ST. PAUL, Minn. – Though Chicago has started slowly after several changes to last season’s championship roster, the Blackhawks still know how to find that winning edge.
Marty Turco bounced back from a benching with 25 saves, Troy Brouwer moved up to the top line and got a goal and an assist, and the Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 3-1 on Saturday.
“It wasn’t so much a little monkey. It was a big gorilla on my back,” said Brouwer of his first score, following a 22-goal season.
The Blackhawks (7-5-1) have a big target on their backs this season, too, and particularly while Marian Hossa sits out with an upper body injury they’re missing some of that Stanley Cup swagger. They’ve still got a lot of young talent, though, starting with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
“You can see why they’ve won a Stanley Cup,” Wild coach Todd Richards said.
Coming off a woeful home performance, a 7-4 loss on Friday to Edmonton from which Turco was pulled after allowing four goals on 12 shots in the first period, the Blackhawks put together a complete effort and made sure to finish off the Wild after taking a 2-0 lead.
“It was a great response,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Quenneville rewarded Brouwer for a big hit early by moving him up to play with Kane and Toews. Brouwer came through with 30 seconds left in the second period when he grabbed one of several big rebounds Niklas Backstrom gave up and moved it from his backhand to his forehand. He caught Backstrom too far forward for an easy tap-in and a 1-0 lead.
“He’s got to play with that bite in his game,” Quenneville said, later adding: “Coming into the season we envisioned him being one of those guys.”
After Duncan Keith nudged in a wraparound shot that Backstrom couldn’t get a clean look at, the Blackhawks led 2-0 early in the third period. Turco let in a late goal by Marek Zidlicky on a nifty one-touch pass from Mikko Koivu, but Jake Dowell added an empty-netter at the end and Turco held strong after the brief lapse.
“I can erase it a lot quicker. You’ve got to go through it sometimes to understand how it effects you,” Turco said of the hook the night before. “I’m just at a position now, period, where I want to win. I want to be in net. I want to be the guy.”
Backstrom, who blanked Washington for 58-plus minutes on Thursday, kept the Wild in it for most of the first two periods. He made a diving stop of a wraparound shot by Toews with his glove and recovered in time to deny a rebound shot by Brouwer. Backstrom had a little good luck, too, when Sharp’s shot clanked off the pipe right at the end of a Blackhawks power play.
“One of the best performances I’ve seen from our goalie, probably in a year and 10 games,” Richards said. “I thought Nik was great.”
The Wild played perhaps their best game of the young season two days earlier in a 2-1 victory over Washington, and Richards—while pleased by the effort and the result—was already challenging his enigmatic team afterward. “How are we going to play on Saturday? That’s my question,” he said.
The response wasn’t all that sharp, but it wasn’t too bad, either. Richards was going all out at the end for at least a point, double-shifting several of his top skaters. The Wild ultimately were done in by some poor decisions with the puck, and the Blackhawks made them pay.
For Minnesota centre John Madden, the 37-year-old third-liner with three Cup championship rings, this was his first on-ice chance to reunite with last season’s teammates after leaving Chicago as a free agent. So he knows what they’ve got.
“Once they smell blood they keep coming,” Madden said.
Notes: Wild RW Antti Miettinen was scratched for the second straight game. He’s being evaluated for a possible concussion, after taking a hit to the head Monday. LW Guillaume Latendresse and D Cam Barker were also out again with groin injuries. … C Ryan Potulny made his Blackhawks debut after being called up from the minors earlier in the day. He’s a former University of Minnesota star. … Turco is 15-4-1 in his career in 23 games against the Wild. … The Blackhawks scratched C Dave Bolland for the first time this season. He has an upper-body injury.