ST. PAUL, Minn. – Patrick Lalime certainly deserves a lot of credit if the Chicago Blackhawks claim the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Lalime, who has taken over as the No. 1 goalie in place of an injured Nikolai Khabibulin, stopped 28 shots for his 14th win, and Jason Williams had a goal and an assist as the Blackhawks snapped the Minnesota Wild’s three-game winning streak with a 4-2 victory Tuesday night.
“As I said to you guys a month ago, he’s saved our season,” Blackhawks coach Denis Savard said of Lalime.
On Tuesday, he frustrated the Wild early.
“Their goalie stood up for those guys and played great,” Wild winger Pavol Demitra said. “He stole easily like five goals from us, especially the first 20 minutes.”
Dustin Byfuglien, Duncan Keith and Craig Adams scored for Chicago, which got its eighth win in 11 games and first in Minnesota since March 29, 2002. The Blackhawks entered Tuesday six points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and take on conference foes Anaheim on Wednesday and San Jose on Friday.
“Every game is big for us now,” Lalime said. “This time of year, we’re very fortunate that we’ve put together a little streak here.”
Demitra and Stephane Veilleux had goals for Minnesota, which had won three straight after losing its previous four.
The Wild came out strong as Marian Gaborik stopped on a dime and passed to Demitra, who scored early in the first period to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead.
Wild coach Jacques Lemaire cited his team’s lack of success on the power play (0-for-4) as the main reason it failed to notch more goals.
“Power play is probably the reason why we lost,” he said. “We moved the puck well, but we stayed to the outside. We’ve got to get pucks at the net and we’ve got to get there.”
A fluke Blackhawks goal halted the Wild’s momentum only 25 seconds after Demitra’s goal. Willams’ centring pass ricocheted off Minnesota’s Eric Belanger and past a surprised Niklas Backstrom to tie it.
Keith gave Chicago the lead at 7:40 of the second after a replay review made his goal count after it was initially waved off because of a high stick.
“They got two lucky goals. What are you going to do?” Belanger said. “Move on and play the next game.”
Minnesota never seemed to get back on track after that. Lalime denied the Wild’s best chance to regain control of the game when Demitra and Gaborik got free on a 2-0 breakaway with just over five minutes left in the second.
Demitra dropped a pass to the streaking Gaborik, and Lalime jabbed his left pad out to deny him.
“I just wanted to be in the best position that I could and wait until the last second,” Lalime said. “I had a good read on it, you know, when Demitra made the pass and I was just waiting for it.”
Byfuglien, a native of Roseau, Minn., took a pass from Williams and made it 3-1 on a power play early in the third.
“It’s the kids, you know, they won it,” Savard said. “They’re working together, skating together. I like what we are seeing.”
Veilleux cut it to 3-2 with 13 minutes left in the third, but Minnesota was unable to tie it.
Adams sealed it with an empty-netter with 15.2 seconds remaining.
Notes: Chicago rookie Jonathan Toews played despite needing 50 stitches under his nose and in his mouth after being hit by Vancouver’s Matt Pettinger on Sunday. Toews started the game wearing a metal face cage, but switched to a glass shield after the first period. … Defencemen Kurtis Foster (back) and Peterri Nummelin (groin) were both scratches for Minnesota. … Corey Crawford is expected to make his first start of the season in net for Chicago on Wednesday. … Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress watched from a private suite.