The Chicago Blackhawks traveled to St. Paul, Minnesota, to take on their Central Division rival Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center on Thursday in the front end of a home-and-home series to close out the preseason. Six days before their first regular season contest, the Blackhawks’ roster appears nearly finalized except for the bottom six and a spot or two on defense. For this game, many of the team’s regulars received the night off, including Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Seth Jones and Marc Andre-Fleury, among others.
The Wild were playing their second game in as many nights on home ice following a 4–3 win in overtime against the St. Louis Blues.
At 7:13 of the opening frame while Calvin De Haan was serving a minor penalty for tripping, the Wild needed just seven seconds of power play time to take a 1–0 lead and continue the Blackhawks’ struggles on the penalty kill. A face-off win by the Wild led to a soft shot by Mats Zuccarello from the slot, which Kevin Lankinen stopped, but Joel Eriksson Ek was alone on the doorstep and buried the rebound.
The Hawks were fortunate to be down 1–0 after one period thanks to Lankinen, who was strong out of the gate. The Wild outplayed and outshot the Hawks 12–8, with most of them being high-quality chances.
The Blackhawks came out of the locker room and tilted the ice their way for the first half of the second period. Strong work in the neutral zone led to turnovers and multiple scoring opportunities off the rush. With Connor Murphy in the penalty box for slashing, Lankinen continued his stellar play and kept his team within a goal with four saves on one sequence during a Wild power play that the Hawks would eventually kill off. Lankinen also stopped Marcus Foligno on a breakaway in the final minute of the period.
After two, the Wild still led the Blackhawks 1–0. The Hawks had a 9–8 shots on goal advantage for the period, but the Wild still led in that department 20–17 through two.
After several scoring chances to open the period, the Blackhawks went on the power play at nearly the five-minute mark when Jared Spurgeon was guilty of tripping MacKenzie Entwistle on a great effort to retrieve the puck from the boards and drive to the net. On the ensuing power play, Kirby Dach made a slap pass from the high left circle to Dylan Strome, who had good positioning on Cam Talbot’s right side and deflected the puck in for the equalizer.
The game remained tied for just 88 seconds, as Kirill Kaprizov shot one from the point, which led to a mad scramble in front and the puck dribbled to the right of Lankinen, where a pinching Alex Goligoski jumped on the rebound to give the Wild a 2–1 lead.
At 13:29, the Blackhawks tied it when Brandon Hagel scored on a penalty shot, faking out Talbot to create a wide-open net for the equalizer. The penalty shot was drawn after Henrik Borgstrom made a perfect pass from just outside the blue line to spring Hagel in alone and was hooked by the Wild’s Matt Dumba after deking Talbot.
With 20.2 seconds left in regulation, former Blackhawk Ryan Hartman was sent to the penalty box for a high sticking minor. The Hawks nearly took the lead with 6.9 seconds left when Adam Gaudette’s wide-open rebound in the slot was backhanded over the net and out of play. The Blackhawks outshot the Wild 12–10 for the period, but Minnesota held a 30–29 edge in regulation.
The Hawks began the extra frame with 100 seconds of power play time and nearly won it with the 4-on-3 advantage when Kirby Dach skated to the left of Talbot and floated the puck in between the net and the fallen Wild goaltender to create a yawning cage for Strome, who fanned on the shot then the puck missed the outstretched stick of Jacob Galvas in the slot.
At 2:34, Dumba buried the only registered shot during the extra session with a wrister from the top of the circle that went to the high glove side of Lankinen for the game winner.
Analysis: The good, the bad and the ugly
The good: Kevin Lankinen was brilliant in this contest, as he single-handedly kept the Blackhawks in the game the entire night. He looked much more confident by challenging shooters, however, I would like to see him continue to improve in rebound control.
Jakub Galvas continued to be one of training camp’s biggest surprises. He played over 14 solid minutes and notched an assist on Dylan Strome’s power play goal. He skates well with the puck and appears to have a solid hockey IQ.
Okay, I confess. Strome played really well in this game, which he needed to do if he wanted any chance to start the season in Chicago. In addition to his goal, Strome was strong in the dot winning nine of 15 face-offs.
Henrik Borgstrom had another strong game. His creativity with the puck was on display on numerous occasions playing on the wing alongside Kirby Dach and Brandon Hagel.
Speaking of that Hagel fella, I think we have run out of ways to describe the value he brings to the Hawks every night. The guy can simply do everything and can play up and down the lineup.
The bad: The pair of Jake McCabe and Connor Murphy had a rough night defensively. They gave up a ton of high-quality scoring chances and had trouble defending the Wild’s top line of Joel Eriksson Ek, Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello. Perhaps it is just a matter of building chemistry with each other, but time will tell.
The ugly: That darn penalty kill, which gave up a goal just seven seconds into a man advantage for the Wild. At that time, the Hawks had only killed one of their last six shorthanded opportunities. On the positive side, the Hawks took one more minor penalty for the game, which they killed off. I guess it is something to build on.
The Blackhawks return to the United Center on Saturday night to face the Wild in their final preseason game. Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. CDT and will be broadcast on NBCSCH and on WGN 720.