CHICAGO – Niklas Backstrom had no real answers to why the Minnesota Wild have become such a force on the road—as they proved again Tuesday night at the United Center—while posting a mediocre mark at home.
Not that he’s complaining.
“I don’t know what’s going on. Usually it’s been the other way around when I’ve been here,” he said after making 31 saves as the Wild roared into the all-star break by beating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2.
It was Minnesota’s 14th road victory this season—one more than all of last year. The Wild are 11-11-2 at home and 14-8-3 away.
“We’ve been a really strong team at home in our building. This year it’s been the other way around,” Backstrom said. “We want to be better at home, but it doesn’t matter where you take the point.”
The Wild won four of their final five games before the break, including three of four on the road.
And they figured out a way to come from behind. They’d been 0-11-1 this season when trailing after the first period, but they wiped that out Tuesday night, rallying from a 2-1 deficit after one.
“We didn’t change anything, we just went in and talked more about competing more, and having to be more physical,” Wild coach Todd Richards said. “I think we had too many stick checks, and they have too many talented players over there that will skate right around you. … It was a great road trip, it really was.”
Antti Miettinen’s splendid tip-in of Andrew Brunette’s pass from the left circle broke a 2-2 tie with 3:47 left in the second. Pierre-Marc Bouchard made it a two-goal lead in the third by scoring on a backhanded rebound over sprawling goalie Corey Crawford.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks lost their second straight at home after a 5-0-1 stretch. Chicago is only 16-13 at the United Center, where they were 29-8-4 a year ago in the regular season.
“Tonight was frustrating, a tough one. We should all come back with an attitude that we’re not happy, we’re sour,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “Let’s make sure we come back rested and excited. I think we show signs that we’re ready to take off, and then we lose back-to-back home games, which slows you down.”
Chuck Kobasew and Martin Havlat also scored for the Wild, while Patrick Sharp and Troy Brouwer had goals for the Chicago.
With 4:33 left the Blackhawks got an apparent goal from Jonathan Toews that would have pulled them within one, but officials ruled the net had been knocked off its mooring before the puck crossed the line. But a replay showed that the puck went in before the net was knocked loose, drawing an angry reaction from the Blackhawks and the crowd at the United Center where some fans began chanting a profanity in protest.
“Obviously, we disagreed with the call,” Toews, the Blackhawks’ captain, said. “He (the official) said he blew the whistle. I don’t know why he blew it so fast. We should get the benefit of the doubt, but I guess he lost sight of it faster than usual.”
Still, Toews said there was no excuse for the loss.
“In the big picture, we didn’t work hard enough for it. We had a lot of chances. … It’s the type of game where we can’t believe we don’t get two points. We had a lot of energy in the first period and didn’t keep it going,” he said.
Kobasew tied the game early in the second when he directed the puck between Crawford’s legs from in front of the goal after a shot from Jared Spurgeon hit both of the goalie’s pads.
Havlat, the former Blackhawk who was added to the all-star game as an injury replacement Tuesday, wasted little time in burning his former team. He took a crossing pass from Kyle Broadziak after a Chicago turnover, gathered it off the boards and rifled a high shot from the right circle over Crawford’s glove just 1:47 into the game.
“It was great news today and even better with the win tonight,” Havlat said. “We knew it was a very important game and with a win could be right behind them. I’m happy we got the two points. They were huge.”
Chicago has 56 points to 55 for the Wild in the very competitive Western Conference.
Sharp scored on the power play from the near left side—his 26th goal, one more than the all-star had all of last season, to tie it1-1.
Brouwer came back a short time later and shovelled a puck around defenceman Greg Zanon—who had his back turned—and into the net to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead
Notes: Chicago’s Marian Hossa was a scratch because he was not feeling well. He missed the morning skate. … The Blackhawks don’t play at the United Center again until Feb. 16, when Minnesota returns. Chicago has a six-game road trip after the all-star break, starting Feb. 1 against Columbus. The Wild’s next game is Feb. 1 at home against the Kings.