Last spring, the Chicago Blackhawks disposed of the Minnesota Wild in five games of the first-round playoff series on their way to the Stanley Cup championship.
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With the Blackhawks now a Central Division rival in the realigned NHL, the Wild have their hands full. But they’ve clearly closed the gap.
Marco Scandella’s slap shot with 1:48 left, the defenseman’s first goal this season, lifted the Wild to a 4-3 win over the Blackhawks on Thursday.
"Against a team like Chicago, coming back, it feels good," Scandella said. "It’s a great feeling in the room right now. We battled all game. We stuck with it, which is the important thing."
The Wild have won two of three meetings with the Blackhawks this season.
"Anytime you beat a team like that, it’s important. Everybody knows how good they are," said star Zach Parise. "For us, it’s been a tough stretch for us where some games we haven’t played as well as we need to, but I thought we played a lot better tonight."
Jonas Brodin scored on a power play with 5:39 remaining to tie the game for the Wild, who raised their home record to 12-3-2 and handed the Blackhawks their first loss in their past seven road games.
With Charlie Coyle partially screening Corey Crawford at the edge of the crease, Brodin wound up and sent the puck ricocheting off Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya and past the goalie’s outstretched glove.
Crawford made 19 saves.
"He’s got to be better," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
After nearly taking a 2-0 lead into the second intermission, the Wild suddenly trailed 3-2 after a forceful Blackhawks comeback. The first two of Chicago’s four shots on goal in the third period got past Minnesota goalie Josh Harding, first by Brandon Saad and then by Marian Hossa.
The Blackhawks had a season-low 19 shots.
"That’s a hungry team, and they play smart defensively. They’re tough to create offensive chances against," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said.
Harding stopped 16 shots and improved to 7-3 in his career against the Blackhawks, who entered the night with an NHL-high 44 points. He’s 12-1 at home this season.
The Wild went six consecutive games without a first-period goal until Matt Cooke snapped a shot past Crawford. Parise’s score on a power play, the first by the Wild in seven games, in gave them a 2-0 lead they had until 16.6 seconds were left before the end of the second period.
Joakim Nordstrom deflected the puck behind him through the slot, where Jeremy Morin arrived to reach forward and guide the puck in one motion past Harding, who was coming off a 2-0 shutout of Philadelphia on Monday night. Morin and Nordstrom were both recalled on Wednesday from Rockford of the AHL.
Then just 43 seconds into the third period, Saad checked Ryan Suter off the puck, took control and snapped a shot into the top right corner of the net to tie the game.
Less than 6 minutes later, Hossa got loose down low on a power play and sneaked a wrist shot over Harding’s shoulder for the lead.
"You’re not going to play perfect against that team. They’ve got a boatload of skill, and they find ways to make plays, but I thought that we did a really good job of limiting them, containing them, keeping them to the outside," coach Mike Yeo said.
After their six-game winning streak on the road, the Blackhawks returned home on Tuesday and lost to Dallas 4-3 despite 50 shots on goal.
This was quite the contrast in offensive opportunity.
"Six minutes to go with a one-goal lead, generally that’s our bread and butter. Tonight we didn’t get it done," Quenneville said, adding: "We had the momentum, but it was one of those games where the momentum turned quickly in their favor. We’re still tied. Let’s get it to overtime and see what happens, but they got the break and we got nothing."
The Blackhawks were lamenting those two penalties they failed to kill.
"Like the last game, we thought we had control and let it slip. It’s frustrating to give up points like we have the last couple games," Toews said. "It’s pretty simple. We need to be better."
NOTES: Morin and Nordstrom were brought up for depth at forward. Andrew Shaw missed his first game due to an upper-body injury suffered on Tuesday night, and Michael Handzus missed his second straight game because of an illness. … Mikko Koivu, in his 566th career game, passed Pierre-Marc Bouchard for second place on the Wild’s all-time list. Nick Schultz is first with 743.