Chicago at Minnesota

Backstrom unbeatable for Wild in opener against Blackhawks

CBSSports.com wire reports
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Niklas Backstrom picked up where he left off, bailing the Minnesota Wild out with another stellar game in goal.

Backstrom made 27 saves, Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored, and the Wild hung on to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 1-0 on Thursday in the season opener for both teams.

Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire was wincing afterward, happy he had Backstrom -- the unflappable Finn -- around to make up for a flat, sluggish performance by most of his skaters.

"He played as good as he could play. You could say that he won this game for us," Lemaire said.

Backstrom was given a two-year, $6.2 million contract in June, leading the team to trade Manny Fernandez to Boston. In his first game under the burden of the big money and the starting job, Backstrom was just as sharp and calm as he was as a 29-year-old rookie who helped the Wild make the playoffs for the second time in franchise history.

He didn't give up many rebounds and didn't budge when the Blackhawks had a brief 5-on-3 midway through the second period.

"It's easier when you don't have to think too much," Backstrom said.

Nikolai Khabibulin wasn't bad himself in the other net. He stopped 23 shots, letting only one get by him in the middle frame when Minnesota's attack was the strongest.

The four-time All-Star has not played up to his reputation or his contract with Chicago, posting a goals-against average of 3.06 over his first two seasons with this young club.

The Blackhawks introduced Patrick Kane on the right wing after using the first selection in this summer's draft to take him. The 18-year-old, paired with fellow rookie Jonathan Toews, has given Chicago the hope of more offense and a return to competitiveness after several bleak years.

Toews, the third overall draft pick in 2006, was scratched because of a broken finger, delaying his debut by at least one game. But coach Denis Savard was excited about Kane, who had a late chance to tie it when his wrist shot from the left circle with less than 1 minute remaining that was smothered by Backstrom.

"Best forward on the ice. It says a lot about the kid. That's why it's going to be fun for our fans," said Savard, who sounded far more pleased by his team's effort than Lemaire did about his.

"We've got to just continue to keep going and climb that little hill," Savard said.

Kane played 16-plus minutes and put two shots on the net.

"I felt pretty good out there," he said. "It all comes down to working hard and playing with confidence. I guess it would've been really nice if we got the win, but all in all it's OK."

The Wild are further along in their development, as Bouchard -- the first-round selection in 2002 -- showed in the second period.

Coming off a 20-goal season and placed on a second line that coach Jacques Lemaire has raved about with Brian Rolston and new center Eric Belanger, Bouchard got the first goal of 2007-08 for Minnesota.

Rolston took the puck to the blue line and fed Belanger, who went to the corner and sent a quick pass across the crease for Bouchard to knock it over and past Khabibulin's stick. The Wild almost had a second goal less than two minutes later, when Stephane Veilleux's shot from between the circles hit the crossbar and was signaled good on the ice. The video review, however, wiped it out.

Lemaire was frustrated with his defensemen and frequently mixed up the blue-line combinations. The first line of Marian Gaborik, Pavol Demitra and center Wes Walz totaled only two shots.

"We had to stop the morning skate because they were flying. Tonight comes? No legs. No legs. We couldn't skate with those guys," Lemaire said.

Despite his disappointment, this was an even game a bit like the old North Stars-Blackhawks feuds in the Norris Division. It included a smattering of cold stares, shoves -- and two fights involving Minnesota enforcer Derek Boogaard. He served seven penalty minutes.

Chicago's Martin Havlat, whose career has been marked by a series of injuries, hurt his shoulder on a punch in a scrum late in the third period. Savard said Havlat was injured trying to protect himself, and Havlat -- who was sent for X-rays -- was wearing a sling.

Notes

  • The Wild gave up the fewest goals in the league last season at 2.24 per game. The Blackhawks were second-to-last in the NHL in scoring with 2.38 goals per game.
  • Former Minnesota defenseman Andrei Zyuzin is on injured reserve with Chicago because of a strained groin.
Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
 
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Martin Havlat comes close, but not close enough to beat Niklas Backstrom in the opening game. (AP)
Martin Havlat comes close, but not close enough to beat Niklas Backstrom in the opening game. (AP)

Scoreboard
Chicago (0-1-0)0000
Minnesota  (1-0-0) «0101
Three Stars
N. Backstrom
MIN


Saves: 27
Save Pct.: 1.000
N. Khabibulin
CHI


Saves: 23
Save Pct.: .958
P. Bouchard
MIN


Goals: 1
Assist(s): 0
Scoring Summary
1ST PERIOD
None
2ND PERIOD
04:47Pierre-Marc Bouchard (1), Wrist Shot. Assist: Eric Belanger, Brian Rolston
3RD PERIOD
None
Penalty Summary
1ST PERIOD
02:11Lapointe, 2 min, Hooking
16:49Burish, 2 min, Roughing
16:49Burish, 2 min, Roughing
16:49Boogaard, 2 min, Roughing
19:00Bouchard, 2 min, Holding
2ND PERIOD
03:06Boogaard, 5 min, Fighting
03:06Koci, 5 min, Fighting
08:51Williams, 2 min, Tripping
09:55Demitra, 2 min, Interference
11:18Walz, 2 min, Hooking
14:31Seabrook, 2 min, Hooking
3RD PERIOD
02:07Radivojevic, 2 min, Tripping
16:59Bourque, 2 min, Roughing
16:59Radivojevic, 2 min, Roughing
SHOTS ON GOAL
 123T
Chicago911727
Minnesota314724
Goalies
GoalieMINSSGA
Nikolai Khabibulin59:03231
Niklas Backstrom60:00270
Game Information
Attendance - 18568
Referees - Marc Joannette, Tom Kowal
Linesmen - Derek Amell, Brad Lazarowich
 
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