ST. PAUL, Minn. – For three games the Blackhawks struggled to score, although they only lost one of those games. Still, they were looking for more production.
On Friday they found their offense again. Problem is, the Minnesota Wild found more.
Jonathan Toews scored twice but the Nino Niederreiter got the game winner just 32 seconds into the third period as the Wild beat the Blackhawks 5-4 at Xcel Energy Center. The Blackhawks, who had won four in a row before embarking on this quick road trip, have lost their last two.
Marian Hossa sustained a lower-body injury at some point in the second period and did not return for the third. His last shift came with 5:52 remaining in the second, when the Blackhawks’ attempted go-ahead goal was waved off. Coach Joel Quenneville said Hossa is day-to-day with the injury, which doesn’t sound serious.
The Wild also suffered a loss in forward Justin Fontaine, who didn’t return after a knee-to-knee collision with Andrew Desjardins. Minnesota coach Mike Yeo told reporters that Fontaine could be “week-to-week.” The Blackhawks’ fourth liner received a tripping penalty on the play. A source said the league will review the hit; it’s uncertain at this time if Desjardins receives any supplemental discipline.
Artem Anisimov scored his fourth goal of the season and Brent Seabrook added a power-play goal. Erik Gustafsson, playing in his first NHL career game, recorded an assist. Ryan Garbutt also had his first point with the Blackhawks, an assist on Toews’ second goal.
But for everything the Blackhawks got, they gave up too much on the other end. Minnesota scored two goals early in periods (18 seconds into the first and 32 seconds into the third) as well as a goal with 11 seconds remaining in the first. It was a frustrating night for a team that’s long prided itself on defense first.
“That’s how we measure ourselves. You win in this league with how well you check, how well you play without the puck,” Quenneville said. “The [last] two nights we’ve given up some goals; you’re not going to win in this league giving up those kind of goals. Rather easy. Two goals to start periods, big shifts and those two – you can look at other ones, but we have to be better last shifts of the period. Those are shifts you want to be on the ice.”
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Darling allowed five goals on 30 shots and took some of the blame.
“I’ve got to come up with a few more saves, especially when the boys score four goals for me and we’ve been struggling to score,” Darling said. “It’s unfortunate I couldn’t keep goals down.”
The Blackhawks pride themselves on team defense, however. Team-wise it wasn’t there on Friday night and Minnesota took advantage of the miscues. The Blackhawks will certainly take the uptick in their offense, but not at the expense of defensive letdowns.
“I think we have some work to do,” Brent Seabrook said. “We have to be better as a group, better as a team on both ends of the rink. That’s only going to get better with more games and more familiarity.”