There have been five or six games this season that Minnesota Wild players and fans alike can point to and say, "That was a huge turning point in the season." Without a doubt, one that would garner repeated mentions was the Wild’s 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on January 25. Wrapping up a four-game road trip before the All-Star break, the Wild went into the United Center and quickly struck with a Martin Havlat goal. From there, the defending Stanley Cup champions sent wave after wave of offensive pressure into the Wild zone, and quickly grabbed the lead with two goals. It appeared to be a lost cause, but Niklas Backstrom came up with huge saves to keep the deficit at one through 20 minutes. The Wild regrouped and then went toe-to-toe with the high-powered Hawks and left with a solid 4-2 victory.
Had the Wild stumbled in the following games, that contest wouldn’t have mattered much. But Minnesota seemed to develop a confidence after that victory that they could play with any team in any building. It started a stretch of six wins in seven games.
But last night, the Wild ran over a speed bump at home against the Vancouver Canucks. Despite allowing just 14 shots on goal, the Wild fell by a 4-1 score. Cal Clutterbuck tallied his team-leading 18th of the season in the first period. Niklas Backstrom took the loss in net, allowing three goals on 13 shots.
The Blackhawks have been idle since a Friday night game in Phoenix, where they fell in a shootout for the second night in a row. Trailing 2-0, Troy Brouwer and Duncan Keith scored goals to force overtime, but nobody could convert in the shootout. Corey Crawford took the loss in a 23-save effort.
Wild at Blackhawks will be broadcast nationally in high definition on Versus at 7:00 PM. The game can be heard on WCCO 830 AM, or online at Wild.com.
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Don’t make the mistake of showing up to tonight’s game late. There are few experiences in sports that can match listening to Jim Cornelison belt out the national anthem with 20,000 people cheering wildly.
The Wild’s win in Chicago was a good example of what the Blackhawks are facing every night. Teams are going to bring their best against the defending Cup champs, just like the Wild did on that January night.
But it’s still puzzling to look at the Hawk roster and then the standings. It’s not as if Chicago has been decimated by injuries to its stars with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith missing a combined12 games. But the Hawks need more from others on the team, including Marian Hossa, who impressed last year with 24 goals in 57 games, but has just 12 through 39 games this season in another injury-plagued season.
With his ridiculous wrist shot goal from along the goal line last night, Clutterbuck pushed his career-high total to 18, with plenty more to come. It was Clutter’s fourth goal in the last three games, and his fifth point (4-1=5) in the last four.
With three separate three-game win streaks over the last month, the Wild has been able to avoid consecutive losses since a three-game skid from January 9 through 14. The key to the Wild’s climb up the standings has been the ability to avoid those clumps of losses, and tonight will be a huge test with the club playing the second of back-to-back games.
Jared Spurgeon earned a full-time starting role with the Wild after being recalled from Houston and surprising everybody with his smart, mistake-free game. Now, he’s continuing his campaign to remain in the lineup for the rest of the season and beyond with his contributions in the offensive zone. He’s picked up an assist in two of the last three games, but the most impressive stat is the Wild’s record with him in the lineup. Minnesota is 16-9-2 when Spurgeon plays, and 14-12-3 when he’s out of the lineup.