ST. PAUL, Minn. — Not eight minutes after Seth Jones and Erik Gustafsson teamed up for a long-awaited goal Saturday, a miscommunication involving Jones and Gustafsson rendered the goal moot.
The defensemen, as well as Jonathan Toews, pursued a dump-in by the Wild with just over three minutes to play, but not one of them got to the puck first. Two quick passes later, a wide-open Ryan Hartman buried a backdoor shot to restore the Wild’s lead in an eventual 3-1 victory over the Blackhawks.
“Miscommunication in the D-zone — seems like it has happened a lot this year in the last few minutes of a game,” Jones said.
“We just had a little brain lapse,” interim coach Derek King said. “We doubled up, and we didn’t cover the front. Against good hockey teams like that, they’re going to put it in the back of your net.”
Earlier, Jones had ripped a perfectly placed snipe over goalie Cam Talbot’s glove hand to tie the game with 11:03 left, completing a beautiful play that involved Gustafsson and Dylan Strome but was primarily orchestrated by Patrick Kane. Jones picked up his first goal since Dec. 2 — 35 games ago — and he admitted it was a “relief.”
The Hawks’ resilience to keep the game competitive under tough circumstances — the trade deadline is on everyone’s mind — deserves credit. Without that breakdown, they easily could’ve gotten a point or two out of the afternoon, not that the standings matter at this point.
But there was little doubt the Wild, who swept the four-game season series, were the better team. They dominated shot attempts 68-38, shots on goal 34-22 and scoring chances 34-17.
Despite the loss, Saturday marked one of Kevin Lankinen’s best starts in a challenging season. His 31 saves on 33 shots were good for a .939 save percentage, his first time clearing .910 since Nov. 26 and his second-highest out of 15 starts. He posted a .952 against the Predators on Nov. 7.
“I was seeing the puck well, battling, just keeping the rebounds out of their sticks,” he said. “The ‘D’ did a good job keeping my side clean and letting me see the puck and handle the first shot. It was a good step forward again, and [there’s] a lot to build on.”
Mobility in and around the crease has always been a strong aspect of Lankinen’s goaltending, and it was on display. He kept square to the puck even during angle-changing passes and repositioned himself quickly and accurately during net-front scrambles.
Rebound control has often been a struggle — it especially plagued him during an otherwise solid showing in his last start, in Boston — but also looked better. He disagreed with that assessment, though.
“I don’t think it has been a real issue,” he said. “It has been one of my strengths throughout the year. But [I’m] definitely working on that, trying to keep the hands active and catch as many pucks as you can. And if you don’t, you just [try to] put them in the corner.”
Alongside new acquisitions Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk, who made their Hawks debuts, young defenseman Alex Vlasic made his NHL debut. King eased the Boston University product into action with a light 6:10 of ice time.
“[He’s a] good-sized body out there” King said. “[He] moved well, closed on guys, had a good stick, so the future looks bright for this kid.”