ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Chicago Blackhawks let a late lead slip, though the lost point won’t matter.
Shoring up their special teams and avoiding lapses like this are on their to-do list entering the playoffs.
Cal Clutterbuck’s tying tip-in with 3:12 left in regulation and Devin Setoguchi’s shootout goal gave the Minnesota Wild a 2-1 victory over Chicago on Thursday, and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville lamented afterward a performance by his team he called “too casual.”
“We didn’t have any pace. I thought we got away from the intensity of being on the power play and looking for an easier look as opposed to the intensity that’s needed to just sustain the momentum of our game,” Quenneville said.
Setoguchi’s glove-side shot was the only one that went in during the skills contest, the 20th this season by the Wild to tie the NHL record. After a goal by Jamal Mayers gave the Blackhawks an early lead midway through the first period, Josh Harding was impenetrable, finishing with 22 saves.
“When the guys see him going like that, it certainly raises their game,” Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said.
The Hawks had only two shots on goal over the last 25 minutes of the game: one each in the third and overtime. Their struggling special teams didn’t help. The Wild gave them four power plays over the first two periods, including a five-minute man-advantage situation, but the Blackhawks didn’t score on any of those. Then their penalty kill let in a late goal.
“It’s a big part of the game. Everyone knows that. Hopefully we can figure it out before the playoffs and at least get some chances and shots and momentum,” right wing Patrick Kane said.
Bryan Bickell’s tip-in of a blue line slap shot by Niklas Hjalmarsson would’ve given the Blackhawks a two-goal lead midway through the third period, but the score was waved off after a video review because Bickell’s stick was too high. Quenneville, his arms folded across his suit jacket, just shook his head on the bench after hearing the call.
That became more critical when defenceman Marco Scandella, who set a Wild franchise record with 35 minutes, 32 seconds of ice time, sent a slap shot toward Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford. With Clutterbuck tangling for position with Duncan Keith, the puck glanced off Clutterbuck and in to tie the game. Entering the game, the Blackhawks were 23rd on the power play and 28th on the penalty kill in the league.
“We want to go into the playoffs feeling good about ourselves and playing the right way with good habits,” Keith said.
They’ll have to start away from home. Nashville has 102 points and Detroit has 101 points, but the Blackhawks (99 points) can still finish fifth in the Western Conference by beating the Red Wings (101 points) on Saturday.
An extra road game shouldn’t be so bad for the Blackhawks, who are 5-1-2 in their past eight games away from home. And if they lose to the Red Wings and finish sixth, well, that means a first-round matchup against a potentially weaker Pacific Division winner than one of their rivals in the packed, stacked Central Division.
More important than site or foe, though, is the return of captain Jonathan Toews, who missed his 21st straight game because of a concussion. He has been practicing with the team and could play on Saturday.
Keith brought his 36 assists back to the lineup on this night, following a five-game suspension for elbowing Vancouver star Daniel Sedin in the head, and the Blackhawks held the Wild to just three shots in the first period and five over nearly the first of the game until the home team woke up.
The Wild beat the Blackhawks 5-4 in a shootout on Sunday, a game filled with 58 penalty minutes. There was some carry-over, with several scrums but no fights. Wild defenceman Nate Prosser was given a five-minute major penalty and ejected for head-butting Mayers in the face a few minutes after his goal.
The Wild raised their record to 4-0-1 in their past five games, all of them lasting past regulation.
“It’s a team that doesn’t quit,” Yeo said.
This late surge is pushing them down the draft board for this summer, but they’ve insisted playing well to finish the season is more important. They’ve got the seventh-worst record in the league. The last five teams get in the lottery for the first overall pick.
Still, with 81 points, they’d need to beat Phoenix on Saturday to avoid their worst finish in 10 years, despite notching the NHL’s best record at the 30-game mark this season.
“”A lot of what-could’ve-beens and if-onlys,” Yeo said.
Notes: D Tom Gilbert also beat the old Wild record (Brent Burns, 33:33 in 2009) with 34:17 of action. “I felt like I was jumping over the boards more than I was on the ice,” he said. … D Tyler Cuma, called up from Houston of the AHL, became the 46th player to appear in a game for the Wild this season and the 15th rookie, both the most in the NHL. The all-time record, according to the Wild via the Elias Sports Bureau, for players used in one season is 55 by Boston in 1991-92. … Mayers scored for the first time since Feb. 1. … Prosser said he wasn’t trying to head butt Mayers; he said he was pushed in the stomach, causing him to bend forward. … Phoenix also played in 20 shootouts in 2009-10. The Wild are 11-9 in those situations this season. … LW Andrew Brunette (lower-body injury) and C Dave Bolland (upper-body injury) were also scratched for the Blackhawks.