SAINT PAUL, Minn. — The regular season means little once the playoffs begin. But thanks to their dominance of the regular season series with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Minnesota Wild are looking like a playoff team once again.
Paced by late goals from Jared Spurgeon and Erik Haula, the Wild beat the Blackhawks 4-1 on Tuesday night and swept their five games against Chicago this season.
Jarret Stoll and Nino Niederreiter also scored for Minnesota (38-28-11), which got 18 saves from goalie Devan Dubnyk to win its season-high sixth consecutive game. Coupled with Colorado’s 3-1 loss in St. Louis, the Wild now lead the Avalanche by five points for the final playoff spot in the West with five games to play.
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting it every shift. That’s just the bottom line. That’s the game,” said Wild interim head coach John Torchetti. “In the playoffs, you can’t have a shift off or next thing you know it’s in the other net and you might lose 1-0. We’ve got to be detailed and win a game 1-0 or 2-1 or 4-1. That’s what I mean.”
Chicago, which swept Minnesota in a four-game playoff series last May, got a goal from Marian Hossa and 14 saves from Scott Darling but couldn’t find a way to beat the Wild in the regular season. The Blackhawks (44-26-7) have clinched a trip to the playoffs but fell to a pedestrian 3-5-1 in their past nine games.
“Obviously it adds insult to injury to lose this one tonight. At the end of the day, it’s unfortunate,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “They were always ready for those games. There were a couple that we really didn’t play well and didn’t really deserve to win. I think tonight was an improvement and obviously the score doesn’t look that way. It’s not fun to look back and have a record like that against a team in your division, especially a team like Minnesota.”
With the score knotted 1-1, Spurgeon found the net off a long lead pass from Wild captain Mikko Koivu. Haula extended his career-best point streak to nine games, tucking a backhander between Darling’s knees. Niederreiter added an empty-net goal with 1:19 to play.
“Obviously you get some confidence from it, but at the same time the playoffs are a different animal,” Spurgeon said of their sweeping Chicago. “But when you have that confidence going into the playoffs if you do happen to play in them, it’s huge for the team. We’re having fun right now, and we just have to keep it going.”
The Wild took a quick 1-0 lead on their first shot of the game when Stoll capped a two-on-one rush to the net, popping a rising shot over Darling’s right shoulder. It was just the third goal for Stoll since he joined the Wild in December.
Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook was a late scratch because of illness and they went down another defenseman later in the first period.
Duncan Keith was knocked to the ice by a check from Charlie Coyle. Lying on his back, Keith swung his stick at Coyle, catching the Wild center across the nose and cutting Coyle. Keith was assessed a match penalty for intent to injure and Minnesota got a five-minute power play.
Minnesota outshot Chicago 2-1 during the extended power play, but the lone Blackhawks shot tied the score.
After a Wild turnover in the neutral zone, Hossa and Jonathan Toews came in on a two-on-one break, with Toews passing to Hossa and Hossa chipping a shot over Dubnyk for a short-handed goal. It was the third time this season that Hossa has scored with the Blackhawks killing a penalty.
“That was a nice goal and a great play,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Hossa’s 499th career goal. “That’s a pretty big number, especially hard to score in today’s game. I’m looking forward to the next one.”
The second period was scoreless but not without entertainment for the audience, when Chicago’s Andrew Shaw and Minnesota’s Matt Dumba discarded their gloves for an extended fight at center ice.
The Blackhawks got two second-period power plays but failed to score as Minnesota’s recent run of solid penalty killing continued.
Chicago outshot Minnesota in the second period, but the Wild had the best scoring chance when Darling thwarted a two-on-none break with a blocker save on a shot by Jason Pominville.
The teams have met in the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, with Chicago winning a first-round series in 2013 and second-round series in 2014 and 2015.
NOTES: Blackhawks C Artem Anisimov was scratched for the second consecutive game with a lower-body injury. LW Richard Panik took his place in the lineup. … Xcel Energy Center was the safest place in Minnesota for a time on Tuesday afternoon, as members of the St. Paul Police Warrior Hockey Club scrimmaged the Chicago Police Hockey Stars in a charity game. U.S. Olympic teammates from 1980 were the celebrity coaches. Former Minnesota North Stars player Neal Broten coached the St. Paul team and Dave Christian, who spent the final two seasons of his career with the Blackhawks, coached the Chicago team. … Blackhawks D Michal Rozsival and Wild D Nate Prosser were nominated for the Masterton Trophy, given annually to a player who exemplifies “perseverance, dedication and sportsmanship” by their respective chapters of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.