The Wild started fast and never stopped on an overcast Sunday afternoon at Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium, delivering a 6–1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL’s latest installment of the outdoor Stadium Series.
In front of a crowd of 50,426 at the home of the University of Minnesota football program, defenseman Matt Dumba got the hometown fans on their feet early, crashing the net to bury a rebound behind Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford just 3:25 after the opening face-off.
The afternoon did not get better for the Chicago netminder, who was pulled after two periods, having given up goals to Thomas Vanek, Nino Neiderreiter and Jason Pominville. Ryan Carter added a third-period tally against backup Scott Darling, and Erik Haula finished off the scoring with an empty-net goal after being pulled down on a breakaway with 6:11 remaining.
For Chicago, Patrick Kane was the only player to break through against Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, who stopped 31 shots in Minnesota’s fourth straight win.
Some thoughts from the game (highlights):
Don’t count them out just yet
A week ago, it was easy to point at the Wild and call them dead in the water. It’s no secret why: They had gone 3-12-4 since the calendar flipped to 2016, scoring only 37 goals during that stretch (2.17 per game). While their offense dried up, their veteran leaders weren’t shy in voicing their concern about how the team was being run as Minnesota cannonballed toward a head start on the off-season. Even former Wild players were calling for a change, and i led to coach Mike Yeo’s dismissal on Feb. 13.
With interim coach John Torchetti behind the bench, the Wild reeled off important wins against Western Conference foes Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton before demolishing the Blackhawks. They’ve scored at least five goals in each of those games, and it seems that everyone is enjoying the renaissance:
Minnesota is now just one point out of the West’s second wild card slot and will need to keep up the pace to stay in contention in what will be a fight to the finish. While the problems in Minnesota go deeper than a simple change of ideology behind the bench, it has been a welcome kickstart to a sputtering season.
— Michael Blinn
GALLERY: A look back at every NHL outdoor game
Hawks’ stretch run about consistency
With Sunday’s decisive loss, Chicago’s record in outdoor games fell to 1-3, but this was not due to a curse from the hockey gods.
The Blackhawks have been as streaky as they come during their last 10 games, racking up a three-game win streak and a three-game losing skid en route to a 5-4-1 record in that span. While their recent play has not been as dominant as usual, they’re still sitting atop the Western Conference standings while playing in the toughest division in the league. Despite falling to a streaking Minnesota team that has once again found its stride, the loss is more of a hiccup in a season that will see the Hawks once again clinch a playoff spot, though a few too many hiccups the rest of the way could mean the difference between a top seed in the West or ceding home ice to Dallas or St. Louis in the opening rounds.
Most teams experience rough patches at some point during the season, and the Blackhawks aren’t immune, but there’s no need to hit the panic button as Chicago is poised for yet another Cup run this spring.
Many of their remaining 20 games will be about balance, as they play half at the United Center in Chicago, where they have a 22-7-2 record, and the remaining 10 in other teams’ barns, where they have been a bit more human with a 16-12-3 mark.
- Mark Garbino
When a bad hit isn’t actually a bad hit
At 15:14 of the second period, Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for a head shot on Wild forward Jason Zucker.
The only problem is, there wasn’t any head shot.
Maybe this won’t be among the most popular of opinions, but when is enough enough? What else is Rozsival supposed to do? He sees the player, the puck is in the neighborhood and he steps up. His hands are down, his elbow is tucked in. The upper chest is the principal point of contact, Zucker’s head hits the ice on the way down. There is absolutely no head shot.
Zucker was listed as day-to-day following the game.
Was the hit a little late? Maybe. Give Rozsival two minutes, end of story. A five-minute major, game misconduct and possible suspension on the table? All of it is a knee-jerk reaction to the player not getting up. Yes, all that “old-time hockey” talk is ridiculous when it comes to the league trying to eradicate dangerous hits from the game, but if this is the sort of hit the NHL is cracking down on, we all have to take a long look at what this sport is becoming.
— Dan Marrazza