ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Cullen scored 90 seconds into the game and again in a shootout to lift the Minnesota Wild to a 3-2 victory over Chicago on Wednesday, handing the Blackhawks their first loss in seven games this season.
Cullen’s snap shot in the third round slipped between Corey Crawford’s legs, and Patrick Sharp then hit the crossbar for Chicago. The Blackhawks and San Jose were the only teams to start 6-0 this year. The Wild improved to 4-1 at home.
Goals by Andrew Shaw and Jonathan Toews early in the first period prompted the Wild to pull goalie Josh Harding for Niklas Backstrom.
Cal Clutterbuck also scored for the Wild, and Backstrom stopped all 28 shots he saw.
Crawford, off to a sharp start in his third season as Chicago’s primary goalie, made 23 saves as the Blackhawks started a season-long six-game road trip. They’ve played five straight one-goal games.
After putting 15 shots on net in the first period, the Wild had six over the remainder of regulation. They had one last prime opportunity when Sharp was penalized for hooking with 2:05 left, but the Blackhawks squelched the Minnesota power play for the fourth time — and headed for overtime after a scoreless third period.
Just like three years ago when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, star forwards Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Sharp have been in a groove since this shortened season began less than two weeks ago. Just 91 seconds after Shaw sent a wrist shot past Harding, Toews appeared on a rush up the left wing and zinged a bad-angle snapper from the middle of the circle that slid straight though Harding’s bent legs.
That was enough for coach Mike Yeo, who made the bold move of pulling Harding a mere 6 minutes, 45 seconds into the game. He faced only four shots.
Harding, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during the lockout, had a 24-save shutout of Dallas on Jan. 20 but gave up five goals at Detroit last Friday.
The Wild haven’t had much production from their second and third units, with the first line of Zach Parise, Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu combining for 10 of their first 13 goals through the weekend. But Pierre-Marc Bouchard had the go-ahead score late in the third period the night before, and Cullen notched his first goal of the season 90 seconds into this one on a rebound after struggling rookie Mikael Granlund’s slap shot bounced off Crawford’s chest.
Then Clutterbuck, with his back turned to the goal, tied it at 2 only 59 seconds into the second period with a deft tip of Tom Gilbert’s shot from the point that slipped through a Blackhawks defender’s legs. Yeo switched Cullen and Bouchard two games ago, but they were back on their original lines against the Blackhawks with Cullen centering Granlund and Devin Setoguchi and Kyle Brodziak at the pivot with Clutterbuck and Bouchard.
The Wild missed a bunch of chances. They had 83 seconds of a 5-on-3 after consecutive penalties late in the first period by Viktor Stalberg (interference) and Michael Frolik (boarding), but Crawford didn’t budge, blocking Bouchard’s attempt at a chip-in from the edge of the crease by diving almost all the way across the goal mouth.
Then in the second, they sputtered through a power play so lifelessly the home crowd let them have it with boos as the extra-skater situation expired. The Blackhawks came into the game second in the NHL in penalty killing behind Boston. They have given up just one goal in 27 attempts and none in 19 situations on the road.