Wild Check-In: Forwards Step Up in Back-to-Back Wins Over Blackhawks

This week’s Check-In features the Minnesota Wild’s first back-to-back games in over a month – a home-and-home series against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday and Saturday night. Last week, several Wild players returned to the lineup after injury. The list included Joel Eriksson Ek, Jared Spurgeon, and Cam Talbot, while Jonas Brodin and Nick Bjugstad remain out.

Jared Spurgeon Minnesota Wild
Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Wild made quick work of Friday’s game, storming out to an early 3-0 lead with goals by Marcus Foligno and Ryan Hartman. They added two more in the second to make it 5-0. However, Kaapo Kähkönen lost his shutout bid after the Blackhawks’ Dylan Strome scored to make it 5-1 near the end.

The Blackhawks tried to make a comeback on Saturday, but Minnesota pulled another comeback trick. The game started well for the Blackhawks, who jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, but the Wild fought back to force overtime and won on a goal by Foligno. The returning Wild players were successful, while a couple continued to struggle.

Wild Forwards Make an Impact

Many Minnesota forwards stepped up big over the weekend. Mats Zuccarello was the top producer, with four assists, two in each game. Ater Zuccarello, Foligno and Kirill Kaprizov tied for three points each. Foligno scored two goals, the first to open the series, and the second finished game two in overtime. He also assisted on Calen Addison’s second goal of the season. Kaprizov scored a goal and two assists; he scored on the power play during the second game to tie it at two, and his two assists were on Ryan Hartman’s back-to-back goals on Friday.

Related: Wild’s Eriksson Ek & Hartman Succeed in Wins Over Blackhawks

Hartman was noticeable for his two goals while playing through the stomach flu. His consecutive goals propelled the Wild to a 3-0 lead in the first period on Friday night. He caught the flu a few days before the weekend series and hadn’t completely recovered yet.

Meanwhile, Kevin Fiala has been on fire lately. His success started on Dec. 20 against the Dallas Stars and hasn’t let up. He improved when Matt Boldy was added to the lineup, and the two have done well playing together and may become a permanent line going forward.

Against the Blackhawks, Fiala assisted on Brandon Duhaime’s goal on Friday, and he scored the goal that forced overtime on Saturday after head coach Dean Evason pulled Kähkönen for the extra skater, which has been successful for the team this season. The Wild have scored 12 times when they’ve pulled their goalie, the most in the NHL. Their offense did very well over the weekend, but a couple of players needed to step up.

Sturm, Gaudreau & Dumba Struggled

Nico Sturm and Frederick Gaudreau have not been solid point-producers this season. That continued over the weekend when they both went pointless. Gaudreau had eight shots on net but couldn’t get any past the Blackhawks’ goaltenders. The same happened to Sturm and his two shots on net, but he also struggled defensively. He registered one hit with no blocked shots or takeaways. Gaudreau, on the other hand, recorded two blocked shots but no hits or takeaways.

Defenseman Matt Dumba was also stonewalled, and this series ended his three-game point streak. He also recorded a giveaway but countered it with two blocked shots, and his struggle to score wasn’t for a lack of effort. He had five shots on net between the two games, but like his teammates, he couldn’t get any past the goaltenders. He was honored by the Blackhawks during one of their broadcast breaks for his work with the Hockey Diversity Alliance and his #TapeOutHate campaign

Wild’s Week Ahead

The Wild have another week with just two games scheduled, but it might be their last. After the All-Star break, every team in the NHL will be busy playing games that were rescheduled. This week, Minnesota welcomes the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, Jan. 24, for the first time this season after their first matchup was postponed. The Wild will then have three days off before they face the New York Rangers on Friday, Jan. 28 – also their first matchup of the season. 

Kaapo Kähkönen Minnesota Wild
Kaapo Kähkönen, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With Kähkönen playing so well, the Wild have a big decision to make now that Talbot is ready to return. Talbot was doing okay before his injury, but Kähkönen stepped up and has proven himself the last couple of weeks. It would make sense for Kähkönen to continue to play, but Talbot will also need to get his first start since the injury. It’s a good problem to have with two successful goaltenders.

The Wild have finally been able to piece their team back together following a long list of injuries and COVID issues. They continue to win despite the hardships and have done well this season, sitting in the first wild-card spot in the west. February will be a crazy month, however, but if any team has proven their ability, it’s the Wild, and it should be exciting from here.

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