CHICAGO – Before Thursday’s game at Chicago, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau refused to dwell on his team’s manpower shortage. It didn’t matter that his team had only 11 healthy forwards for the second game in a row, and it did no good to curse the holes in the lineup.
“We don’t mention it, because somebody’s got to step up and do the job,” he said. “If you sit there and pull the ‘woe is me’ thing, then you’re always getting your built-in excuse for failure. We’re a group that doesn’t ever want to have that particular thought.”
Boudreau maintained that mind-set in a tense game against Chicago, and so did his players — which lifted the Wild over the Blackhawks 5-2 at United Center in a game that claimed three more forwards. Marcus Foligno, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter all were injured in the second and third periods and did not return. That left the Wild with a skeleton crew for much of the final period, but it held off one of the NHL’s strongest teams to earn its first victory this season.
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk stopped 36 shots to anchor a much-improved Wild defense. Chris Stewart scored twice, including a goal that restored the Wild’s lead after the Blackhawks tied it 1-1 at 8 minutes, 21 seconds of the third period.
The Blackhawks challenged that goal, arguing that Jason Zucker was offsides. But the goal was ruled good, and the failed challenge gave the Wild a power play that ended when Zucker scored at 12:29. That turned out to be the winner in a game defined by the Wild’s discipline, persistence and heart.
“It was tough to lose those guys,” said Zucker, who finished with a goal, an assist and three hits. “But it was a gutsy win for us.
“We had to just dig down deep and make sure we got the two points. Everyone was doing their part. Everyone was chipping in, doing a little bit extra. And that was huge for us.”
The Wild did not announce the type or extent of the injuries. Foligno was hurt during a second-period fight with Chicago’s John Hayden. Coyle was hit in the leg by a shot in the third period, and Niederreiter hobbled up the tunnel with about 13 minutes left in the game after a Chicago player fell on his leg.
Boudreau said he does not expect Coyle or Niederreiter to play in Saturday’s home opener against Columbus. Zach Parise, who has missed all three games because of an undisclosed injury, and Mikael Granlund, sidelined for the past week by a groin injury, also will not be ready to play. The coach wasn’t sure about Foligno.
The anemic defense of the Wild’s first two games gave way to a tighter, more unified effort Thursday. The Wild also matched Chicago’s speed and intensity early. Dubnyk and Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford were magnificent, with neither yielding until Eric Staal gave the Wild a 1-0 lead with 35 seconds remaining in the second period.
Only 2:11 after the Blackhawks tied it on Ryan Hartman’s goal, Stewart scored on a two-on-one. The eight remaining forwards found the energy to stave off Chicago’s final push, scoring two empty-net goals in the final 4:04.
As disheartening as it was to see his roster diminished further, the players who pulled out the victory left Boudreau bursting with pride.
“I think it was a really gutsy effort by our club,” Boudreau said. “I think it stemmed from the guys. In practice all week, they really practiced hard, and they came in here wanting to win.”