When the Minnesota Wild visited in January, they appeared to be headed for the bottom of the NHL.Now they’re gearing up for the postseason.Devan Dubnyk made 32 saves, and the Wild clinched a playoff spot with a 2-1 victory over the now offensless Blackhawks on Tuesday night.Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker scored in the third period for Minnesota, which was coming off a 2-0 home loss to Winnipeg on Monday night. It was Zucker’s first game since he broke his collarbone in the first period of a 5-3 victory over Vancouver on Feb. 9.
”I just wanted to get out there and help the team any way possible,” Zucker said. ”It’s a great feeling, it’s always great to help out in any way.”
It was quite a turnaround from Minnesota’s previous visit to Chicago on Jan. 11, when it lost 4-1 in the fifth game of a six-game slide. That losing streak dropped the Wild to 18-19-5, but a trade for Dubnyk helped them turn their season around.
”We’re a different team than we were then,” forward Zach Parise said. ”We’re playing just better as a group and from goaltending out, we’re just playing a better team game.”
Bryan Bickell scored his 14th goal and Corey Crawford had 28 stops for the Blackhawks (48-26-6), who have lost two in a row after a four-game winning streak. They remained three points back of Central Division-leading St. Louis after the Blues and second-place Nashville also lost.The Hawks visit St. Louis on Thursday and then closes out the regular season with a trip to Colorado to face the Avalanche on Saturday night.
”You want to have good habits and good hockey going into the playoffs,” Bickell said. ”You don’t want to go in on a little losing streak like these two games that we are right now. We just need to bounce back in St. Louis.”
Crawford and Dubnyk were locked in a scoreless duel before Granlund went to his backhand to collect his eighth goal at 9:30, stopping a 14-game drought. Zucker then scored on a 2-on-1 rush with Chris Stewart with 6:46 remaining.With Crawford on the bench for a sixth attacker, Bickell scored on a shot from the left circle at 18:12. But Minnesota (45-27-8) held on for its 11th consecutive road win, extending a franchise record.
”It’s national beer day, so I want to make sure that I honor that on the plane ride to Nashville,” coach Mike Yeo said with a grin.
The Wild face the Predators on Thursday, and then close the season at St. Louis on Saturday.Andrew Shaw had two of the best opportunities for the Hawks in their home finale. His second-period backhand trickled behind Dubnyk, but defenseman Jared Spurgeon swept the puck away. Shaw had a look at an open net while the game was still scoreless in the third, but he swung and missed while he was being tied up by Wild defenseman Ryan Suter.
”I know that we got away from what made us, the game, for the first 40 minutes, knowing that there’s no plays to be had,” Joel Quenneville said. ”We’ve played them two playoff series in a row and third period we all of a sudden thought we could and they get the benefit of playing in our end.”
Zucker was shaken up after tangling with Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook and going hard into the boards in the third, but quickly returned to the ice. Zucker, who was expected to miss three months, played about 16 minutes in his return.The Blackhawks are hoping for a similar recovery for Patrick Kane, who had surgery on Feb. 25 to repair a broken left collarbone. The original timeline for Kane’s return was three months, but the dynamic winger is skating with the team again and appears to be ramping up his activity.
”He’s progressing real well,” Quenneville said. ”I know that every day it seems like he’s getting a little stronger.”
NOTES—Brad Richards, D Kimmo Timonen and F Daniel Carcillo were scratched with injuries. Quenneville said Richards will miss the final three-games of the regular season, but should be ready for the playoffs. … Blackhawks F Kyle Baun played 13 1/2 minutes in his NHL debut.