Alexander Shun | @alexpshun
Digital Content Manager | KFAN.com
It was a playoff environment for a potential playoff preview between the top two teams in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for the Minnesota Wild, it was the Chicago Blackhawks that emerged victorious Tuesday night, defeating Minnesota 5-3 behind a five-point night from Chicago Captain Jonathan Toews.
While the Wild did manage to stop Blackhawks All-Star and reigning Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane, they had no answer for Toews; a common problem for teams that play the Blackhawks.
"That's why they've won three cups," Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said after his team's loss. "Because those guys in big games play big."
With his three goals and two assists Tuesday night, Toews now has 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) in 35 career regular-season games against the Wild. Despite his individual success, the Blackhawks Captain was more pleased with his team's win and their ability to shrink the gap on the division-leading Wild.
"I think regardless of how big those two points are and where we're at and how close we are in the standings, I think we always look at [the Wild], especially with the way they're playing, as a measuring stick," Toews said. "I think regardless of who we’re playing right now I think we want to stay consistent and keep building off last game. I think we’re playing pretty well as a four-line unit right now.”
Chicago controlled the game from the second period on, maintaining a lead for the majority of the final two periods and keeping Minnesota at bay while moving the Wild to 1-1-1 against the Blackhawks this season.
Toews opened the scoring less than one minute into the second period when he worked his way to the front of the net and slammed a loose puck past Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk.
Mikael Granlund notched the equalizer a few minutes later on Minnesota's first power-play of the night when he poked a loose puck through the legs of Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford to tie the game 1-1.
The tie was short-lived as just 41 seconds later Richard Panik laced his 16th goal of the season past Dubnyk to give Chicago a 2-1 lead. They would extend their lead just moments into the third period.
Off the faceoff, Nick Schmaltz fired a shot through multiple screens and right past the Minnesota goalie who didn't even flinch as the puck sailed past him giving Chicago a 3-1 lead.
After the two teams exchanged goals - Zach Parise for Minnesota and Toews for Chicago - Granlund added his second power-play goal of the game while sliding to the ice to cut the Blackhawks lead to 4-3, but Minnesota could get no closer.
Toews would seal the Chicago win by adding an empty-net goal with just over one minute remaining in the game to push the Chicago lead to 5-3 while completing the hat-trick and tallying his fifth point of the night to send Minnesota to defeat.
"I think we had our chances at the end to tie the game," Granlund said, speaking on the loss. "But tonight, that wasn't enough. I think the second period, we didn't play good at all there, that got them their momentum."
“We have shown when we play, we are capable of playing (with the Blackhawks),” Dubnyk, who finished the night with 34 saves on 39 Chicago shots, said. “We showed that at the end of the game tonight. Unfortunately we needed a few more minutes.”
Matt Dumba returned to the Wild lineup after missing the last four games with a lower body injury and struggled to say the least, finishing with a well deserved minus-4.
Boudreau admitted that despite Dumba being well enough to play, probably should not have played Tuesday night.
"Well, it’s really disappointing," Boudreau said, speaking about Dumba's poor performance against the Blackhawks. "I blame myself. It’s one practice. I should’ve let him completely get better. I’m sure he’s fine, but with one practice after being out for a little while, I think it showed tonight, you know? He wasn’t sharp in any situations.”
With the loss, Minnesota's lead over Chicago in both the Central division and Western Conference was shrunk to just five points. To make things harder for Minnesota, they now face their bye week and will not play again until Monday night. Meanwhile, Chicago will play two home games in that span and, should they win both games, can cut Minnesota's lead to just a single point.
The Wild will now face a five-day break and Boudreau's message to his team was a simple one: Enjoy the time off but be ready to come back and fight for playoff positioning.
"I told them to, quite frankly, get some rest and enjoy this break but to want to get home to play hockey," Boudreau said. "‘For 4 ½ months now, you guys have done a tremendous job and we’ve got something special going on, potentially.’ So it’s great to get away for a couple days, but the desire to play has got to be there and not like, ‘Uh, I want to stay on vacation. I want to stay here.’ You’ve got to want to come back and play, and if we do that then I think we’ll be fine. If not, it might take a day or two.”