ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews each scored in the second period, and the Chicago Blackhawks stretched their winning streak to a season-high five games with a 4-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Monday night.
Tomas Kopecky also scored in the second, Marian Hossa sealed the game with a short-handed goal with 1:52 left, and the surging Blackhawks crept a little bit closer to last year’s Stanley Cup championship form.
The Wild paid for a flat first two periods and lost to one of their primary competitors in the crowded Western Conference race. They’re in the constantly changing final playoff spot with 72 points, and the Blackhawks barged into sixth place with 74 points.
Toews had two assists and has 23 points in his last 14 games, including four goals in his last six. Hossa scored for the fourth straight game and Sharp got his 33rd goal of the season, tied for second-most in the NHL.
Martin Havlat scored for the Wild against his old team and Brent Burns brought them within one with 4:12 left after digging for his own rebound. His backhand flip between his skates gave him 16 goals, a career high and the franchise record for defensemen.
Kopecky then took a delay-of-game penalty, giving the Wild a power play. They peppered goalie Corey Crawford – starting for the eighth straight game – but couldn’t keep the puck in their attack zone and Hossa found himself on a 2-on-1 for the clincher.
The Blackhawks flexed their offensive muscle right after the first intermission. Only 44 seconds into the second period, Toews was behind the net and found Sharp cutting in from the right circle untouched for an easy one-timer.
Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, second in the league in save percentage after giving up 13 goals over his previous nine starts, appeared to have Brian Campbell’s slap shot covered a few minutes later. But Viktor Stalberg poked the puck loose and Kopecky backhanded it in for a 2-0 lead.
Toews then took a pass from Patrick Kane on an extra-wide 2-on-1 rush and knocked it in, making Backstrom’s water bottle jump on top of the net.
Havlat was called for tripping a little later, skating right to the box before it was even announced and slamming the door before whacking his stick on the board.
He channeled that frustration into a goal 45 seconds into the third period on a breakaway against his former team. He faked out Crawford with a wrist shot for his 20th goal of the season.
This began the final 20 games on the schedule for both teams. That classic cliche about every game counting has grown this season from mostly coach-speak to unquestionable reality in the West, a normally competitive conference that now has a near-ridiculous amount of playoff contenders tightly packed together in a prime example of the NHL’s post-lockout parity.
Seven teams started the day within three points of each other, from fifth through 11th place.
The Blackhawks acquired defenseman Chris Campoli from the dismantling Ottawa Senators, adding an up-tempo puck-mover to their blue line group, but he wasn’t able to join the team in time for the game.
With Jordan Hendry set for surgery to fix a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, an injury that occurred in Sunday’s shootout win over the Phoenix Coyotes, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville had All-Star Duncan Keith in heavy rotation. Keith was paired with both Nick Leddy and Campbell, with 6-foot-8 former Wild left wing John Scott playing some in the back end for relief.
NOTES: Scott dropped the gloves with Wild enforcer Brad Staubitz in the second period, leading to five penalties for a total of 24 minutes. Scott got the instigator call plus five for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct. Staubitz, perhaps trying to fire up his team, was whistled for boarding and a 5 for fighting. … Leddy played at Xcel Energy Center for the first time since winning a state championship with Eden Prairie High School two years ago. He was a first-round draft pick by the Wild, then was traded to the Blackhawks last season.