Wild's critical road trip includes key game against surging Chicago

The key game in the Central Division race is Sunday between Minnesota and Chicago.

There's no such thing as panic mode with the Minnesota Wild still pacing the Western Conference with 90 points, but the Chicago Blackhawks are not making the Central Division race comfortable.

Since Feb. 1, the Wild are 9-5-1 compared to the Blackhawks' 12-1-0 mark. The pressure Chicago has applied has shrunk Minnesota's seven-point lead to just one.

"It's going to be big," said Eric Staal after the Wild lost to Mike Yeo's Blues on Tuesday. "We know where we're at, we like our team but we gotta build and come together. Good chance for us to get out on the road together and build our game. It doesn't have to be pretty on the road it's just gotta be effective. If we consistently find the way that we can win, starting on this trip, we're going to put ourselves in a good position. We'll talk about it, we'll work at it and be excited to play some good teams on this trip."

The Blackhawks' offense is firing on all cylinders and their defense is second in the NHL since the start of February.

Goals per game since Feb. 1:

  • Wild: 3.1
  • Chicago: 4.1

Goals allowed per game since Feb. 1:

  • Wild: 2.7
  • Chicago: 2.2

Chicago has scored 5+ goals in seven of its last 13 games and at least 4 goals 11 of those 13. Minnesota, meanwhile, has just two non-empty-net goal in its last eight periods. Again, nothing to panic about, but the Blackhawks are charging and charging hard with two of the best players on the planet.

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have combined for three hat tricks in the last six games. According to the Chicago Tribune, Toews has 8 goals and 12 assists since Feb. 1 and Kane has 14 goals over that stretch.

Kane called a game against the Wild in St. Paul on Feb. 8 the biggest of the season. They won 4-3 in overtime and they came back to Xcel Energy Center and beat the Wild again Feb. 21. By the time the rivals meet again on Sunday, the standings could have a different look.

The Wild play back-to-back road games Thursday and Friday against Tampa Bay and Florida. Then a day of rest and the Blackhawks in Chicago on Sunday. Chicago, meanwhile, hosts Anaheim Thursday before playing in Detroit Friday.

Everyone knew the Central Division would come down to the wire between Minnesota and Chicago, but the Wild need to show up Sunday and make a statement of their own in Chicago.

Note: The last power-play goal allowed by the Wild was 11 games ago when Toews scored. Minnesota is a perfect 22-for-22 on the kill since that Chicago game. 

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