ST. PAUL, Minn. - Marian Hossa's return to the scoring column came at the perfect time for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Hossa's second period goal and Ray Emery's second shutout in three games powered Chicago to a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday.
It was the sixth win in eight games for the Blackhawks, while Minnesota is suddenly slumping, having lost five of its last seven.
For Hossa, whose team has clinched a playoff spot, there's a feeling of post-season play on the ice already.
"Not many goals. Tight checking games," he said. "You get that feeling, it's coming to the playoffs and everybody's pushing, playing a tight checking game. It was like that tonight."
With the Blackhawks out-shooting Minnesota by a margin of better than 2-to-1, Hossa finally snapped the 0-0 deadlock late in the second period. Hossa stepped in front of Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner's outlet pass, intended for Mikko Koivu, and had an unobstructed route to the Minnesota net. Hossa's slap shot beat Backstrom low. It was the first goal in nearly a month for Hossa, who missed six games due to injury in late March and early April.
"Nice finish," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville of Hossa's goal. "I think he's had some real good looks as a line there in the last few games, and no production to reflect it. It was very timely at the time, knowing we were having some great opportunities and nothing to show for it, so it was nice to get that lead."
There were no goals and only one penalty in the first half of the game, although both teams were within inches of scoring at least once. In the first period Hossa swatted a loose puck into the Minnesota net a half-second after the play had been whistled dead. In the second, Minnesota's Cal Clutterbuck got a puck past Chicago goalie Ray Emery, but could not poke it over the goal line before Emery smothered it. And Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy clanked the right goal post with a shot from the blue line later in the middle period.
"We have to generate more. That's about it," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "Let's be realistic too. We played a pretty good team tonight. There's a reason why their record is where it is. We gave ourselves a chance to win the game and we blinked first."
It was the first home game in a Wild uniform for top-line wing Jason Pominville, acquired by Minnesota in a deadline day trade with Buffalo. He was held to just one shot on goal. Wild players also acknowledged that playoff-style hockey has arrived a few weeks early.
"You have to have some pretty thick skin to make a long playoff run," said Zach Parise, who went to the Stanley Cup Finals with New Jersey last spring. "I think we're getting there. We're starting to play some playoff atmosphere and playoff-type games where there's not a lot of opportunity and not a lot of scoring chances. But on the flip side we've got to win those types of games because that's what we're going to see from now on."
Backstrom finished with 30 saves for the Wild, who host St. Louis on Thursday night. For the Blackhawks, Emery was making his third consecutive start and finished with 20 saves. They host the Red Wings on Friday night at the United Center.
NOTES: Wild center Dany Heatley will miss the rest of the season after undergoing successful arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder Tuesday morning in Cleveland. Heatley, who had 21 points in 36 games for the Wild this season, was injured at the final horn of Minnesota's 4-2 loss in San Jose last week as a result of a skirmish with Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the Sharks. A team press release said they expect Heatley to be fully recovered by the start of the 2013-14 season. ... Chicago had better shoulder-related news on Tuesday, as right wing Patrick Sharp returned to the Blackhawks lineup after missing 14 games with a shoulder injury. Sharp has 18 points in 24 games for Chicago. ... Minor leaguers for the Wild may be playing much closer to Minnesota next season. The team has thus far been unable to reach agreement on a new lease at the Toyota Center, home of its AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros. Wild owner Craig Leipold has spoken publicly in the past about the possibility of the team moving its AHL operation to Des Moines, Iowa, which is a five-hour drive from St. Paul. Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines seats 15,000 for hockey and last housed an AHL team in 2009 when Anaheim's affiliate, the Iowa Chops, played there for one season.