CHICAGO – It looked like a formation out of a video game, with the puck carrier hustling up ice as two Wild players skated behind — their setup in the shape of a triangle.
But the trailers weren’t supporting the rush.
They were chasing it.
And defensemen Jonas Brodin and Ryan Suter never did catch Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane, as he unleashed a wrist shot by goalie Alex Stalock before pressure arrived to seal the eventual clinching goal in a 4-1 triumph over the Wild on Sunday in front of 21,813 at United Center — a game that felt as lopsided as that goal and gave the Blackhawks a two-point cushion over the Wild in the standings.
“He’s a great player, and you can’t give a great player too much opportunity or they’re going to put it in the net,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
That slim margin for error should have been fresh in the minds of the Wild’s players, as they were tripped up 3-2 by the Oilers on Saturday at home. But mistakes piled up, and the Wild was unable to slow down the Blackhawks and Kane — who was responsible for two goals.
His first tally came 10 minutes, 56 seconds into the first period; the Blackhawks broke into the Wild’s end for a 4-on-3 rush with center Nick Schmaltz setting Kane up for a one-timer from inside the right faceoff circle.
The Blackhawks only increased their pressure in the second, but three penalties by the Wild helped fuel Chicago; although the Blackhawks went scoreless in all six of their power plays, they registered 14 shots with the man advantage — this after the Oilers used a similar formula a day earlier to drain the Wild on six power plays. The Wild, meanwhile, went 0-for-2.
“Not only are they keeping it in our zone on the penalty kill, but then we got guys killing playing five-on-four and five-on-five and it’s hard,” said Stalock, who made a season-high 42 saves. “It wears guys out.”
Stalock was busy at even strength, too, as the Blackhawks tested him 22 times in the period compared to only six shots on goal for the Wild. One of those attempts by the Blackhawks was Kane’s breakaway finish at 15:36 off a slick feed by defenseman Jordan Oesterle, who found a seam after a poor line change by defenseman Jared Spurgeon.
“You don’t expect that from Jared,” Boudreau said. “They were going off the ice, and he thought we had a chance to get off. Sometimes you forget that it’s the second period, and they’ve got the advantage in the line change.”
Just 1:41 into the third period, the Blackhawks converted their third after winger Ryan Hartman cut to the net and roofed a shot over Stalock.
The only offense the Wild managed once again came from the defense — more precisely, Matt Dumba, as his point shot wove through traffic and by Crawford, who had 27 saves, at 5:56 of the third.
Dumba has now scored the Wild’s past three goals.
“He’s probably the only one with offensive confidence right now,” Boudreau said. “What he’s doing, he’s starting to shoot the puck and he’s got a great shot. If he shoots the puck a lot, he’s going to get a lot more of those.”
While those contributions from the blue line are key to the Wild’s success, a lack of scoring punch from the forwards is glaring — especially on the power play, as the unit surrendered an empty-net goal to winger Tommy Wingels with four minutes to go.
And for the second straight game, those struggles were at the forefront of a loss.
“We’ve got to get away from the frustration and feeling bad for ourselves,” Boudreau said, “and start getting back to the way we can play.”