CHICAGO – The Minnesota Wild got off to a strong start on Monday night and hung on to hand the Chicago Blackhawks a rare home loss in regulation.
Marek Zidlicky had two power-play goals and an assist, Niklas Backstrom made 40 saves and the Wild beat the Blackhawks 4-1, dropping Chicago to 14-2-5 at the United Center this season. The Blackhawks also lost 6-4 to Detroit at Wrigley Field in the NHL Winter Classic.
Mikko Koivu added a goal and two assists, Cal Clutterbuck had an empty-netter and Owen Nolan and Andrew Brunette had two assists each for Minnesota, which went 2-for-3 on the power play.
The Wild led 3-0 early in the second period and their conservative, dump-it-out defence preserved the win.
“I thought we were fine until the middle of the second period,” Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. “The momentum shifted. They pushed it a little more and we started to give them the puck.
“We got nervous and started to flip pucks in the air. It was the biggest play we had. Even guys I haven’t seen flip pucks all year, they were flipping pucks. But it’s OK, we won and we’ll take it.”
That prevented the Blackhawks from generating more sustained pressure, driving the puck on goal and creating rebounds. Even when they did, Backstrom held his ground.
“We were just able to play our game and that’s huge,” Backstrom said. “We got lucky and we got the bounces. Usually, though, to get the bounces you have to work hard.
“The biggest thing was we played a solid game and fought for every puck. We battled intensely and were on their body all the time. They’re a fast, skilled team so you have to be on them all the time.”
Martin Havlat had the lone goal for the Blackhawks, and Nikolai Khabibulin had 22 saves.
Havlat’s goal came at exactly 10:00 of the second period, earning a fan US$1 million as part of a promotion with the Illinois State Lottery. The Blackhawks didn’t announce the name of the male fan, a season-ticket holder in the United Center’s 300-level.
Koivu opened the scoring 10:15 into the game as his 40-foot shot from the slot deflected off the skate of Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook and landed in the upper left corner of the net.
“We got behind 1-0 and things changed rapidly,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “That’s where they’re (the Wild) at they’re best. When they get the lead, the check well.”
Zidlicky’s first power-play goal, with 1:46 left in the first, made it 2-0. His screened shot from the top of the slot beat Khabibulin low on the stick side. Zidlicky’s second score extended the Wild’s lead to 3-0 at 5:53 of the second. He pinched in to the low edge of the left circle and one-timed a pinpoint feed from Andrew Brunette.
Zidlicky scored on two of three shots in the game.
“If you want to score on the power play you have to shoot the puck,” he said. “Sometimes you shoot too much, take five shots and don’t score. Sometimes you take two shots and you score.”
Havlat’s goal cut it to 3-1 as he pounced on a loose puck in the crease and whipped it past Backstrom.
The Blackhawks dominated the second half of the second period, testing Backstrom. His flashiest save was a point-blank stick stop on Patrick Kane, Chicago’s leading scorer.
Kane has gone 11 games without a goal.
Backstrom’s best saves in the third included a close-in stop of Troy Brouwer and glove save on Jonathan Toews.
Clutterbuck scored into an empty net with 34 seconds left.
Notes: Blackhawks D Duncan Keith sat out his third game with a probable concussion. Keith, who leads the Blackhawks with just under 26 minutes of ice time per game, is day-to-day. … Minnesota LW Andrew Brunette played in his 498th consecutive game, the longest active streak in the NHL, despite an injured right knee. He suffered the injury in a collision with Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf on Saturday. … Wild RW Craig Weller missed his second game with a head injury. … The crowd of 21,320 was Chicago’s 22nd sellout in 22 home games this season.