Blackhawks routed by Wild after good injury news proves short-lived

Seth Jones, Dylan Strome and Kirby Dach returned from COVID-19, but Jujhar Khaira and Riley Stillman suffered new injuries as the Hawks lost 5-1 on Friday.

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The Wild blew out the Blackhawks at the United Center on Friday.

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

The Blackhawks entered Friday the healthiest they’ve been in some time.

Hours later, their fortunes turned again — in terms of both health and performance.

Seth Jones, Dylan Strome and Kirby Dach all returned from COVID-19 but Jujhar Khaira suffered lower back spasms and Riley Stillman departed mid-game with a left shoulder injury as the Hawks put up little fight in a 5-1 loss to the Wild.

“They didn’t have to play defense — they were in our end the whole time,” interim coach Derek King said. “They close on players quick. They don’t give you a lot of time and space. And we did the opposite down in our end: we gave them too much time.”

In the first leg of the home-and-home series, the Wild jumped all over the Hawks early, scoring twice in the first five minutes, building a 3-0 first-intermission lead and never looking back. Final scoring chances favored the Wild, 28-18.

“Our start, in general, wasn’t good,” Connor Murphy said. “It didn’t seem like we were ready to compete at the same level they were. [And] we were giving them opportunities in the slot, and that can’t happen.”

Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled from a start for the first time since Oct. 16 after uncharacteristically saving just nine of 13 shots, including one that bounced in off his pad and another that snuck between his arm and torso.

That forced Kevin Lankinen, who remains scheduled to start Saturday’s rematch in Minnesota, into his first action since Dec. 18.

Injury updates

Khaira’s back injury is day-to-day and he’ll likely join the Hawks later on their three-game road trip, King said.

Stillman’s shoulder injury —which left the Hawks down to 16 skaters during the third period Friday, as MacKenzie Entwistle had been ejected earlier for fighting — seems potentially more significant. He’s not expected to come on the trip.

Their setbacks coincidentally come after a week full of good health news for the Hawks, who emptied their COVID-19 protocol list Friday with Dach and Brett Connolly’s activations.

As far as the two players on injured reserve, King said Tyler Johnson (neck surgery) might start being able to take contact next week and Reese Johnson (broken clavicle) might resume skating next week.

Toews backs NHL’s policy

The NHL shifted its COVID-19 testing policy —to only testing symptomatic players starting in February — partiallyas a result of a large majority of players pushing for the change. Jonathan Toews made it clear Friday he’s part of that group.

“It just makes so much more sense on a lot of levels,” Toews said. “If you’re too sick to play, then you should stay home and take care of yourself and rest. Now we can get back to just not having to jump through all these hoops and the logistics, [which has been] the nightmare for every team.

“Everyone can argue their opinions and different points of view. But you have a lot of guys who have been sitting around for five to 10 days, doing absolutely nothing, and that gets pretty frustrating for everybody.”

That’s certainly true for the Hawks, who have had many asymptomatic COVID cases but only one symptomatic COVID case (Fleury) this month.

Dylan Strome, one of those asymptomatic cases, correctly noted Friday — in response to a lighthearted question — that he “never would have known I had it” if the February policies were already in place.

“[It’s] kind of crazy how that happens,” Strome added. “But the vaccine and the booster work for that reason.”

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