Crunch time has officially arrived for the Chicago Blackhawks. With 29 games remaining in the regular season and with only three Western Conference teams yet to reach above 50 points, the quest for the playoffs has reached a fever pitch. Every game from here on out will be of the utmost importance for not only the Blackhawks, but the majority of teams still very much in the hunt.
Such was the case for the Blackhawks their last two games, in which they faced the Arizona Coyotes and the Minnesota Wild. Both outings resulted in three-point games, with the lack of separation intensifying the stakes all the more. Unlike their prior game in which they bested Arizona in a shootout, the Hawks would lose that coveted extra point in overtime against Minnesota last night.
After a scoreless first period in which the Blackhawks generated only four shots on goal, Wild forward Kevin Fiala would bookend the second period with a pair of goals. Maneuvering around captain Jonathan Toews, Fiala quickly wristed a shot past Duncan Keith and through a Luke Kunin screen of goalie Corey Crawford. With less than five minutes remaining in the period, Fiala would strike again on the power play by streaming through the Hawks’ defense, which had completely collapsed on the play.
— Zeke Boyat (@ZBwildnation_HW) February 5, 2020
The Blackhawks, however, would not go quietly. Rookie Adam Boqvist would notch his third goal of the season after wristing a shot from the point past Wild goalie Alex Stalock, cutting the deficit in half. Both Stalock and Crawford loomed large for their respective clubs, with Stalock making critical breakaway saves on Ryan Carpenter and Alex Debrincat. Stalock would also go on to rob rookie Kirby Dach of a highlight-reel goal after Dach had completely undressed Wild defenseman Carson Soucy.
With just over 3 minutes left in the third, the Blackhawks continued their season-long trend of offensive productivity from their blue-liners, as defenseman Olli Maatta would tie the game with a seeing-eye shot from the left half-boards.
🗣️ Olli Olli oxen free
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) February 5, 2020
Matt Dumba would get the last laugh for Minnesota, however, chipping the puck over Crawford midway through overtime after a nifty stickhandle around Patrick Kane — whose 12-game point streak was snapped in the loss.
“I think it’s been awhile since we played that poorly,” Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. “First two periods and overtime I didn’t think were very good, but credit to them,” Colliton said. “They made it hard on us and I thought they had urgency and desperation to their game that we didn’t match in the beginning. I thought Crow stood on his head and gave us a chance.”
The Blackhawks are now 6-1-1 in their last eight games and remain just three points behind the final Wild Card spot, which is currently occupied by the Calgary Flames. Although the Hawks continued to amass points in their last two games, they were surpassed in the standings last night by the Nashville Predators, who defeated the Winnipeg Jets in overtime and possess a game in-hand over Chicago. With the Jets/Predators game becoming a three-point contest last night, the Hawks are now in a three-way tie at 57 points with both clubs; and dropped to seven points behind the Colorado Avalanche, who occupy the last playoff seed in the Central Division. In addition, Arizona, Dallas, and St. Louis all amassed points last night, keeping themselves above the Blackhawks for the time being.
Luckily, the Blackhawks will have the opportunity to immediately gain some more ground tonight against the Boston Bruins, which will be the second of a back-to-back and the first of only three home games for Chicago this entire month.
“Every point is crucial,” Duncan Keith said. “It felt good to get one and we’ll try to carry the momentum we had there into the next game and have a good start to the next game knowing that we’ve been on the road for a while here and haven’t played a home game in a bit. Big game, good team against Boston (tonight) and we’re going to need to be ready.”