Deadline dead end: No big deals for the Wild, which falls 4-2
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Earlier in the day, when he opted to go without any big deadline deals to bolster his team's playoff roster, Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher stressed how well his team had played together recently, fighting back from a sluggish start to the season, battling through injuries and reaching a top-eight spot in the Western Conference, which would mean a trip to the playoffs.
"Change is not what we need," Fletcher said, prior to the Wild's on-ice meeting with the Chicago Blackhawks. "We need stability."
After the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks schooled the Wild to the tune of 4-2 on Monday, leapfrogging over the Wild in the playoff picture, stability may be elusive. The Wild now stands in eighth place in the conference, with no margin for further error and an important New York City trip looming later in the week.
The players seemed more in awe of Chicago, which is clearly not the same team that spent the summer parading Lord Stanley to Windy City haunts, but still possesses some of the most dangerous forwards in the game in linemates Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews. A face that Minnesota fans know well from his time at North Dakota, Toews had a goal and two assists as the Blackhawks ran their season-high win streak to five games.
"They've got a lot of skill up front and they showed that they can play hockey. It's nothing new," said Wild defenseman Brent Burns, who scored in the third period when the Wild briefly mounted a spirited comeback after trailing 3-0. For Burns, it was his career-best 16th goal of the season. "They have three guys on a line where you need to try to contain their time and space and some nights they're going to do that."
As for the players on the Wild roster, this is it. Fletcher said that there was not enough out there that was worth a trade, so the Wild heads into the playoff push as-is.
"We felt pretty comfortable in our room and we like the way we've been playing," Wild defenseman Greg Zanon said. "We thought maybe a move would've been made but it is what it is. This is what we've got, and we've got what we need in here."
Although it didn't look that way after 40 minutes on Monday, as Chicago scored a trio of goals in the second period, and the overflow sellout crowd serenaded the Wild with a rain of boos as the team headed to the locker room.
The third period rally began when Martin Havlat scored against his former team on a breakaway. On Monday the Chicago Tribune reported that Havlat had finally sold his lakefront condo in Chicago at a $90,000 loss, so perhaps his fire versus the Blackhawks stemmed from real estate-related bitterness.
Burns made it 3-2 with a gritty "go hard to the net" goal, and when the Blackhawks took a late penalty while the Wild peppered Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, it appeared that a tie game was inevitable. But the Wild power play, which has been a momentum-killer at times, failed again, and Toews set up Marian Hossa for a short-handed goal to end the drama.
"I thought we did some pretty good things on the kill," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought we had a little bit more aggression in the areas there and made a couple plays with the puck to cash in on our opportunity."
So with the trade deadline in the past and only a minor league move credited to the Wild, the team will go with what it's got, and hope for a speedy return to action for the likes of Mikko Koivu and Guillaume Latendresse. Although Fletcher admitted that he does not think Latendresse, who has missed most of the season after having a breakout year offensively in 2009-10, will back in the lineup this week.
"I think we have the team that can do it," Wild coach Todd Richards said. "As far as the acquisitions, as an organization you've got to think it through and make the right choices. Without question, in talking with Chuck (Fletcher), we made the right choices. Again, we feel the best acquisition we were going to get is the guys we already have."
The Wild travels east on Tuesday, and will face the New York Islanders Wednesday on Long Island.