Hawks blank Minnesota, snap three game losing streak


ST. PAUL—Joel Quenneville wasn’t sure who he would start in goal in the Blackhawks’ second road game in two nights.Antti Niemi was the right choice.Playing in back-to-back contests for just the second time this season and coming off a loss Tuesday night at St. Louis, Niemi made 21 saves for his seventh shutout of the season and third in seven games to help the Hawks beat Minnesota 4-0 on Wednesday night. With the victory, the Blackhawks snapped a three-game losing streak.Niemi made four saves during a 91-second 5-on-3 power play for Minnesota late in the second period, and held off the Wild the rest of the way to improve to 21-7-3. Ben Eager had a goal and two assists for a career-high three points in his second multipoint game this season. Tomas Kopecky rounded out the three-goal night from the Hawks fourth line with a pair of goals, and Jonathan Toews added the Blackhawks’ final tally. The Blackhawks won for just the third time in its last 10 games and avoided a season-worst four-game losing streak.Nicklas Backstrom finished with 31 saves for the Wild, shut out at home for the first time since Feb. 6, 2009 – a 2-0 loss to Nashville. It marked just the third loss for Minnesota in its last 14 home games against the Hawks.The loss pushed the Wild to the brink of mathematical elimination from playoff contention. One Colorado victory in its final six games will make it official.The crowd booed the home team on multiple occasions as the Wild admittedly lacked effort and finished with 21 shots or less for the ninth time in their last 13 games.Kopecky opened the scoring with 1:40 left first period and made it 3-0 at 5:55 of the third. It was Kopecky’s second multigoal game in his last six contests, giving him five goals in that stretch after going 21 games with no goals and three assists.Eager turned a Minnesota turnover in the neutral zone into the game’s second goal when he corralled his own rebound to beat Backstrom glove side at 9:51 of the second period.Minnesota managed just six shots until picking up four during the 5-on-3 advantage in the second. Niemi turned away all four chances, including an impressive sliding save on Mikko Koivu’s point-blank offering with his right pad at 17:09.Niemi is tied for second in the NHL with his seven shutouts, the most by a Hawk goalie since Jocelyn Thibault had eight in 2002-03.Toews scored with 5:58 left in the third as the Blackhawks reached 100 points for consecutive season for the first time since 1970-72 – before regular-season overtime and points for overtime and shootout losses.

NOTES—In their first opportunity to face each other since being traded for each other on Feb. 12, Kim Johnsson and Wild D Cam Barker both sat out due to injury. Johnsson missed his ninth straight game because of an upper-body injury, while Barker missed his third contest with a sprained ankle. …Patrick Sharp’s five-game points streak came to an end.