MINNEAPOLIS — It’s time for another outdoor game, another day filled with pomp and circumstance and yes, hockey.
But this game has a little bit more riding on it than some of the Blackhawks’ last few outdoor games. This one is also a divisional game, so as much as they and the Minnesota Wild will be taking in all the pageantry, they’ll also be focused on those critical two points.
The Blackhawks enter this Stadium Series game against the Wild in first place in the Central Division. The Dallas Stars remain one point back after a 7-3 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday night. With the division race so tight near the top, the Blackhawks want to maintain as much of an edge as possible.
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“It’s an important game for both teams,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “They’re coming off a great trip. We had an interesting week ourselves: big win in New York, trip to the White House and being on this stage is a privilege. But at the end of the day you have to be playing for keeps. You want to have fun in this setting, and you have more fun by playing the right way.”
The Blackhawks have played the right way more in recent games. Their power play has fueled them to two consecutive victories and they’re looking to maintain solid play down the stretch.
The Wild, however, are in a very different situation. Much like last season, the Wild struggled out of the gate. Unlike last season, it didn’t experience a great turnaround in mid-January. Minnesota is trying to get things going now — the Wild have won three in a row since replacing coach Mike Yeo with interim coach John Torchetti. But even if the Wild go on a great run it could be too little too late. They are currently in sixth place in the Central Division with 62 points.
This weekend is a big one for the Wild with this Stadium Series game, the first one Minnesota has hosted. But the Wild know they can’t get caught up in the entertainment part of the event.
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“We know they’re a good team and we’ve played them a lot,” Justin Fontaine said. “We’re familiar with each other, and we know what we need to bring to beat them.”
There will be plenty of fun surrounding this weekend but division points are also on the line. The Blackhawks have been here, done this before when it comes to the outdoor game. They’re going to be facing a hungry Wild team that’s trying, once again, for a late-season turnaround and trip to the playoffs. They know where their focus has to be.
“It looks like they’re motivated and they have some confidence back in their game,” Corey Crawford said. “They almost had the same sort of streak last year. I don’t know if it was as bad, but they were able to come back and play strong and get into the playoffs. It almost seems like the same scenario this year. But we have to be ready for them. They’re a well-rounded team that may have just lost their way a little bit there.”