Turco and his new mates frustrate Wild in Chicago's 3-1 win
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
ST. PAUL, Minn. - You can get a decent facsimile of a Chicago hot dog just down the street from the Minnesota Wild's home rink, and many Twin Cities outlets boast Chicago-style pizza. On Saturday night, Minnesota hockey fans got to see the 2010-11 version of Chicago-style hockey.
A considerable contingent of folks with red hockey sweaters sporting a proudly politically-incorrect Indian head on the front helped give the Wild its second home sellout. And their team, the Chicago Blackhawks, handed the Wild its third home loss, scoring late in the second period and early in the third en route to a 3-1 win.
Despite a strong start by the Wild, Chicago weathered the onslaught, and then capitalized on just enough defensive mistakes to claim the first of four meetings between these teams this season.
There was plenty of emotion on both benches, and a spirited response from the fans of both trams. The large contingent rooting for Chicago - no idea if they were transplants from Illinois, tourists here for the weekend, or the typical bandwagon-jumping horde that always follows the most recent Stanley Cup winner - gave it a feel akin to Packer-Viking games at the Metrodome, where there's a more-than-audible response to the road team scoring.
"Suddenly, when you're defending Stanley Cup champs, it's easy to go barn-to-barn," said Wild forward John Madden. A member of the Blackhawks last season when Chicago captured its first NHL title since before the Cuban Missle Crisis, Madden had a front row seat for the club's transition from being the forgotten bunch among Chicago sports fans to suddenly being the league's most popular draw on the road.
And on the road, specifically in Minnesota, is where new Blackhawks goaltender Marty Turco seems to do his best work. That was particularly evident this weekend, after Turco was lifted from a 7-4 home loss to Edmonton on Friday, but rebounded to stop all but one of the Wild's 26 shots on Saturday. The former Michigan standout is now 6-2-1 all-time at Xcel Energy Center, with all but one of those wins coming as a member of the Dallas Stars. It's Turco's aggressive style of play, handling loose pucks and using his stick to disrupt the opponents' offense, which was most effective on Saturday.
"He made saves when he had to," Wild coach Todd Richards said. "The other thing was he nullified our forecheck. We didn't put pucks into the right areas and he was able to get to too many pucks. He's so good he's like a defenseman coming out and playing it."
For a game that was scoreless for the first 39 minutes, there was surprisingly up-tempo hockey to be had for much of the night. The Wild matched Chicago nearly shot-for-shot in the first period and had plenty of chances to take an early lead, if not for Turco's work.
"We misfired on a few opportunities, especially early in the game," said Madden, who also toiled for the maize and blue as a collegian. "There were some point-blankers where he just put the pillows together and hung in there and it hit him. We have to be more selective with our shooting."
Shot selection, and who will take those shots, is a bigger issue for the Wild this week, with key offensive cogs like Guillaume Latendresse and Antti Miettinen still out of the lineup due to injury. That forced Richards to shorten his bench late in the game, using six or seven players more often, and moving forward Matt Cullen to defense in hopes he could bury a shot from the blue line, or at least get the puck in front of Turco to play for rebounds.
Of course, Chicago had health issues of its own, as star forward Marian Hossa is expected to miss a few weeks with what the Blackhawks are calling a "upper body injury." Hossa's replacement, at least for one night, was ex-Gopher Ryan Potulny, who played 10 minutes and had one shot on Niklas Backstrom, after being recalled from Chicago's farm team in Rockford, Ill., earlier in the day.
Backstrom had 29 saves, was aided mightily by a forgiving goalpost on a few occasions, and drew raves from his coach after the loss.
"One of the best performances I've seen from our goalie, probably in a year and 10 games," Richards said. "I thought Nik was great, kept us in the game, gave us an opportunity to get a point or two points."
But there were just enough lapses to doom the Wild, which was clearly unable to build momentum after beating the powerful Capitals on Thursday. The schedule doesn't get any easier this week, with the San Jose Sharks - beaten by the Blackhawks in last spring's Western Conference Finals - in St. Paul on Tuesday.