Minnesota Wild Score Early, Keep The Lead Over Blackhawks 2-1


Jan 23, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cooke (24) scores a goal on Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Raanta (31) in the first period at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Wild has finally gotten it together, so much so that for the third time in four games this season they have beaten the Chicago Blackhawks.

Jason Pominville and Matt Cooke scored first-period goals and Darcy Kuemper made 33 saves and the Minnesota Wild defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 on Thursday night.

“I know we get geared up to play that team,” Wild Coach Mike Yeo said. “I think the fact that we’ve played them as much as we have, I think our guys are confident going into the game knowing we can play with them.

“Obviously they’re such a great team, and we have so much respect for them, we haven’t taken any nights off against that hockey team.”

Kuemper was making his sixth consecutive start as Minnesota’s top two goalies, Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom, have been sidelined with health problems. The Wild are 5-3 with rookie in the net this season.

“I’m pretty confident right now,” Kuemper said. “Obviously I just want to go in there and every time I get a chance, help the team win. And when you’re getting wins like this, obviously it’s easy to keep rolling and come to the rink every day with a smile.”

Jan 23, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper (35) makes a save in the second period against the Chicago Blackhawks at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Pominville opened the scoring at 8:08 of the first period. Dany Heatley carried the puck across the Chicago blue line and passed to Mikael Granlund near the goal mouth. Granlund spun back around and slid the puck across the slot, where Pominville was waiting to send it in the open net for his 20th of the season.

“He’s the type of player that doesn’t really need to know I’m there,” Pominville said of Granlund. “He just has a feel for it.”

The Blackhawks killed off a 5-on-3 power play, but Minnesota doubled its lead late in the first period. Justin Fontaine won a race to a loose puck and tipped it to Cooke, who slipped it past Antti Raanta from the left faceoff circle.

“They made a decent play,” Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville said. “After the big kill that was a deflating goal, but there was still a lot of hockey left.”

Raanta, who entered the game with a 12-1-3 record this season, was upset with himself after the game for putting his team in a 2-0 hole early.

“Their first goal was pretty nice, tic-tac-toe, but the second one was too easy,” Raanta said. “When they get two goals in the first period you’re behind all the time. It’s much harder to play because Minnesota was defensively so good. Every goal counts and today there was one easy goal so that’s not a good thing.”

Kuemper got a little help from his defense to keep it 2-0 late in the second. During a Minnesota power play, Pominville tripped at the Chicago blue line and Marian Hossa pounced for a short-handed breakaway. But defenseman Ryan Suter caught up to Hossa just in time to prevent him from getting a clean shot.

Kuemper would have had a shutout game but Patrick Kane spoiled that when he scored his 24th goal of the season with 31.2 seconds left to bring the Blackhawks to within one. But Kuemper stopped one final flurry in the last 10 seconds and Zach Parise cleared the puck from Minnesota’s zone to run out the clock.