Myers: Wild find late spark, reverse losing trend against Blackhawks
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Six months removed from winning their most recent Stanley Cup, the Chicago Blackhawks are still an incredibly deep and dangerous team. They proved as much on Thursday before 18,000 or so that had come in from the cold, turning a 2-0 Minnesota Wild lead into a 3-2 advantage for the visitors in a matter of minutes.
At one point in the final stanza, Chicago had two shots on goal in the third, and both had gone in the net. With less than six minutes left, there was a quietly resigned air of "here we go again" among Wild fans who had seen their team throw everything it had at the Hawks last spring in the playoffs, to no avail.
Then a funny, and noisy, thing happened. The Wild won.
A power play goal by Jonas Brodin, which deflected off Chicago's Johnny Oduya en route to the back of the net was followed a few minutes later by a seeing-eye shot from Marco Scandella. The Wild defenseman who last scored on Feb. 1 last season unleashed a hard shot from the blue line that seemed to take a magic bullet-like route past Chicago goalie Corey Crawford.
And just like that (after a frantic final 90 seconds when the Blackhawks pressed with Crawford on the bench) the Wild had avenged their worst home loss of the season -- a 5-1 pasting at the hands of Chicago in late October.
In the span of a little more than one period, the Wild went from a sure win (up 2-0 at home) to a sure loss (down by a goal, late, to the defending Cup champs), to a sure overtime/shootout (tied 3-3 with less than two minutes left - when both teams usually go into a shell to get at least a point for taking the game beyond regulation), to a win. Even after it was over, the Wild still seemed somewhat disbelieving and wary of Chicago.
"You're not going to play perfect against that team," coach Mike Yeo said. "They've got a boatload of skill, and they find ways to make plays, but I thought that we did a really good job of limiting them, containing them, keeping them to the outside for the most part."
It all seemed to be going so well early. Matt Cooke scored in the first period - something the Wild hadn't done in the previous six games. Zach Parise scored on a second period power play, putting the Wild up 2-0, which is a huge lead in the NHL, and also widely regarded as the worst lead in hockey.
But in the final seconds of the second period, the Blackhawks got on the board. And the opening seconds of the third, they scored again, and just like that, it was tied.
"Obviously that goal at the end of the second period sure gave them some life, and they came out and capitalized right off the hop," Yeo said. "But there were a few minutes there where we weren't on top of our game or at our very best but other than that we were very solid tonight. I thought we were very good."
For the Blackhawks, who have suddenly lost two in a row, and both were games that they felt they should've won, they were left scratching their heads a bit. Coughing up leads is something this collection of talent has just not done recently.
"We had the momentum but it was one of those games where the momentum turned quickly in their favor," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "We're still tied, let's get it to overtime and see what happens, but they got the break and we got nothing."
Yeo's first Wild team, which was leading the NHL at this time of year in 2011 and managed to miss the playoffs, got everyone excited then collapsed. The additions of Parise and Ryan Suter since then, among other changes, mean that this is a very different squad. And the freshness of those painful memories mean that no realistic Wild fan is going to get too excited about a win, even one this exciting, when there is still edible leftover Thanksgiving turkey in the fridge.
But the record shows that in this ridiculously difficult Western Conference race, the Wild are in the thick of things, and versus the Blackhawks they're now 2-1-0 this season. It's a start.