West Side Glory: Wild completes a pre-break comeback in Chicago
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When your early lead is gone, and you find yourself trailing inside the home rink of the defending Stanley Cup champs, and you've got less than 40 minutes of hockey left before the end of a long road trip, with a week-long break coming up, it would be natural to pack it in and head home.
But again on Tuesday night, the Minnesota Wild proved that there's little - good or bad - that's coming naturally this season.
In the final game before the All-Star break, the Wild rallied for a 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, turning in a 3-1 record on their road trip, and again moving to within a point of a playoff spot. Now there is a week off to be had for all but two members of the team (All-Stars Brent Burns and Martin Havlat have more hockey to play), which continued its recent trend of competitive hockey away from St. Paul.
"We've been talking for the past month about the feeling in the locker room and the feeling among the guys. There's definitely a confidence," Wild coach Todd Richards said, after his team bounced back from Saturday night's loss to the Sharks. "You come into a tough building in tough circumstances, having lost in San Jose, playing a tough opponent...and we found a way to win the game."
Again, three proved to be a magic number for the Wild, which is all but unbeatable when putting three or more goals on the scoreboard. It's been a month of stunning turnaround. The team ended 2010 with a humiliating home loss to Nashville, and with top goalie Niklas Backstrom needing to see a specialist for nagging hip trouble. On Tuesday, Backstrom stopped 31 Blackhawks shots at the team improved to 8-4-0 in January.
Still, all of that good momentum looked to be in jeopardy when Havlat's early goal to produce a lead versus the team that let him leave two summers ago disappeared quickly. The Blackhawks led 2-1, and killed off a 5-on-3 Wild power play. But the visitors refused to fold.
"We didn't change anything," Richards said after his team scored all four goals at even strength. "We just went in and talked more about competing and being more physical. What I mean by physical is too many stick checks, and they've got too many talented players over there. They'll skate right around you. There was more of a commitment there."
After traveling from the frozen expanses of Alberta to the palm-treed sun of the Bay Area and back to the Midwest, the Wild headed home to Minnesota late Tuesday, knowing that a much needed break, and then a push for the playoffs, were the next items on the agenda.
"It was a great road trip," Richards said. "It really was."