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Flat Blackhawks drop second straight as Wild win 2-1

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Updated: January 23, 2014 11:16PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Give an opponent two goals in a game, and the Blackhawks are probably going to win. Give the Minnesota Wild two goals, however, and good luck. Especially when those two goals come early, and the Wild can go into lockdown mode.

The Hawks dropped their second game in as many nights on Thursday, falling 2-1 to the Wild in a dull, lifeless affair — just the way Minnesota likes it.

“We didn’t give up a ton,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “But they weren’t looking to generate much.”

Their puck-moving defense already greatly hampered by the loss of Duncan Keith for the night to an illness, the Hawks found themselves unable to get the puck through the neutral zone with any speed and efficiency. When they finally did breach the blue line, they found the slot clogged with as many as five Minnesota players, sagging to the middle to take away passing lanes and paths to the net. And when they actually put a decent shot on net, the Wild’s third-string goalie, Darcy Kuemper, came up big, making 33 saves.

Patrick Kane’s goal with 31.2 seconds left — his first goal in a dozen games — at least averted what would have been the Hawks’ first regular-season shutout loss since Feb. 25, 2012, against the Los Angeles Kings.

“They played a good game,” said Hawks defenseman Johnny Oduya. “Their goalie obviously played very well. But I felt we didn’t really get in front of the net as much as we wanted to, or get pucks there. It’s always tough, they play a good defensive style. They want to keep you on the outside.”

A poor start for the Hawks led to the shutdown finish for the Wild. Minnesota got its first shot — and a 1-0 lead — eight minutes into the game, as Jason Pominville finished a pretty three-on-two rush with his 20th goal of the season.

The Hawks had a chance to seize some momentum after they killed a full two-minute 5-on-3 Wild power play soon after, but instead, Antti Raanta gave up a bad goal to Matt Cooke after Justin Fontaine beat three Hawks to a loose puck in the offensive zone.

Raanta, knowing how valuable every goal is against the Wild, was kicking himself after the game.

“The first goal was pretty nice — tic-tac-toe,” said Raanta, making his first start in 11 days, and just his second in 20. “But the second one was too easy. … The second goal is still inside [my] head. [You’ve got to] try to get some better way to move your ass and be in the right place at the right time.”

The Wild dictated the tempo from there, slowing the game to a crawl in an uneventful second period. With Keith out, Quenneville paired Niklas Hjalmarsson with Brent Seabrook, Michal Rozsival with Oduya (both of whom were on the ice for both Minnesota goals), and Nick Leddy with Sheldon Brookbank. By the middle of the second period, Quenneville had shaken up his forward combinations, too, in an futile attempt to spark the Hawks offense.

The absence of Keith — the Hawks’ leading assist man, top puck-mover and defensive presence — was significant.

“Duncs wasn’t here today, but we should be able to step up and play a good team game defensively, anyway,” Oduya said. “I think the guys that came in and played did a tremendous job. It’s tough when he’s out, but it’s nothing we blame this game on.”

It was the Hawks’ second straight defeat — albeit in drastically different fashion to Wednesday’s thrill-a-minute shootout loss in Detroit — after two stirring home wins over Anaheim and Boston.

“I thought we’d be better tonight than we were [in Detroit],” Quenneville said. “But that wasn’t the case.”


Twitter: @marklazerus

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