The days of the Minnesota Wild being a snoozer of a contest for the Chicago Blackhawks are long gone. The specific date that this changed is unclear, but we'll just pretend that the turnaround point for the club that the Hawks hosted at the United Center was against these very Blackhawks last spring in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A serious contender in the Western Conference, even with their goaltending issues, the Wild have the potential to cause a lot of problems for the Hawks in a lengthy series.
The first period didn't bring about the most excitement, presenting the fear of the contests of old between these two teams. The lone goal in the opening frame came on a Thomas Vanek goal in which he was left alone in the crease, leaving Antti Raanta completely out to dry. Raanta was decent enough in the first period, in addition to continuing to have a rather large horseshoe jammed up his backside, as the Wild did manage to connect with the post on more than one occasion throughout this one.
Nonetheless, the Hawks came out firing in the second period. They rattled off 21 shots for the period, to just eight for the Wild, while connecting on three of them. Brent Seabrook evened things up just prior to the midway point of the period, before Marian Hossa took a feed from Jonathan Toews, in which he demonstrated that typical Toews patience, and slide it right underneath Niklas Backstrom for the go-ahead goal. About four minutes later, it was Toews to put the Hawks up by a pair, proving a real vulture after Ben Smith did the majority of the work (although he'd sort of get his in the end).
Things got a bit sketchy for the Blackhawks in the third period of this one. Nino Niederreiter was awarded a penalty shot and promptly undressed Antti Raanta, flipping a backhand shot up top shelf than any goaltender in the league would have had serious trouble stopping. Marco Scandella added the equalizer off of a slap shot with plenty of traffic in front of Raanta.
However, the Hawks would eventually prevail in the waning minutes. Patrick Kane was able to capitalize on a rough hooking call, in which he probably wasn't actually hooked, by throwing the puck in front of the net (presumably to try and get it across the crease to Patrick Sharp) and allowing it to magically deflect up into the net. Ben Smith made up for his early inability to capitalize on the Toews goal with the empty net tally to wrap this one up.
It was another strong effort from the Blackhawks, who just keep plowing right along. They've won eight straight at the Madhouse now and have taken 15 of their last 18 overall. It would appear that the majority of the folks hitting the panic button profusely when the Hawks were sitting in ninth at the beginning of November have stepped quite a ways away from it.
They'll next visit the Columbus Blue Jackets and the recently deceased Jeremy Morin. Onto the stars!
Three Stars of the Night
3. Brent Seabrook
Eh, what the hell. Let's throw ol' Nachos in here for a change. He played well tonight, was a plus-4 in Corsi +/- and a plus-10 in Fenwick. He scored the equalizer on a rocket off a shot off the feed from Kris Versteeg. Seabrook finished the night with three points, including the goal and a pair of assists, as well as blocking three shots. A solid night for a player who hasn't gotten nearly enough credit for how well he's played for the majority of the year.
2. Patrick Kane
It really feels like he should be much higher in the league than his standing in the game's top scorers actually indicates. Blame it on the slow start. He continues to be a superstar both in the goal-scoring department, as well as setting up those around him. He had an assist on the Brent Seabrook goal and was able to draw the penalty that led to the power play on which he would eventually score the game-winner, regardless of how it happened. He was a plus-4 in the Corsi +/- department, which was the fourth highest total on the team.
1. Jonathan Toews
What another absolutely outstanding game for the Captain. He led the team in Corsi +/-, with a plus-10 rating for the night in that department. He set up Marian Hossa's second period goal for his 15th helper of the season, before scoring one of his own just a few minutes later. He added his 16th assist on the Patrick Kane power play goal that would turn out to be the game-winner. He's playing at an extremely high level right now and that trio of Brandon Saad, Hossa, and Toews on the top line is an absolute force.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.