Wednesday night, the Minnesota Wild will have another chance to foil and undermine once again, the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s doesn’t on what ice they play, indoors or outdoors, whether it’s a blowout victory or a come-from-behind type of win, the Wild have been able to stump the Blackhawks in all of their regular-season meeting for a season and a half.
So, on NBC’s rivalry night, they’ll meet again to see if the Hawks can solve the Wild yet. It’s kind of a measuring-stick type of game so Chicago can see where they stand. It seems like a critical game since the Blackhawks’ biggest test on this road trip will be Minnesota. And it’s clear to them, if Chicago wants to get back on top of the Western Conference standings, they’ll just have to beat a team that has been a surprise and unstoppable force lately.
“It’s not, you have to catch them or it’s a failure,” Brian Campbell said. “But our goal is to make the playoffs and have the highest seed possible, so to get that we’re going to have to catch Minnesota.”
The standings will depends on how Minny plays Tuesday night in Winnipeg, so either the Blackhawks will trail the Wild by four points or six when face off Wednesday night. Regardless of the differntial, the Blackhawks have to prepare for a Wild team who have set new standards in the West, by playing their best hockey lately and shocking the league.
“If we look back to the week where we played these guys and Washington a few nights before that, everyone was talking about those being some pretty big tests and we didn’t really answer the call at that time,” Hawks captain, Jonathan Toews said. “It wasn’t our best, the way we were playing. The way we’re playing on the road right now going into [Wednesday’s] game, we can really get excited for this game and try to redeem ourselves with a solid road effort.”
So, they will have to make good on the chase they’ve been involved in for the last few weeks hunting down the Wild in the Central Division standings. Tomorrow night they will get the chance to change those dynamics, but only if they stick to their game.
Wednesday will be the first of two meetings in two weeks between the Wild and Hawks, who know that they need to win the first of two if they want to make a move and either get back or stay atop of the standings.
“As of now it’s our biggest game of the year,” winger Patrick Kane said. “Dangerous team. You look at the depth of their lineup, it’s not like they have one or two superstars that are scoring all their goals. They have three, even four lines that can score.”
Toews said the Hawks had their behinds handed to them the last time they played, despite having a chance to knock off the Wild. That game came at the end of a brutal two-game stretch last month that kicked off with the Capitals dominating the Hawks.
“We didn’t really answer the call at that time,” Toews said. “Obviously it wasn’t our best the way we were playing, but the way we’re playing on the road right now going into (Wednesday’s) game, we’re excited for this game and to try to redeem ourselves.
“They just have a ton of confidence. Even when they’re not playing so well, they’re finding ways to win. They’re a tough team to beat right now, and it’s something we’ll be ready for.”
The Wild’s current roll is similar to the one they had in the second half of the 2014-15 season, but this Minnesota team is much deeper and different. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said, theis Wild is much more talented and prepared and, “have more balance up front. Four lines that are looking like they could score and make plays and are trying to score more.”
“They have balance, a back end and are strong in the net. We’re having trouble beating them in the regular season,” Quenneville said. “It’s a huge game for us, probably at this stage, for sure, our most important game. You want to finish first, you want to win as often as possible, you want to push the team ahead of you if you’re not there. but certainly there’s a gap there we’re looking to close.”
The Blackhawks’ suffered a 3-2 loss to the Wild on Jan. 15, a game in which they had the lead 2-0 before Minnesota came storming back. That failure still stings for some Chicago players.
“I think a lot of the guys still feel bad about that last game, so we’ll be pumped to play them,” Dennis Rasmussen said. “It’s a big game for us. We want to be first in the division and we want to get [one] back for the last time.”
Strangely enough, even with the Blackhawks’ recent ups and downs, and the Wild’s solid and consistent play, the gap between the two teams isn’t as big as one would think. It’s definitely not insurmountable so Chicago just has to chip away at it. The Wild are the standard and the Blackhawks want to go above it.
“You look across the league, [teams like] Columbus, Washington and Minnesota that get on those hot streaks and eventually they set the new standard where they have a ton of confidence and, even when they’re not playing so well, they’re finding ways to win,” Toews said. “Obviously they’re a tough team to beat right now, so that’s something we’ll be ready for.”
After today’s firing of the Boston Bruins coach, Claude Julien, Quenneville is now the longest-tenured coach in the NHL. Julien was the Bruins coach since the start of the 2007-08 season.
“It’s always tough when you see a fellow coach (let go),” Quenneville said. “Claude was there for a long time, did an outstanding job, kind of like (Ken Hitchcock). Their work in Boston and St. Louis was outstanding. They should be proud of what they accomplished. … That’s the real negative of our business is when that happens.”
When asked how he felt about having the league’s longest tenure now? He gave a nervous laugh and said, “Well, I don’t know if we should talk about that,”.
No position is secure, so Chicago will do their best to win tonight, but we think Minnesota has their number this year.