The last time Minnesota had an NHL team, Chicago topped the list of opponents fans wanted to watch — and cheer against.
The Wild have long replaced the North Stars, but now that the Blackhawks will join them in a new eight-team conference next season, a ferocious rivalry could be revived. Their tense meeting Wednesday night was quite the warmup.
Patrick Kane’s goal in the second round of the shootout clinched Chicago’s fifth straight victory on the road, 4-3 over Minnesota in a matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference.
”It’s definitely a team we have to keep on our radar,” said Jonathan Toews, who also scored in the shootout after giving Chicago a lead with a goal in the third period that Mikko Koivu matched a few minutes later for Minnesota.
The Wild lead the NHL with 44 points, but the Blackhawks, who are 7-1-1 in their last nine games, now have 42.
”I think we don’t like that team that we played tonight, and I think that they probably don’t like us,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said before referring to another future conference opponent in the Winnipeg Jets, who beat them 2-1 on Tuesday. ”And I also think that we probably don’t like the team that we played the night before.”
Marian Hossa and Michael Frolik gave the Blackhawks a 2-0 edge with second-period goals 89 seconds apart, but Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cullen answered for the Wild a few minutes later to tie the game.
After a frenetic overtime period, with plenty of prime opportunities for each side during the 4-on-4 portion of the game, the stage was set for the shootout. Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery denied Cullen’s snap shot, and Dany Heatley lost the puck on his try for the Wild.
With the score by Toews already on the board, Kane raced toward goalie Niklas Backstrom, slowed to almost a dead stop and made a slick right-left move to get Backstrom to commit to his backhand. Kane then slammed the puck into the open net with a wrist shot.
”It was awesome. It was sick,” Toews said.
Emery laughed and shook his head.
”He went four or five different directions. It was a pretty spectacular ending,” the goalie said.
Toews made a slick move of his own to skate out from behind the net past defenseman Mike Lundin, put a move on his partner, Nick Schultz, to square himself with the net and zip a shot past Backstrom’s stick to give the Blackhawks the lead back with 13:06 left. Koivu’s shot from the slot slipped past Emery, though, to make it 3-3 with 5:04 remaining.
”Just the way it’s going to be. The NHL’s so tight these days, you’ve got to be ready for it,” Kane said.
The Wild went 17 minutes into the game without a shot and still trailed 21-12 at the second intermission, but they kept Emery busy down the stretch.
”Nice game. It gets on the line, and he gets bigger,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
The crowd was announced at 19,254, the largest of the season at Xcel Energy Center and the sixth-biggest regular-season gathering in the Wild’s 11-year history. Fans really got into the game when Brad Staubitz took down Daniel Carcillo in a mid-ice fight early in the second period.
They booed loudly when Cullen fell down on a short-handed breakaway when his and Duncan Keith’s skates collided without a call. They howled again when Cullen was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The Wild killed the first penalty, but not the second one. Hossa scored while falling forward after snatching a puck in front of the crease. Frolik, the fourth-line right wing, added to the lead after a slick drop pass by rookie Marcus Kruger.
”You could tell the emotional level definitely got raised on the bench after that. We felt like we started to take control of the game,” Brodziak said.
Brodziak got his team-high 11th goal — the Blackhawks wanted an icing call they didn’t get right before it — with a wrist shot. Cullen then scored on a 2-on-1, ending his 12-game goal drought. He was too sick to play at Winnipeg, which ended Minnesota’s seven-game winning streak.
The Wild are having trouble staying healthy. Left wing Guillaume Latendresse returned from a 15-game absence because of a concussion and scored against Winnipeg, but he didn’t play after the first period in this game and Yeo said he had post-concussion symptoms. Right wing Pierre-Marc Bouchard was missing after sustaining a face-first hit into the boards against the Jets that left him bleeding badly from his nose.
Yeo, though, was pleased with his team’s effort in the second half of back-to-back games.
”You can kind of deflate, and I think that’s what we did a lot of times last year,” right wing Cal Clutterbuck said. ”But we kind of regroup. It seems like it just takes one play for us, even if it’s not a goal. We get fired up and away we go.”
NOTES: Former Wild LW Andrew Brunette was shown on the scoreboard on the Blackhawks bench during a break in the first-period action. After acknowledgment by the public address announcer, the crowd gave him a loud ovation, and he responded with a wave and a smirk and a deep breath after he sat down. … Brodziak has six goals in his last eight games. … Hossa has four goals in his last five games.