If there is such a thing as a must-win game in the first month of the season, Sunday night was it for the Blackhawks.
With their captain and three of their top forwards sidelined with injuries and a stern upcoming schedule, the Hawks could ill afford to drop any more points at home.
But third-period goals by Michael Holmqvist and Duncan Keith lifted the Hawks to a 4-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild before 11,368 at the United Center.
"When you're in a hole, you need all the points you can get," Hawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin said. "I think the way we played was more important. We were very aggressive."
Unlike their last appearance at the United Center, when the Hawks failed to compete in the first 40 minutes against Columbus, the Hawks jumped on Minnesota from the start.
It was the kind of start that should have been expected for a team with four days off and facing an opponent that had played the night before. But despite outshooting Minnesota 14-5 in the first period, the Hawks went into the dressing room tied 1-1.
"We had a great first period, but we didn't come away with what we wanted," winger Matthew Barnaby said. "But guys stuck together."
Rene Bourque, playing on a line with Tyler Arnason and Pavel Vorobiev, jammed in his second goal of the season, beating Dwayne Roloson to the post to make it 1-0.
But the Hawks learned quickly how good Minnesota's power play is. With Todd Simpson in the box for kneeing, Brian Rolston's shot deflected off Hawks defenseman Jaroslav Spacek and to Marian Gaborik, who had an empty net to tie it.
The Hawks took the lead off some good work in the corners by Bourque. His effort led to a loose puck that Arnason picked up before skating to the front of the net and beating Roloson to make it 2-1.
Less than three minutes later, though, playing four-on-four, Gaborik beat Khabibulin through his pads to tie the game 2-2. It was a shot Khabibulin should have stopped.
"I tried not to get frustrated and tried to concentrate on stopping the next shot," Khabibulin said. "I wasn't very happy."
The tide of the game changed midway through the second period. For the 16th time this season, the Hawks were facing a five-on-three when Spacek and Barnaby went off for penalties. The Wild had a two-man advantage for 1 minutes 48 seconds but managed just two shots.
"After we killed the five-on-three, I really felt better," Khabibulin said. "I got a little confidence and felt better after that."
The Hawks ended up killing six Minnesota power plays in the second period alone. After the goal on the first attempt, they held Minnesota in check on its last eight power plays.
"We feel like we're getting the short end of the stick on some calls, and it's tough," defenseman Jassen Cullimore said. "We have to work through that."
Holmqvist gave the Hawks the lead, tucking in a rebound of a Cullimore shot at 10:32 of the third, and Keith, who led the team with five shots on goal, netted his first NHL goal on the power play at 13:22.
"It's only one game," Khabibulin said. "We need to put some games together."
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