Blackhawks 4, Wild 0
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville wasn't sure who he would start in goal in the Blackhawks' second road game in two nights.
Antti Niemi was the right choice.
Playing in back-to-back contests for just the second time this season and coming off a loss Tuesday night at St. Louis, Niemi made 21 saves for his seventh shutout of the season and third in seven games to help Chicago beat Minnesota 4-0 on Wednesday night. With the victory, the Blackhawks snapped a three-game losing streak.
Niemi made four saves during a 91-second 5-on-3 power play for Minnesota late in the second period, and held off the Wild the rest of the way to improve to 21-7-3.
``It's big, it was a nice response,'' Quenneville said. ``It was nice to show him some confidence as well and he responded with the game we were looking for.''
Ben Eager had a goal and two assists for a career-high three points in his second multipoint game this season. Tomas Kopecky rounded out the three-goal night from Chicago's fourth line with a pair of goals, and Jonathan Toews added the Blackhawks' final tally. Chicago won for just the third time in its last 10 games and avoided a season-worst four-game losing streak.
``It's nice to get that one out of our way and move on here,'' Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said. ``Now we've got to continue to work hard and do the little things.''
Nicklas Backstrom finished with 31 saves for the Wild, shut out at home for the first time since Feb. 6, 2009 - a 2-0 loss to Nashville. It marked just the third loss for Minnesota in its last 14 home games against Chicago.
The loss pushed the Wild to the brink of mathematical elimination from playoff contention. One Colorado victory in its final six games will make it official.
``It just wasn't good enough,'' Minnesota center Kyle Brodziak said. ``It wasn't what we expect out of each other. It wasn't good enough all the way through. The only way to describe it was embarrassing. We got outworked and outcompeted in every aspect of the game.''
The crowd booed the home team on multiple occasions as the Wild admittedly lacked effort and finished with 21 shots or less for the ninth time in their last 13 games.
``It is a refusal to shoot the puck,'' Minnesota coach Todd Richards said. ``We talk about that every meeting. We talk about it in between periods. You have to give some credit to the defending team. Some teams do a great job of denying certain shots but there are opportunities where we're just refusing to shoot.''
Kopecky opened the scoring with 1:40 left first period and made it 3-0 at 5:55 of the third. It was Kopecky's second multigoal game in his last six contests, giving him five goals in that stretch after going 21 games with no goals and three assists.
``Obviously when you score two goals or when you have a good game your confidence is pumped up,'' Kopecky said. ``But really important today was a win because we needed it so bad.''
Eager turned a Minnesota turnover in the neutral zone into the game's second goal when he corralled his own rebound to beat Backstrom glove side at 9:51 of the second period.
Minnesota managed just six shots until picking up four during the 5-on-3 advantage in the second. Niemi turned away all four chances, including an impressive sliding save on Mikko Koivu's point-blank offering with his right pad at 17:09.
``That save on Koivu was unbelievable,'' Quenneville said. ``They had the puck around the net and he made some big saves.''
Niemi is tied for second in the NHL with his seven shutouts, the most by a Chicago goalie since Jocelyn Thibault had eight in 2002-03.
``Its not like I'm focused on getting shutouts,'' Niemi said. ``But its really unbelievable and tells how well our team has played.''
Toews scored with 5:58 left in the third as the Blackhawks reached 100 points for consecutive season for the first time since 1970-72 - before regular-season overtime and points for overtime and shootout losses.
NOTES: In their first opportunity to face each other since being traded for each other on Feb. 12, Blackhawks D Kim Johnsson and Wild D Cam Barker both sat out due to injury. Johnsson missed his ninth straight game because of an upper-body injury, while Barker missed his third contest with a sprained ankle. ... Chicago LW Patrick Sharp's five-game points streak came to an end.