By Brad Vandenberk
The Chicago Blackhawks welcomed divisional rival Minnesota Wild into the United Center on Tuesday night. It was their first match since the Hawks dismissed Minnesota from the playoffs last year. Earlier in the morning it was announced that Duncan Keith would miss this game with an illness. With the mumps being all over the NHL, it has yet to be determined what Keith is going through. Antti Raanta was between the pipes for this one with Niklas Backstrom taking the visitors crease.
The Hawks relied on their big guns to take this one. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook and Ben Smith all scored as the Hawks grinded out a 5-3 victory. Originally David Rundblad was in Keith place, but that was quickly changed before the second period even started, as the defensive pairings changed.
Toews and crew started the pace early with Brandon Saad and Hossa gaining the zone with speed and getting to Backstrom. On the other end of the ice, the new D pairings seem to be on different pages when Johnny Oduya gives up a loose puck to Kyle Brodziak who beats Raanta but doesn’t beat the post. It was now time for Brad Richards and his line to generate some chances. Both Kane and Kris Versteeg looked like they had been shot out of a cannon. Raanta then comes out to challenge a wide open Mikael Granlund in front of the net. Tim Erixon gets in on the action sending a shot from the point that Backstrom stops. The Wild draw first blood when Granlund finds a wide open Thomas Vanek who wires a shot past Raanta 1-0. At the 1:36 mark of the period, Patrick Sharp makes his way to the box for interference knocking Erik Haula down. The period ends with each team getting 9 shots a piece.
The second period started with the Wild having 24 seconds of power play time. As the penalty expires Raanta takes a puck high off the mask, stinging him but he stayed in the game. Nate Prosser gets his elbow up on Andrew Shaw as he tries to finish a check. Shaw’s helmet flies off and Prosser heads to the box for roughing, Shaw heads to the room for examination. Brett Sutter throws Versteeg into the net, sending it off and no call was made. Versteeg enters the zone and waits to find Brent Seabrook who fires a shot top shelf tying the game at 1. Erixon is the next victim to receive a penalty, this time for slashing. Raanta and the Hawks league leading penalty kill, make short work of the Wild’s man advantage. Shaw does return to the bench for the Hawks about 5-6 minutes after taking the elbow. Toews then stands pat in his office behind the net and spots Hossa who beats Backstrom through the five whole giving the Hawks their first lead of the game 2-1. The D pairings begin to change as Oduya is now paired with Seabrook. Toews shows his two way play stripping a puck in the Wild zone and dishing to a wide open Ben Smith in front of the net. Smith gets 3 chances at it before Toews slides it past the line 3-1. The Wild do provide a late push but Raanta makes the saves and the period ends with the Hawks outshooting the Wild 21-8.
The Wild come out flying to open the final period. Marcus Kruger gets called just 27 seconds into the period for holding. The Hawks remain perfect killing the penalty. Raanta makes a great save coming out to stop a Jason Pominville shot. At this stage the D pairings are Seabrook/ Oduya, Rozsival / Hjalmarsson, Rundblad / Erixon. Rundblad pinches, forcing Hossa to hustle back and make a great defensive play which was later deemed a penalty shot. Nino Niederreiter showcases a nifty backhand putting it over Raanta and getting the Wild to within one 3-2. The Wild keep coming. Marco Scandella puts a shot on net and Jason Zucker provides a screen on Raanta and the score is tied at 3 with 9:57 left in the period. Brett Sutter gives the Hawks a power play hooking Rundblad. There is a lot of movement on the power play but to no avail. Moments later, the Hawks get another penalty as Haula chases Kane down hooking him under the arm. Kane tries to find Patrick Sharp in the slot but ends up putting the puck off Wild defender Jonas Brodin and past Backstrom 4-3. Wild pull their goalie and Ben Smith buries the empty netter as the Hawks claim there 10 victory in 11 games 5-3.
-After the game the Hawks re-assigned Scott Darling to AHL-Rockford. Corey Crawford (left ankle sprain) is thus likely to be between the pipes when the Hawks return to action on Saturday night in Columbus.
-Hawks outshot the Wild 39-29.
-Hawks go 1/3 on the power play with the Wild posting 0/3.
-Hjalmarsson led all Hawks in TOI with 23:48. Seabrook was right behind him with 23:06. Carcillo only had 8:05.
-Toews was 71% in the faceoff dot, Richards 55%, Shaw 0%, and Kruger 67%.
-Keith missed only his 5th game since the recent NHL lockout. His void was hard to fill with Coach Q basically working with 4 defensemen all game.
-The Hawks are now off until Saturday when they make a trip to Columbus to play recently traded Jeremy Morin.
-Quenneville mixed up the defense pairs after the first period. Oduya spent a lot of time with his PK-partner, Seabrook. Hjalmarsson moved over to the left to play with Rozsival and newcomer Tim Erixon skated alongside Rundblad.
Saad Toews Hossa Rundblad Seabrook
Versteeg Richards Kane Oduya Hjalmarsson
Bickell Shaw Sharp Erixon Rozsival
Carcillo Kruger Smith