The Minnesota Wild have proven a foil to the Blackhawks lately. Whether it’s been indoors or outdoors, the blowout victory of the come-from-behind variety, the Wild have stymied the Blackhawks in all of their regular-season outings the past season and a half.
Now, they meet again on Wednesday night. Is this a measurement-stick game? Maybe. A critical game? Certainly. The Blackhawks’ biggest test is on this road trip right in front of them. And if the Blackhawks want to get back atop the Western Conference standings, they have to beat them.
“It’s not, you have to catch them or it’s a failure,” Brian Campbell said. “But our goal is to make the playoffs and have the highest seed possible, so to get that we’re going to have to catch Minnesota.”
The Blackhawks trail the Wild, who beat the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night, by six points entering Wednesday night's game. The Wild haven't had many hiccups lately, winning seven of their last 10. The Blackhawks know the Wild have set the new standard and they have to play their best hockey to measure up to it.
“If we look back to the week where we played these guys and Washington a few nights before that, everyone was talking about those being some pretty big tests and we didn’t really answer the call at that time,” Jonathan Toews said. “It wasn’t our best, the way we were playing. The way we’re playing on the road right now going into [Wednesday’s] game, we can really get excited for this game and try to redeem ourselves with a solid road effort.”
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You could compare the Wild’s current roll with the one they had in the second half of the 2014-15 season, but this Minnesota team seems different. As coach Joel Quenneville said, these Wild are deeper and, “have more balance up front. Four lines that are looking like they could score and make plays and are trying to score more.”
“They have balance, a back end and are strong in the net. We’re having trouble beating them in the regular season,” Quenneville said. “It’s a huge game for us, probably at this stage, for sure, our most important game. You want to finish first, you want to win as often as possible, you want to push the team ahead of you if you’re not there. but certainly there’s a gap there we’re looking to close.”
The Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss to the Wild on Jan. 15, a game they led 2-0 before Minnesota came back, apparently has stuck in the craw of some players.
“I think a lot of the guys still feel bad about that last game, so we’ll be pumped to play them,” Dennis Rasmussen said. “It’s a big game for us. We want to be first in the division and we want to get [one] back for the last time.”
Despite the Blackhawks’ recent up and downs and the Wild’s consistent play, the gap between the two isn’t so big. It’s certainly not insurmountable. The Wild have set the regular-season benchmark. The Blackhawks want to match it.
“You look across the league, [teams like] Columbus, Washington and Minnesota that get on those hot streaks and eventually they set the new standard where they have a ton of confidence and, even when they’re not playing so well, they’re finding ways to win,” Toews said. “Obviously they’re a tough team to beat right now, so that’s something we’ll be ready for.”