ST. PAUL, Minn. – When you’re missing a player like Duncan Keith, you’re missing a lot. You’re missing his minutes logged, his contributions on the back end and of course his defense.
But what the Chicago Blackhawks were really missing was enough production on the other end.
Patrick Kane scored with 31.2 seconds remaining in regulation to avoid the shutout, but it was an otherwise forgettable and quiet night for the Blackhawks in their 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild. The Blackhawks suffered just their second regulation loss this month, and their first in the second half of back-to-backs this season (9-1-3).
Keith was out due to illness on Thursday night, and coach Joel Quenneville didn’t think it would sideline the defenseman for long. But Keith’s absence wasn’t what truly hurt the Blackhawks. Be it their own struggles or the Wild’s good defensive work against them, the Blackhawks could muster little offensively. Sure, they had plenty of shots – Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper stopped 33 of 34 for the victory – but the Blackhawks didn’t have enough traffic, enough second-chance or up-close opportunities.
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“(The Wild) check well, they’re good here at home. But we didn’t look to get greasy stuff at the net,” Quenneville said. “I thought we were too much on the outside. It’s tough to get direct plays, especially at the slot. Maybe we were looking for it a little too much, instead of (looking to score) the ugly stuff.”
The Wild, meanwhile, got all the offense they needed in the first period. Jason Pominville buried a last-second pass from Mikael Granlund for a 1-0 advantage 8:08 into the first period. About seven minutes later, not long after the Blackhawks’ impressive kill of Minnesota’s two-minute, 5-on-3, Matt Cooke took a bouncing pass and beat Antti Raanta for a 2-0 advantage.
That one stuck with Raanta, who stopped 17 of 19 for his first regulation loss since Dec. 14 (vs. Toronto).
“That second goal is still inside the head,” he said. “(You have to) try to get some better way to move your ass and be in the right place in the right time.”
Quenneville said it was a solid play for the Wild, and tough to give up after the penalty kill, “but there was a lot of hockey left.”
Yes there was. The Blackhawks just didn’t do enough with it until the final seconds when Kane scored on a rebound from Nick Leddy’s shot; with that, the Blackhawks avoided their first regulation shutout since Feb. 25, 2012 (4-0 loss to Los Angeles). Otherwise, it was a flat night.
“Our defense was OK, just like our whole game was just OK,” Quenneville said. “You can talk about anybody. I don’t think anybody jumped off the (page).”
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Ultimately, it was just a bad game across the board. No one really looked crisp and no one really made their mark. Maybe it was some fatigue off the long game in Detroit on Wednesday. Maybe the Wild were just the sharper team on Thursday. The Blackhawks certainly miss Keith, but as Quenneville said, they didn’t really give up a whole lot. They just generated even less.
“The start was definitely not there. They got one pretty quick and they were playing a confident game over there,” Kris Versteeg said of the Wild. “We just have to stick to it and keep playing our game. I know it’s cliché, but we have to find a way, the way we were the previous two games (against Anahiem and Boston), playing 60 minutes.”