ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Tuesday's game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild came down to two things: Who would make the first mistake, and would the team benefitting from it take advantage?
The teams battled to a 0-0 standstill late into the second period until Chicago got the bounce it needed.
Marian Hossa took advantage of a Wild turnover and scored his 14th goal of the season 15:14 into the second period, supplying all the offense the Blackhawks would need in a 1-0 victory at Xcel Energy Center.
Chicago goaltender Ray Emery, starting his third straight game, stopped 20 shots to record his third shutout in his past five starts and improve to 15-1-0. His best period was the second, when he made 10 saves. He stopped six to close out the win in the third.
"He's finding pucks, and I thought our defense played very well in front of him," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Ray's been doing a great job for us, so it was nice to see him pitch a shutout as well."
Chicago had the better first-period chances but ran into stingy Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom. He stopped 11 shots then gloved a sure goal at the left post for Patrick Sharp five minutes into the second to keep the game scoreless.
Finally, late in the second, Hossa was in the right place at the right time.
Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner attempted a breakout pass from the right half wall but Hossa intercepted it in the slot. He came in alone and beat Backstrom with a wrist shot through the five-hole.
"Sometimes you try to use your instinct," Hossa said. "I saw he was going to make a pass across and, basically, I was at the spot and the timing was right. The puck hit me right on the tape."
Stoner said, "It's a play I wish I could have back. I didn't see [Hossa] in the middle, obviously it ended up on his stick … it was a costly one tonight."
Stoner's pass was moving rapidly, so Hossa said his first priority was to make sure he didn't try to shoot a rolling puck.
"Everything happens so quick," Hossa said. "The checker was getting close to me, so I didn't hesitate and tried to release it quick."
The goal was vintage Hossa. Long known as one of the NHL's best two-way wings, the play illustrated his ability to turn a nice defensive play into instant offense.
"Anticipation is a part of his game. That's exactly what happened on that play," Quenneville said. "He's had some real good looks the last few games with no production to reflect it."
Quenneville also said he was pleased with the play of Sharp, who returned to the lineup for the first time after sustaining a shoulder injury March 6. Chicago is 22-0-3 with Sharp this season.
"Played very well," Quenneville said. "He was good defensively, good offensively, got some pucks at the net … I thought he played very well."
Wild coach Mike Yeo said he felt both teams were a little tight in the early going. By the second period, he knew it likely would come down to a single mistake.
"It had that feel," he said.
Backstrom stopped 30 shots; he's lost four of his past six starts and is 20-11-2 this season.
Chicago, which already clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, returns home Friday to play the Detroit Red Wings. The Blackhawks will play four of their next five games at the United Center.
Minnesota could help Chicago wrap up the Central Division championship by winning against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night. Chicago would need to get one game to overtime the rest of the way to win the division.
With regulation losses by the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, the Wild missed an opportunity to gain ground on both. A 1-0 win by the Blues at the Nashville Predators pulled St. Louis into a tie for sixth place in the west with Minnesota, setting up a crucial game here Thursday night. The teams are one point back of the Sharks and two behind the Kings.
Minnesota trails the Vancouver Canucks by four points in the Northwest Division. Each team has nine games remaining.
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