It’s hard to imagine the Chicago Blackhawks losing four times in a seven-game series.
The team that unleashed a 24-game point streak to open the season became the first team in the West to clinch a playoff spot Sunday and now has its eyes set on winning the conference and league.
Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center, the NHL’s best offensive and defensive team frustrated the Wild to no end and still needed one big mistake by a Wild defender to snag two points in a 1-0 victory.
Late in the second period of a scoreless contest, Blackhawks star Marian Hossa intercepted Clayton Stoner’s cross-ice pass to cause the red light to shine and the hometown portion of an announced crowd of 19,158 to groan.
“That’s a play I wish I could back,” said Stoner, who was trying to feed Mikko Koivu. “I pride myself on trying to play mistake-free. That was a costly one. I feel bad for letting the team down.”
The Blackhawks improved to 30-5-4, while the Wild, shut out at home for the first time since March 13, 2012, lost for the fifth time in seven games since a seven-game winning streak.
The Wild, which had trouble generating sustained pressure all night, never could sniff out the tying goal as Ray Emery pitched the 20-save shutout. The Wild fell to seventh in the West — five points ahead of ninth-place Dallas.
“The story of the game was our execution, our plays with the puck,” coach Mike Yeo said. “It was how they scored their goal and it was what prevented us from generating more zone time.”
Outshot 27-14 through two periods, the Wild knew it had to be careful with the puck against a quick-strike team with plenty of firepower.
Under no pressure along the wall, Stoner passed right to Hossa, who read the defenseman perfectly, just inside the blue line. The two-way superstar beat Niklas Backstrom with a quick release for the game’s lone goal.
It was the latest gaffe with the puck from Stoner, who has ascended to the poster child of scrutiny from Wild fans.
“He’s doing some good things without the puck, but obviously that’s a pretty glaring mistake,” Yeo said.
This has been a trend lately for Stoner, who had a nightmarish performance three games ago in San Jose. Still, Yeo said he believes in Stoner’s game and has said he brings an important physical and positional element.
Asked if he’s concerned with the Wild’s blue-line depth past Ryan Suter, who logged 32 minutes, 23 seconds, rookie Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon, Yeo said, “We’ve given up one goal in two games. I think you’d sign up for that most of the time.”
Yeo also has scratched veterans Tom Gilbert and Brett Clark at his disposal.
Hossa’s goal was a shame because Backstrom, who made 30 saves, had played well to that point. The Blackhawks spent a lot of time in the Wild end because the Wild couldn’t keep pucks in Chicago’s.
“We created a lot of turnovers but just couldn’t really make anything out of it,” Zach Parise said.
Devin Setoguchi, who has gone from hot to cold without injured linemate Matt Cullen, missed the net on one bat out of the air in the first period. In the second, Cal Clutterbuck couldn’t backhand a puck behind Emery inches from the goal line. Clutterbuck has one goal since Feb. 9.
Yeo said the Wild didn’t do a good enough job on “50-50 pucks” but simply “blinked first” against a quality foe.
“They don’t get enough credit for [being a good checking team],” Yeo said. “There’s not a lot of free ice, so you have to work and execute the right way. We didn’t do a good enough job of that.”