CHICAGO – Defenseman Matt Dumba was trying to do his job, jostling for positioning with the Blackhawks’ Brandon Saad in front of the net.
But instead of getting rewarded for the effort, the sequence only magnified Dumba’s recent struggles.
A point shot clipped Saad’s stick and caromed off the back of Dumba’s left arm before sailing over goalie Kaapo Kahkonen and falling into the Wild net, the decisive goal in a 5-3 letdown to the Blackhawks Sunday in front of 21,513 at United Center – just the Wild’s second regulation loss in its past 16 games (10-2-4).
“It felt like I was right there,” Dumba said. “He was juggling his stick. I was boxing him out. I don’t know. It’s just kind of my luck lately.”
That wasn’t the only bounce that went against the Wild; the night was rife with them.
Before Patrick Kane completed a hat trick into an empty net with 1 minute, 3 seconds to go, Chicago was the beneficiary of three deflections (including one off the Wild) and a puck that barely rolled in — fluky breaks that trumped a few strong individual performances from the Wild.
Center Eric Staal registered his 1,000th career point, defenseman Ryan Suter tied a career high by assisting on three goals and winger Kevin Fiala scored twice.
“I don’t think we were at our best,” Staal said. “We looked a little fatigued.”
Saad’s finish at 13:43 of the third, which broke a 3-3 tie, was the most egregious.
By then, Dumba — who was also on the ice for the first three Blackhawks goals – was demoted to the third pairing. Not only did he finish minus-3, but Dumba logged just 18:13 (his second-lowest ice time this season).
And the game continued an offensive slump for the usually offensive defenseman, signaling his 14th consecutive game without a point.
“I’ve never really gone through a stretch like I have right now,” said Dumba, calling it a mental battle that he’ll overcome while also acknowledging the torn pectoral muscle he suffered last season is in the past. “Trying to just bring your best and try to bring something more if you’re not bringing what you usually think you’re capable of. I just got to work through this. I have to keep working hard.”
Kane scored his first two goals in the first period, at 7:42 when his wraparound narrowly cleared the goal line and at 11:33 on a power play shot that got a piece of Suter’s stick before going five-hole on Kahkonen – who’s now 3-1-1 after making 22 saves.
Only 1:04 later, Staal scored on a rising shot to become the 89th player all-time and seventh active to reach 1,000 points.
“I couldn’t have got to this number or this level without a ton of help from so many people,” Staal said. “That’s something I reflect on a lot in this kind of moment.”
Not only was the goal Staal’s fourth in the last three games, but it snapped a 0-for-18 rut for the power play. The Wild finished 1-for-1, while the Blackhawks went 1-for-2.
Just 1:59 into the second, Fiala tied it on a breakaway, but the Blackhawks responded at 8:13 when David Kampf deflected a Connor Murphy shot past Kahkonen.
Again, the Wild pulled even — this time on its own fortuitous play, a centering feed by Fiala that nicked Olli Maata’s skate and caromed in with 5:40 remaining in the second. Fiala has 11 points in his past 12 games.
But by falling behind early, the Wild didn’t just have to catch up to the Blackhawks. It also had to surpass them, and that’s where it failed.
“You get to the last 10 minutes of the game on the road and you’re tied, you gotta get it into at least overtime,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You can’t allow that.”