Apparently, the Blackhawks are taking this whole playoff thing seriously.
The Hawks picked up two crucial points in the Western Conference race Tuesday night when they defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-2 before a crowd of 18,568 at the Excel Energy Center. It was the Hawks' first victory in Minnesota in nearly six years and improved their overall record to 32-28-6 as they won for the fifth time in their last seven games.
"Give credit to everybody," said Hawks goalie Patrick Lalime, who made 28 saves to win his 14th game of the season. "We battled hard and got some big goals. Old-time hockey—just playing the simple way, shoot the puck, get the rebound, hit a skate, whatever. We'll take it."
The Hawks hadn't won at Xcel Energy Center since March 29, 2002, and are now 8-19-1 all-time against the Wild.
After Pavol Demitra put Minnesota ahead 1-0 in the first period, the Hawks struck back 45 seconds later as Jason Williams banked a shot off the Wild's Eric Belanger and past goaltender Niklas Backstrom.
Williams also added an assist in extending his points streak to six games.
Duncan Keith gave the Hawks a 2-1 lead midway through the second when he batted a puck out of midair and past Backstrom for his ninth goal of the season.
"A great team effort," Keith said. "Our goaltender kept us in it early on and after that we kind of played a great team game. Played smart and disciplined.
"We realize we have a chance to make the playoffs and it hasn't been done here in a while. We're fighting for our lives and we need efforts like that."
Lalime's best save came when he thwarted a two-on-none Wild breakaway in the waning minutes of the second period.
After the puck squirted away from Hawks defenseman Jordan Hendry, Marian Gaborik and Demitra broke in alone on Lalime, but the veteran goalie slid on his knees across the crease to stop a Gaborik attempt.
"I was waiting for it," Lalime said. "[Gaborik] showed it to me a little and I tried to be as patient as I could and wait until the last second."
Minnesota native Dustin Byfuglien scored a power-play goal early in the third period to give the Hawks a 3-1 lead. Byfuglien sent a wrist shot from inside the right circle past Backstrom for his 14th goal of the season. The Wild cut the lead to 3-2 four minutes later on a Stephane Veilleux goal, but Craig Adams scored an empty-netter with 15 seconds remaining for the final margin.
"Coming into games like this there's no doubt in our mind we can come out with two points," said rookie Jonathan Toews, who played 18 minutes 15 seconds while wearing a full face shield after suffering a cut to his mouth Sunday against Vancouver. "That's the attitude you have to have and we're going to keep going that way."
Draft party Andrew Ladd, who picked up an assist on Keith's goal,again was paired on a line with Hawks rookies Patrick Kane and Toews. All three players were high first-round draft picks, Ladd fourth overall for Carolina in 2004, Toews No. 3 for the Hawks in '06 and Kane No. 1 overall in '07.
"Ladd is really growing on me," Hawks coach Denis Savard said. "I like his game. I like how he's playing [and] how he's going to the net. He's a big body and played a heck of a game for us."