The Blackhawks have found some innovative ways to lose during their current eight-game losing skid, but Friday night it was old-fashioned poor goaltending that led to the latest defeat.
Nikolai Khabibulin, who has ranged from spectacular to merely ordinary this season, allowed four goals on 15 shots, including 3 of 6 during the second period as the Minnesota Wild beat the Hawks 5-2 before a crowd of 21,139 at the United Center.
"I hate to blame Khabibulin for the loss," Hawks coach Denis Savard said. "But those goals, he knows, are not good goals. As I said to the guys after the second, no matter who makes the mistakes or whatever happens we need to stick together. Try to help your teammate out, try and bail him out."
The Hawks came out strong as Brent Sopel, playing in his first game after missing the previous seven with a broken finger, put them ahead at the 3 minute, 49 second mark of the first period.
Sopel intercepted a Minnesota pass, skated in on Wild goaltender Josh Harding and fired a wrist shot from between the circles over the goalie's shoulder for his first goal of the season.
"We started off great, went into a little lull there and they got a couple of lucky goals," Sopel said. "That was the game. We dominated them down low, got pucks to the net, got bodies to the net and did what we had to do but we have to find a way."
Minnesota tied it 1-1 at the 6:36 mark when Matt Foy beat defenseman Cam Barker to a loose puck and tucked it between the goal post and Khabibulin.
The Hawks played an intense, physical first period as Rene Bourque, Tuomo Ruttu and Duncan Keith all hammered Wild players into the boards with hard checks.
And then came the second. The Hawks seemed to lose steam when an apparent goal was disallowed after a video review. Winger Rene Bourque took a shot on Harding that trickled to the line before Kurtis Foster cleared it with 11:53 remaining. The red light went on and the Hawks celebrated. But it was all for naught as the replay showed the entire puck had not crossed the line.
Minnesota then scored three goals on its next five shots and the cheers had turned to boos as the Hawks left the ice.
Marian Gaborik, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Mark Parrish all scored in the second to hand Khabibulin his sixth straight defeat.
A goal by Martin Havlat while the Hawks had a two-man advantage cut the deficit to 4-2 at the 1:11 mark of the third. With Brent Burns (hooking) and Parrish (slashing) in the box, Robert Lang found Havlat in front with a pass and the winger buried it with a one-timer from between the circles for his sixth goal of the season.
The Hawks never stopped sending shots Harding's way as they took 43 but the netminder picked up his second victory in two nights after recording one in relief of Niklas Backstrom on Thursday night.
"It seems like by the shot total we outplayed them," said Hawks rookie Patrick Kane, who had six shots and several quality scoring opportunities. "Games like this happen. Bounces don't seem to be going our way right now. We have to work our way out of it. It was a good effort but we couldn't pull out the two points."
"I thought we had enough chances to win," Savard said. "We played more desperate and we have to continue to play that way for us to get out of this."
The sellout was the Hawks' fourth out of the last five games at the United Center but also the fourth straight time a home crowd has left after a loss.
Wild 5, Blackhawks 2