Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane scored in the shootout and Ray Emery stopped both shooters he faced, as the Chicago Blackhawks drew within two points of the Western Conference leading Minnesota Wild with a 4-3 shootout decision Wednesday night at Xcel Energy Center.
In a hard fought contest that boasted an intense playoff atmosphere, superstars Toews and Kane ensured the Blackhawks gained the extra point with their shootout efforts. Toews beat Niklas Backstrom through the five hole, and Kane moved in slowly, making a bevy of stick-handling moves before getting Backstrom to bite on what appeared to be a move to the backhand, where he instead had a wide open net with which to deposit the forehand. Emery stopped both Matt Cullen and Dany Heatley in their shootout attempts.
In a first period thoroughly dominated by Chicago -- the Blackhawks outshot the Wild, 11-2, and the home team didn't pick up their first shot on goal in the opening frame until there were less than four minutes remaining -- Minnesota netminder Niklas Backstrom was flawless in keeping the game scoreless after one.
Emery was called upon to make some big stops early in the second, with the best being on a one-timer from the slot from Heatley.
A controversial sequence led to the game's first goal. With the Wild playing shorthanded with Mikko Koivu in the penalty box, Chicago's Patrick Sharp fumbled a pass along the blueline from the right point. Minnesota penalty killer Cullen was off to the races on a shorthanded breakaway, but Duncan Keith made a beautiful play with some incredible hustle to get back, reach around Cullen, and lift his stick.
As the crowd roared in disapproval of no penalty call on Keith, Cullen went back to the Wild bench and began banging his stick against the boards while screaming at the officials. The result was an unsportsmanlike call on Cullen, and a two man advantage for the Blackhawks.
During the ensuing power play, Sharp held the puck along the left faceoff circle and centered for Toews, who had set up shop in front of Backstrom. The aerial pass hit Toews in the leg and dropped just outside the crease, where Marian Hossa chipped a shot past the Minnesota goalie for his 13th goal of the season and a 1-0 Chicago lead at 9:19 of the middle frame.
Momentum was squarely with the Blackhawks and they continued to put pressure on Backstrom, with the payoff coming just 1:29 after the Hossa tally when Michael Frolik potted his fifth of the year. Jamal Mayers carried the puck along the right wing side, hitting Marcus Kruger in the right circle. Kruger immediately flipped a pass to the front of the Minnesota net, where Frolik jammed a shot into the net for a 2-0 'Hawks lead.
The Wild would strike back, and their first goal was equally as disputed from a Chicago standpoint. Minnesota iced the puck and for some unexplained reason, the linesman took his arm down. As Steve Montador touched the puck, the Blackhawks thought the play was blown dead. Nick Johnson alertly dug the puck out of a scrum of players behind the Chicago net and fed Kyle Brodziak in front. As Emery scrambled to get into position, Brodziak outlasted the Blackhawks' backstop. As Emery sprawled to the ice, Brodziak went top shelf from a wicked angle along the goal line for his 11th of the season to cut the Chicago lead to 2-1.
Shortly after, the Wild evened the score. Cullen hit Cal Clutterbuck with a pass to Emery's right, then sent a pass back to Cullen in front of the Blackhawks' cage. Cullen got just enough of the puck with a backhand stab to float it past a diving Emery for his ninth goal of the year and knotted the game at 2-2 at 15:41.
Toews gave the visitors a 3-2 lead with a spectacular individual effort at 6:54 of the third period. Controlling the puck in the right wing corner, the 'Hawks captain made a strong move out in front, turning the defenseman and lofting a shot high past Backstrom's blocker and inside the post for his 18th of the campaign.
Minnesota has been a resilient bunch in fighting their way to the top of the NHL overall standings, as they would claw their way to tie the contest once again late in regulation.
On a delayed Chicago penalty, Clutterbuck carried the puck down the right wing side and as he reached the goal line, whipped a pass into the slot to Koivu. The Wild captain sent a shot to the net that deflected off defenseman Nick Leddy's leg and sailed past Emery for his eighth of the season at 14:56.
The Blackhawks have now gone 5-0-1 in December, and Minnesota has now lost two in a row (0-1-1) since a seven game winning streak.