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Blackhawks blown out by Wild in ‘embarrassing’ outdoor debacle

MINNEAPOLIS — Lost amid all the pomp and circumstance, and the halcyon memories evoked by the alumni game, and all the jokes about how the Blackhawks play in an outdoor game every year, was the fact that Sunday’s game between the Hawks and the Minnesota Wild actually counted for two points. Two points that could be crucial for the Hawks as they try to hold off the Stars and Blues for the Central Division title. And two points that are even more precious to the Wild, as they try to claw back into the playoff picture after a miserable winter that cost coach Mike Yeo his job.

“We’re in a tight race at the top of the Central, so any points you can get are needed, and every game is meaningful,” Patrick Kane said on Saturday. “We’ve got to be aware of that.”

Aware? The Hawks were barely awake.

The Hawks fell completely flat in one of their more miserable efforts of the season in a 6-1 loss to a hyped-up Wild team playing its first outdoor game. The Hawks are now 1-3 all-time outdoors, their lone win coming at Soldier Field in 2014.

“We try to view it as another game, but at the same time, we wanted to be better than we have been in these outdoor games, especially when the NHL kind of keeps counting on us to play in them,” Kane said after the loss. “It’d be nice to end up on the other end. But today was obviously a tough one.”

That’s putting it mildly.

It was an idyllic atmosphere in the self-proclaimed State of Hockey, with TCF Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota packed with 50,426 fans on a crisp 35-degree day. There was even a brief snowfall in the first period for effect. But from the opening faceoff, it appeared that only the Wild were into this one. The Wild were on the attack, crashing the net and chasing down loose pucks, blowing past Hawks defensemen with ease. The Hawks, meanwhile, barely got out of their own zone. And when they did, they were one-and-done every time, losing nearly every race, every puck battle.

“We just needed to come out with a little more jump, especially in an atmosphere like this in front of the big home crowd,” Trevor van Riemsdyk said. “We were excited, too, but we should have been a little bit better prepared.”

It was a poor effort in a season that, despite their best-in-the-West record, has become alarmingly common. And the Hawks were quick to dismiss a busy schedule and Thursday’s White House visit as factors.

“Definitely no excuse to play the way we did,” said Corey Crawford, who was pulled after letting in four goals on 23 shots through two periods. “It was a little embarrassing out there, to be honest. To have our fans come and watch that, it was definitely a tough one to swallow.”

The Hawks were never in it. Matt Dumba scored 3:25 in, as a costly Brent Seabrook pinch led to a Ryan Carter rush, which Dumba followed up on after Crawford made two initial stops. Thomas Vanek added a power-play goal after an ill-advised Phil Danault retaliation on a clean hit by Dumba on Andrew Desjardins.

The Hawks then had a goal waved off for goalie interference, as Jonathan Toews brushed Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk before Duncan Keith put the puck in the net. That was the lone sign of life the Hawks had, as Minnesota put the game away in the second period on goals by Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville.

Things went from bad to worse shortly after that, as Michal Rozsival was ejected and given a five-minute major for a hit that resulted in Jason Zucker hitting his head on the ice and staying down for a few minutes. He had to be helped off the ice. A source said the NHL Department of Player Safety circled the hit for a further look, but the severe penalty for the hit will probably spare Rozsival supplemental discipline.

“I didn’t think it was a major,” Joel Quenneville said. “It was a spontaneous play as a defenseman in that situation. He just played the man [and] unfortunately the player was injured.”

Scott Darling replaced Crawford in the third, and it didn’t make much of a difference given the way the Hawks defense was playing. Carter got behind Viktor Svedberg to make it 5-0 at 2:25 of the third. By the time Kane scored off a van Riemsdyk shot that caromed off the end boards, it was far too late. Haula was awarded an empty-net goal with more than six minutes left when he was pulled down on a breakaway by Kane — a fitting end for a team that looked lost defensively all day.

“I don’t know exactly how to explain it,” van Riemsdyk said. “We felt really confident coming in that we were really well prepared — the coaches did a great job of showing us what they like to do, what their tendencies were. I know I, myself, didn’t execute very well tonight. Obviously that’s not what we wanted. We’ve got to look at ourselves in the mirror here and come out the next couple of games and really show ourselves.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus