Talk about a mixed bag. On the one hand, the Wild lost Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Marcus Foligno to injury Thursday in Chicago, adding to a list that already included Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund. On the other, the Wild—even with that diminished roster—beat Chicago 5-2. At United Center. After the Blackhawks scored 21 goals and went 3-0-1 in their first four games.
No word yet on exactly what the injuries are, but coach Bruce Boudreau anticipates Coyle and Niederreiter won’t play in Saturday’s home opener. Neither will Parise or Granlund, and Foligno is uncertain. Boudreau isn’t sure what’s going to happen with the roster, either; the Wild’s salary-cap crunch prevented it from calling up a forward to fill the hole opened when Granlund was hurt a week ago.
“I don’t know,’’ Boudreau said, regarding the cap situation. “That’s a question I think (assistant GM Shep Harder) has to answer as far as anything else, depending on the severity of the injuries.’’
Coyle was nailed in the back of the leg by a Jared Spurgeon shot while standing in the slot with 12:34 left in the game. Niederreiter limped off just before that, after Tanner Kero drove him into the boards and fell on his leg.
Foligno was hurt during a second-period fight with John Hayden. Foligno ripped Hayden’s helmet off, and Hayden responded with a giant haymaker to Foligno’s left cheekbone.
Despite all that, the Wild still managed to beat a very good Chicago team. It played with intelligence, discipline and tenacity, mending the defensive problems it showed in its first two games and following the game plan on offense. The aim was to get pucks deep right from the start, get the forecheck going and match the Blackhawks’ energy and muscle.
The Wild did that in a splendid first period, then survived a lapse in the second. With both Devan Dubnyk and Corey Crawford playing very well in the nets, the Wild got trapped on a long shift, with several players on the ice for more than three minutes. Dubnyk stopped six shots in that span, and Spurgeon saved another just before that. The Wild also killed a penalty for too many men, then got the game’s first goal when Coyle intercepted a Chicago pass and fed Eric Staal.
Some other postgame nuggets:
--Boudreau praised his team’s resilience, especially after the Blackhawks tied the game at 8:21 of the third period. By that point, the Wild already was undermanned, and the goal ignited a crowd of 21,386.
“After they tied it, you could have gone, ‘Oh, my God, here they go,’’’ he said. “Then we came right back and scored.’’
--That go-ahead goal, at 10:32, was in doubt. It was scored on a two-on-one, with Jason Zucker passing to Chris Stewart. Zucker got control of the puck at the Chicago blue line, after Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook fell in the neutral zone and the puck went off his skate and into the Chicago zone. Zucker already was over the blue line, and Chicago coach Joel Quenneville challenged, thinking Zucker was offside.
Quenneville failed, with the league citing a portion of Rule 83.1 that reads: “If a player legally carries or passes the puck back into his own defending zone while a player of the opposing team is in such defending zone, the off-side shall be ignored and play permitted to continue.’’ The Chicago coach wasn’t buying it, saying Seabrook “didn’t carry it and didn’t have possession.’’
Failed offside challenges now result in a minor penalty for delay of game. That gave the Wild a power play, and Zucker scored for a 3-1 Wild lead.
“Once I saw it, I knew (Seabrook) brought it in,’’ Boudreau said. “I was hoping that was what (officials) saw in the call. From that aspect, I was confident. But we couldn’t see how much control Zucker had at the beginning of that time frame, and whether they would have said, ‘OK, he had control.’ ‘’
--The shortened roster caused a few odd line combinations and special-teams groups, including cameos by Matt Cullen and Daniel Winnik on the power play. Boudreau said he tried his best to manage his limited personnel—and noted that situations like this explain why he gives his team that grueling skating test during training camp.
“It was actually easy, because there weren’t too many decisions to make,’’ he said. “The one thing is, you know guys like Zucker and Winnik can skate all night. So they were going every second shift. Some of the other guys, I was trying to buy them some time. They played really hard.’’
--Boudreau said he hadn’t seen such a shorthanded bench since his days playing in the minor leagues. He never had faced such a situation in the NHL, and never because of a quick rash of injuries.
“That would have been a ‘70s or ‘80s-type game, where you look at the bench and there are six guys on the bench,’’ he said, when it was noted that fights shortened many benches back in the day.