Jonathan Toews and the Wild killers, A.K.A. the Chicago Blackhawks, took a game away from Minnesota Tuesday night, bringing them within a few points of the Wild for the division and conference lead.
Minnesota hosted the Blackhawks in a game that contained a playoff-like atmosphere at the Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul. Chicago controlled the pace for most of the game and hit the Wild with a dagger late. Though Minnesota has a five-point lead in the standings and has played one game less than the Blackhawks, every game becomes more critical than the next, with only 21 games left to play for the Wild, and Chicago right on their tail.
Jonathan Toews and the first line of the Blackhawks dominated in their 5-3 victory over the Wild. The first period didn’t see any goal, but the goaltenders saw a lot of shots. Wild goaltender, Devan Dubnyk, saved 15 shots, while Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford saved 12.
Toews got the scoring started for both teams with a goal just 58 seconds into the second period. With Toews breaking into the scoring column, it put the Wild back on their heels early in the period. The Wild were able to tie up the game however with a power play goal by Mikael Granlund, assisted by Nino Niederreiter and Mikko Koivu.
The Blackhawks had an immediate answer for the Wild, scoring less than a minute later on a goal by forward Richard Panik and assisted by Toews. Chicago took their 2-1 lead into the third and pushed their lead to 3-1 on a goal from forward Nick Schmaltz just 33 seconds into the third period. Assisting on the play was Toews for his third point of the night.
With their backs firmly against the wall, Minnesota had limited time to pose a comeback. Then at the 6:41 mark of the third, Minnesota’s Zach Parise scored his 14th goal of the season bringing the game within a goal. Parise’s goal re-energized the crowd, but the Blackhawks continued to have answers. Minutes after Parise’s goal, Toews scored his second goal of the night, silencing the home crowd.
Minnesota had little to no answer for Chicago’s first line all game, and to add insult to injury, Toews score his third goal of the game for the hat trick on an empty-netter. Toews finished with five points for the night. In the division series between the Blackhawks and the Wild, Chicago has taken two out of three games. The games have been tight, however, with Chicago only outscoring Minnesota 11-9. The Wild just haven’t been able to get the better of the Blackhawks yet and with playoffs looming, maintaining possession of the first seed in the west is of the utmost importance.
The last thing the Wild want is to meet the Blackhawks in the playoffs in a round earlier than intended. If the season ended today and playoffs started in a few short days, the Wild would face the eighth seeded Calgary Flames, who have swept the Wild in their three matchups this season. The second seeded Blackhawks would face the St. Louis Blues in a Central Division series.