ST. PAUL, Minn. – With a scoreless game quickly becoming a 2-0 deficit midway through the second period, most teams would lose their mental edge and fail to respond.
The Wild isn’t most teams, though.
The NHL-leading Wild lost on Wednesday night, 4-3 in a shootout to the visiting Chicago Blackhawks. But from the attitude on and reaction to the game displayed by head coach Mike Yeo and his players, one would have thought the Wild won.
“There’s a lot of things that I really like about this game,” said Yeo, who’s Wild currently sit atop the NHL standings with 44 points. “It sucks that we don’t get two points, but this is a win for me. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a win for our guys.”
After the second Blackhawks goal, the Wild’s bench got more vocal, more into the game. Minnesota had the game tied before the end of the middle period, and came out in the third with good energy and jump. The Wild had to come from behind to tie it in the final regulation period, too.
But battling back is nothing new for this Wild group, which has an unbelievable 12-6-1 record when surrendering the first goal. All year, the Wild has found themselves facing adversity – trailing in games, losing players to injury and inserting call-ups into the lineup all seem to happen each night with Minnesota.
“They get two quick goals, bang-bang like that, and you could tell the emotional level got raised on the bench after that,” forward Kyle Brodziak said. “It could be easy to ride it in and start thinking about the next one, but great job by the guys to stick with it. We got a valuable point out of it.”
Fighting tired legs after a five-game road trip, including a game less than 24 hours earlier in Winnipeg, the Wild was a bit off in the first period. Chicago held a 10-0 advantage in shots at one point in the opening 20, and a 11-2 total edge in shots on net for the period. When the Wild finally did get its first shot, the 19,254 in attendance gave the home team a sarcastic ovation.
Even with the sluggish start, backbone Niklas Backstrom and the Wild defense didn’t budge, limited quality scoring chances and got to the locker room with no damage done.
After the Blackhawks made it 2-0 on Marian Hossa and Michael Frolik goals just 90 seconds apart midway through the game, the Wild finally got it going.
Kyle Brodziak scored his 11th of the year on a controversial play to cut the lead in half at the 13-minute mark. Off a draw in the Minnesota end, the Wild threw the puck down the ice in what should have resulted in an icing call. However, the linesmen waived it off, allowing Nick Johnson gather the puck and feed Brodziak in the slot. He waited until Chicago goalie Ray Emery bit before firing a shot into the open net.
Two minutes, 31 seconds later, Matt Cullen, who took an unsportsmanlike penalty in the second period cost the Wild when Hossa scored, knotted the game at two. Coming down on a two-on-one with Cal Clutterbuck, Cullen batted home a loose puck for his ninth marker of the year.
“We’re depleted as it is,” said Yeo, referring to the injuries and short bench the Wild had on Wednesday. “To fall down 2-0 at the point in the game, to battle back and get a point and give ourselves a chance to win – we had a number of chances to win the game – I was really, really impressed with our guys.”
The teams traded goals in the final period, with Toews scoring for Chicago and Mikko Koivu scoring for the Wild. Toews scored again the shootout, as did teammate Patrick Kane, to give the Blackhawks the extra point in a fitting ending to a game between the top-two teams in the Western Conference.
“Second night of a pretty grueling back-to-back, we got a point, could of easily got two. We’ll regroup for the next time we play,” Clutterbuck said.
Minnesota will now have two days off before playing the New York Islanders on Saturday in the final game of a quick two-game homestand.