ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center, Wild star Zach Parise returned to action after missing 14 games because of a foot injury.
And he was, in no way, the story.
Against one of the most potent teams in the NHL, and only days after a disappointing loss at Dallas, the Wild rebounded with a 2-1 victory over Chicago.
Jason Pominville and Matt Cooke scored first-period goals for the Wild, and goaltender Darcy Kuemper made the lead stand up -- with a whole lot of help from his friends. Except for a flurry to start the third period, the Blackhawks were, for the most part neutralized by some fine defensive play by the Wild, which improved to 28-20-5 overall and 19-7-2 at home after having won three of its past four games.
Patrick Kane ended Kuemper's bid for his second shutout of the season with a goal from the right circle with 31.2 seconds left.
Chicago, playing on the back end of a back-to-back, outshot the Wild 34-19, but the Wild had at least as many scoring opportunities as the Blackhawks. And what shots did get through the defense Kuemper stopped, with one exception. Kuemper is now 5-2-0 since being recalled from Iowa on Jan. 2.
Chicago (32-9-12 overall) lost for the sixth time this season on the road.
Down by two goals, Chicago started the third period with some energy, getting two good chances from Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews on the rebound, but Kuemper turned both aside. As the third period wound down Chicago upped the pressure, but neither the Wild in general nor Kuemper in particular wavered.
It was the Mikael Granlund-Dany Heatley-Pominville line that started the scoring off, and it got started in style. Pominville carried the puck into the zone along the right boards. He sent the puck across the ice to Heatley, who fed it to Granlund coming down the slot. Granlund drew Antti Raanta over, then sent the puck back to Pominville skating through the right circle. Pominville scored his 20th goal of the season into what was essentially an open net for a 1-0 lead at 8:08.
Just over four minutes later the Wild got a gift when, after a strong shift from the Charlie Coyle-Parise-Nino Niederreiter line, both Sharp and Brent Seabrook were sent off for cross-checking, giving the Wild two minutes of a 5-on-3 power play.
They failed to score, but it didn't change the game's momentum.
Because, less than three minutes after that 5-on-3 expired, Cooke made it 2-0.
Kyle Brodziak sent the puck into the Wild zone, and Justin Fontaine won the race to the puck in the high slot, and he sent the puck to Cooke in the left circle. His shot beat Raanta on the glove side at 15:31.
It was still 2-0, thanks in large part to Kuemper's 11 saves in the second period -- some on difficult chances and despite having to play a good portion of the period with Niklas Backstrom's mask after the strap on his mask broke.
Among his better saves included stopping Bryan Bickell as he came down the slot midway through the period and stopping Michal Handzus on the doorstep moments later. The Wild's best chance of the period came when Fontaine hit the right post at 12:20.
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