the series of events, to Schroeder, to Reilly, and then back to the goal-scorer.
"It’s always good to score. It’s fun," Stoll said. "You want to try to contribute any way possible, offensively, defensively."
Though the Wild found itself leading 1-0 at that point, it was a 1-1 game after 20 minutes, and very much a missed opportunity for Minnesota.
When Duncan Keith was called for a major and match penalty for intent to injure after he swung his stick at Charlie Coyle's face, the Wild went on an extended power-play, leading by a goal, with a chance to really take control of the game.
But five minutes later, Minnesota had registered two shots, Marian Hossa had scored shorthanded for Chicago, and the momentum that could have been created through a successful power play was bypassed.
Three Minnesota power plays went by the wayside without the Wild scoring, and though some produced quality scoring chances, the Wild took seven shots on goal in nine minutes of power-play time, and attempted 12 shots.
The latter is the number the Wild will be unhappier with. With Minnesota being more effective on the power play the past few months, it has turned into a high-volume shot-attempt team, flinging pucks from every which way at the goal and using that chaos theory to create goals.
There were undoubtedly close calls, with Dumba hitting a post, but the Wild couldn't connect on any of its power plays.
It was just this morning Torchetti said he wants his defense to make sure it's getting up ice, and using its versatile skill set to pitch in offensively.
As Torchetti spoke in the area he always meets with the media after morning skates, in the adjacent Wild locker room, his message may have been overheard, as the Wild's defense did just that, and Jared Spurgeon scored a crucial goal for Minnesota.
After Ryan Suter won a puck back at the Wild's goal line, he moved it up to Spurgeon, who quickly sent it to Jason Pominville.
But Spurgeon wasn’t done, identifying a chance to jump into the rush, side-stepping a flat-footed Patrick Kane, and blowing past him up ice.
As Mikko Koivu gained possession along the flank, he and Spurgeon simultaneously hit the blue line, the latter dragging his skate to keep onside, and then walking into a saucer-pass from Koivu.
From there, it was Spurgeon against Scott Darling, and the defenseman went forehand-to-back, flipping the puck over Darling's blocker.
The whole play began though with Spurgeon identifying the spacing, taking a calculated risk, and supporting the Wild up-ice.
MATT OLSON NIGHT
There are times when what's happening on the ice feels inconsequential.
With the Wild and Blackhawks partnering to help raise funds for Matt Olson, the Minnesota native injured while playing junior hockey in Chicago, there certainly was reason to think about how minor something like a hockey game can be in the grand scheme of things.
The game on Tuesday night in Saint Paul was dedicated to Olson. Both teams wore special "MO3" stickers on their helmets. There were call-outs on the broadcasts to Olson, and opportunities for fans to donate.
Hockey is a family, one of the biggest families out there. The hockey community has come together in the wake of an injury to one of its own, and shown its support in many different ways.
It's just a game, but the game itself has such greater meaning.
And there are still many ways to get involved and help. Check here for more details.