For a regular season game, this match-up had some significance. The Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks did battle for the first time since Chicago rolled over the Wild to advance to the second round of the 2013 playoffs, and the game was also their first game as members of the new Central Division. Niklas Backstrom was injured in warm-ups before Game One of the aforementioned playoff series, and this was his first action against the ‘Hawks since mid-season 2013. The Blackhawks looked to generate a little more offense, scoring more than 3 goals only twice, despite being 3rd in the NHL in Shots On Goal.
The Blackhawks showed off their speed early in the game, spending most of the first five minutes with the puck, entering the Wild zone on the rush and then sustaining pressure. After a strong penalty-kill by the Wild (in which the Blackhawks did not register a shot), they made some offense of their own, and led in shots mid-way through the period. After a Marian Hossa penalty gave the Wild a power-play of their own, Zach Parise scored the first goal of the game just 5 seconds after. The goal came off a fortunate rebound by Corey Crawford, and no defenders were there in time to sweep it away. The Blackhawks stifled a power-play with a penalty of their own late in the frame, and the Wild held their lead heading into the intermission. Shots at the end of period 1 were 11-8 Chicago.
The Blackhawks came to the second period looking for a little more, and their search continued early in the frame. Kyle Broadziak added to the Wild lead with a deflection, where Crawford was extremely deep in his crease. The goal came 1:03 into the frame, and the Wild suddenly led 2-0. Penalties by Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu gave the Blackhawks four minutes of power-play time, with 20 seconds coming on a 2-man advantage. The Blackhawks couldn’t find the net, thanks to an outstanding Backstrom save, one of many on the night. The Blackhawks appeared to cut the lead to one with a Jeremy Morin goal, but after a 7-minute review, was overturned on the count of a high stick. Bryan Bickell did the job just 2 minutes later, scoring his fourth in four games, to get the Blackhawks on the board. The Wild managed to restore the 2-goal lead before the period was out, when Jason Pominville took a smooth pass and wired it over Crawford. The Blackhawks found themselves in penalty trouble late, when two penalties by Hossa and Marcus Kruger left their team with 1:53 of 5-0n-3 action to kill off, with only 1:30 left in the period. They did just that, and the Wild took their 3-1 lead to the third period, with extra power-play time to start. Shots at the end of forty minutes favored Chicago, 22-20.
The Blackhawks took care of the penalties with no trouble, and found sustained offensive zone time for the first time since the first period. The teams traded a penalty each with no consequence, but the Wild added another one on even strength. Mikael Granlund picked up a risky defensive-zone Chicago pass, and his dish to Pominville was perfect. The 30-year old scored his second goal of the game, and the Wild took a commanding lead. The Blackhawks headed to their sixth power-play of the night with 9 minutes to go, and they finally converted. Patrick Kane took a great pass from Jonathan Toews to the net, and the Wild lead got substantially less comfortable. Chicago pressure was immense in the minutes that followed, with the top-six forwards getting a lot of ice time. The Wild held it off, and Justin Fontaine got the breathing room back, giving the Wild a 5-2 lead. Marcus Kruger pulled the ‘Hawks within two once again, but it was a case of too little, too late: The Wild had won 5-3.
Bryan Bickell scored for the fourth game in a row since being put back on the Blackhawks’ third line. The power forward was a force against the Wild in the playoffs last season, most notably scoring the game-winning overtime goal in Game One of the series.
The Blackhawks`Power-Play went in the opposite direction tonight, going 1-for-7. This comes against a team with a 75% penalty kill coming into tonight’s match.
Niklas Backstrom held the Wild in the game, making 33 saves, and committing several robberies in his first game since October 8th.
Only one day of rest is in the future for these two teams: Game two of the double-header comes from the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota on Monday night.
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