Well, the star got the call.
Many in the Wild dressing room was spitting mad after tonight’s 5-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild rallied from 3-1 down in the third to tie the mighty Hawks, then superstar Patrick Kane got the benefit of a referee’s call on what the Wild felt was a ticky-tack penalty that should not have been called that late in a tie game.
In a game where Brent Seabrook got away with a blatant elbow on Justin Fontaine that basically caused the Wild to be short a man when Seabrook scored the tying goal in the second, in a game where there was reaching and hooks uncalled all game long, Erik Haula was called for hooking Kane at the blue line with 4:35 left in a 3-3 game.
Kane, one of the game’s great puck-handlers, lost the puck out of the zone, then motioned exasperatedly.
Referee Dan O’Rourke’s arm went straight up.
The Blackhawks were given a power play, and proving you’ve got to be good to be lucky, Kane intended a pass for Patrick Sharp and instead the puck caromed past Niklas Backstrom off Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin’s skate with 3:28 left for the winning goal.
“I thought they played well, but getting that power play with 4-5 minutes left there was nice and were able to bounce one in there,” said Seabrook. “It was a lucky one, but we’ll take it.”
Coach Mike Yeo let O’Rourke have it on the bench, both after the call and after the loss. Then, in the postgame, Yeo was still hot about the call.
“That time in a hockey game in a tie game, a one-handed hook on a dead play, pretty frustrating,” Yeo said.
“I don’t agree with his call at all,” Haula said. “It’s four minutes left and he decides to decide a good hockey game with a weak penalty like that. I’m definitely not happy about it.”
Haula said it stings even more because the Wild rallied from 3-1 down in the third on Nino Niederreiter’s penalty-shot goal (same move he tried in Dallas but couldn’t score on, he said; team-leading 14th in 29 games after a career-high 14 goals in 81 games last season) and Marco Scandella’s blast 2:50 apart.
“To come out and put it out on the line and overall play a great hockey game and it comes down to that, it’s frustrating,” Haula said.
More on the game in a moment, but the Wild has a goaltending problem on its hand.
Darcy Kuemper was supposed to start tonight’s game. After Niklas Backstrom arrived around 5:15, he was told to get ready because Kuemper had the same stomach issue that has sidelined Jared Spurgeon the past two games and Charlie Coyle from a recent practice.
Well, guess what? Backstrom got the same stomach bug in the first period. But knowing the Wild had nobody to put in to replace him, Backstrom battled through the rest of the game, Yeo said.
The Wild frantically called Iowa and John Curry was pulled by coach John Torchetti with a 3-1 lead after two periods in an eventual win over Rockford.
Kuemper still looked awful after the game. Backstrom was at least upright and drinks lots of colored liquids. But it’ll be interesting to see who starts for the Wild when it hosts Boston on Wednesday.
Remember, Josh Harding is back in Minnesota seeing specialists because of complications with multiple sclerosis. He was hospitalized two weekends ago in Charlotte for dehydration that occurred during a game.
So depending on how Kuemper and Backstrom are feeling, Curry, the former Boston University goalie, could make his second start. There’s also Johan Gustafsson, who relieved Curry tonight. Obviously who starts depends completely on the health of Kuemper and Backstrom.
Originally, Kuemper was supposed to start tonight and Backstrom against Boston. He’s 5-0-1 all-time vs. the Bruins.
Kuemper must have gotten sick in the afternoon.
After the Wild’s morning skate, Kuemper seemed perfectly healthy as he did his normal pregame stretching on the locker-room carpet and joked about the time he lost a “personal-record 10 pounds of water weight” during a start.
In fact, during Yeo’s availability two hours before the game, Yeo confirmed Kuemper would start at the exact moment Backstrom walked out of the locker room to begin his pregame “turtle trot” (super-slow walk) routine he does only when he starts.
In hindsight, that was the giveaway something was amiss. GM Chuck Fletcher wouldn’t say before the game that anything was wrong with Kuemper, largely because he didn’t want the Blackhawks to know the team was potentially without a backup. As it turns out, it wasn’t Andrew Shaw running Backstrom or something. It was the stomach flu that Backstrom had to fight through.
The Wild played a solid first period, took a 1-0 lead on a great Mikael Granlund to Thomas Vanek goal. But then, after Seabrook tied the game, it turned. The Wild stood around the rest of the period and watched the Blackhawks skate and gave them time and space to do whatever they pleased in the Wild end. The Wild went nine minutes without a shot at one point and Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews gave Chicago a 3-1 lead.
But the Wild was outstanding in the third to tie the game before the Blackhawks won it.
In the end, guys like Scandella, Niederreiter and Backstrom said it was the horrible second period that cost the Wild the game, not the Haula penalty and fluky goal Kane scored.
Backstrom noted how the Wild did everything right in the first and third periods, from getting pucks deep to pressuring the Blackhawks everywhere to not turning pucks over at each blue line. That all changed in the second and he said until the Wild, including himself he said, is able to do all the small details right for 60 minutes, it won’t be able to beat the Blackhawks, etc.
The Wild is now 0-5-1 against Anaheim, Chicago, L.A. and St. Louis. Chicago, Nashville, St Louis and Winnipeg, all of Minnesota in the Central, all got two points tonight. Not good for a Wild team out of the playoff picture.
“You just have to find a way to be better so it’s not going to be about one call or one bounce,” Backstrom said. “Look at that team, they’re doing all the small things every night. That’s why they’re always on the top of the standings. It’s always a challenge to play against them. We want to measure and learn from them so next time we can be better.”