Such was the case on Thursday night when the Wild — now led by
coach Mike Yeo — received just enough offense from first-period
goals by right winger Jason Pominville and left winger Matt Cooke to
outlast the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1.
Goaltender Darcy Kuemper, making his fifth consecutive start,
stopped 33 shots as the Wild (28-20-5) improved to 8-3-0 in their
last 11 games.
"We got off to that 2-0 lead and when you're playing with a lead,
it's a lot easier to make the stops you have to," said Kuemper, now
5-2-0 since being recalled from the Wild's minor league team in Iowa
on Jan. 2. "I thought the guys did an unbelievable job in front of
me. A lot of weapons on that side and I think we limited a lot of
their chances and made it easy on me."
Chicago (32-9-12) got 17 saves from goaltender Antti Raanta but
could not solve Kuemper until just 31.2 seconds remained. Right
winger Patrick Kane scored his 24th goal of the season with Raanta
on the bench for an extra attacker.
It was the second loss in as many nights for the Blackhawks, who
fell 5-4 in a shootout to the Red Wings in Detroit on Wednesday. In
contrast to that track meet, Chicago slipped into a defensive trap
"We didn't give up a ton, but they weren't looking to generate
much," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Our defense was OK,
but just like our whole game, I thought it was just OK. I don't
think anybody jumped off the table or had a great game tonight."
The Wild scored on their first shot of the game, capping a 3-on-2
rush to the Chicago net when center Mikael Granlund pulled Raanta
out of position, then passed across the goal mouth to Pominville for
a virtual tap-in.
Later in the period, during a scramble in front of Raanta, two
Blackhawks were whistled for minor penalties, giving the Wild two
minutes of a 5-on-3 power play. But despite controlling the puck for
nearly the entire man-advantage and getting a trio of shots on goal,
the Wild could not add to their lead until later in the period.
Cooke scored his seventh goal of the season late in the opening
period, throwing a low shot on net that fooled Raanta.
"Their first goal was pretty nice, tic-tac-toe, but the second one
was too easy," said Raanta, who had last played in a Jan. 12 home
win against Edmonton, fell to 12-2-3 with the loss. "When they get
two goals in the first period, you're behind all the time.
"It's much harder to play because Minnesota was defensively so good.
Every goal counts and today there was one easy goal, so that's not a
[to top of second column]
The second period was scoreless in spite of Chicago's best
efforts. The Blackhawks had an 11-6 edge in shots and killed off
two Minnesota power plays.
"I thought that we had good layers to our defense tonight for
sure," Yeo said. "I don't want to say they had a tough time, but
we forced them to come through another person. And obviously
that's a very dangerous team. We have a lot of respect for them,
but with that, it's good to play in structure but especially in
the first period."
Minnesota left winger Zach Parise played for the first time in a
month. He last played Dec. 22 and missed time recovering from a
broken left foot.
Parise's father, J.P., played for the Minnesota North Stars in
an era when the Blackhawks were the archrival. With Chicago and
the Wild meeting in the playoffs last year and sharing a
division now, the rivalry seems to be regniting.
"For whatever reason, our game elevates when we play them," Zach
Parise said after the Wild posted their third win in four games
against Chicago this season. "It's a tough team and I thought we
did a good job of containing their top players. Other than Kane
getting that one at the end, we did a pretty good job of
neutralizing them for the most part."
NOTES: Chicago D Duncan Keith was scratched for the first time
this season on Thursday because of an illness. Keith, with 43
assists in 52 games, leads all NHL defensemen in assists. ...
Wild D Nate Prosser played in his 100th career game, all with
Minnesota. Last week, he became the first Wild defenseman to
score the winning goal in consecutive games when he got his
second and third career goals against Edmonton and Dallas,
respectively. ... A second-period shot by Chicago LW Brandon
Bollig hit Wild G Darcy Kuemper in the facemask, damaging his
helmet. Kuemper skated to the Wild bench at the next whistle and
after a delay played a few minutes wearing Wild G Niklas
Backstrom's helmet until his own helmet was repaired. ... The
Blackhawks get a two-day break before hosting the Winnipeg Jets
on Sunday in Chicago — their final home game before the Olympic
break. The Wild are heading out on a four-game road trip that
starts Saturday night when they visit the San Jose Sharks.
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