ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks have grown accustomed to making the playoffs every year in recent seasons. They often seem to face each other in the postseason as well.
Yet in early November, neither the Wild nor the Blackhawks are playing the level of hockey to which their fans grew accustomed when these two teams were squaring off in the playoffs.
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Both Minnesota and Chicago have gotten off to slow starts so far in the 2017-18 season. The Wild’s most recent win improved their record to 5-4-2. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, are just ahead of Minnesota in the standings with a 6-5-2 mark.
The Wild routed the Blackhawks by a 5-2 final in Chicago earlier this season. The Central division foes will match up for the second time in the young season on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.
Minnesota is coming off a bounce-back effort, a 6-3 win over Montreal that followed a 2-1 loss at home to Winnipeg. The Wild’s latest victory was a chance for defenseman Matt Dumba to redeem himself.
After a rough game against the Hurricanes, Dumba had a pair of assists in Thursday’s victory and drew praise from his head coach.
“I thought that was his best game of the year,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said of Dumba. “He shot the puck. He played a simple game. And when he plays a simple game, his skills come through.”
Chicago enters Saturday’s tilt a few days removed from a 3-0 shutout of Philadelphia. Goalie Corey Crawford stopped all 35 shots he faced to snap the Blackhawks’ three-game losing streak.
“We needed a big effort,” Crawford told the Chicago Tribune. “We’ve been playing pretty good hockey, just haven’t gotten some wins. It was a good one for us to get a big win at home and get back on track.”
When these two teams met back in October in Chicago, it was Chris Stewart scoring a pair of goals for the Wild. Stewart scored just two goals in seven games since.
But Minnesota relies on a balanced scoring attack. Ten different Wild players have at least five points through 11 games, with Stewart’s six goals leading in that department.
Chicago, meanwhile, has gotten scoring from its top-end duo of Patrick Kane (team-high 13 points) and Jonathan Toews (nine points) in 13 games. Now the Blackhawks will find out if they can build off of their 3-0 win that ended a tough three-game stretch.
“Probably in 10 years that we’re looking at the standings, we’re not where we want to be,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville told the Chicago Tribune. “So let’s do something about it.”
Minnesota is 3-2-1 at home this year. Thursday’s convincing victory over the Canadiens, in which six different players scored goals, also snapped a power play drought. The Wild hadn’t scored a power play goal in four games prior to Thursday, going 0-for-16 with the man advantage in those games.
“They moved the puck around fast, and the other thing they did, they shot and they played to the inside of their guys,” Boudreau said of the Wild’s power play. “They were getting shots through. When you do those things, good things happen.”