SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- There's a reason the Chicago Blackhawks send the Jonathan Toews' line onto the ice when they're in need of spark.
All three forwards on the unit scored Tuesday as Chicago sent a message that the Central Division race might not be over yet. By beating the Wild 5-3, Chicago pulled within five points of Minnesota, which still sits atop the division.
Toews recorded a hat trick, right winger Richard Panik scored in the second period and left winger Nick Schmaltz got in on the fun in the third as the Blackhawks (37-18-5) improved to 7-1-0 in their last eight and tied a franchise record with their seventh consecutive road victory.
"They're all playing well individually and collectively they've got some confidence," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Toews, Panik and Schmaltz. "They're getting a little bit of instincts of where the other guys are. I look at each one of them with the patience and the plays and the play recognition they had, movement, puck protection, evasiveness, it was spectacular, all three of them."
Like he has done so often in playoff meetings between these teams, Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford frustrated the Wild all night, finishing with 29 saves. Toews assisted on the goals he didn't score, for his first five-point game of the season.
"It's big," Toews said, when it was noted that a loss would've put Minnesota nine points ahead in the standings. "I think regardless of how big those two points are and where we're at and how close we are in the standings, I think we always look at that team, especially with the way they're playing, as a measuring stick right now."
The Wild (39-14-6) got two goals from Mikael Granlund and one from Zach Parise, but lost to Chicago in regulation for the first time in their past 10 meetings (8-1-1). Goalie Devan Dubnyk, under siege from the Toews-Panik-Schmaltz trio all night, finished with 34 saves.
"They have a lot of different weapons there and they play good defense as well," Granlund said, tipping his cap to Chicago. "That's a good team over there but I think we're a real good team as well. They just won tonight. We'll forget this one and come back after the break."
Leading by a goal after two periods, Schmaltz gave the Blackhawks some breathing room in the opening minute of the third, scoring off a faceoff via a puck that sailed through a crowd and was in the back of the net before Dubnyk could relax.
Parise re-directed a shot by defenseman Marco Scandella between Crawford's pads to make it 3-2, before Toews answered less than two minutes later to re-establish a two-goal lead.
"He played hard tonight. He's been playing hard for a while now," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said of Parise, who was in a slump for much of January, but has shown life lately. "A lot of times we look at players and we look at numbers and that's the only way we judge them. But I judge them a little differently. I look at effort and will and desire and jump and sometimes bounce for you, sometimes they don't, but the goals are starting to come in a little bit for him. He's getting chances."
Minnesota wouldn't go quietly, and made it 4-3 on Granlund's second power-play goal of the night with just over seven minutes to play in the third. Wild defenseman Ryan Suter beat Crawford and clanked the crossbar with a shot on the next shift, but the Wild could not close the gap. Toews scored into an empty net with 1:02 left for his fourth career hat trick.
After a scoreless first period, the Blackhawks needed less than a minute of the middle frame to take the lead. A long-range shot by defenseman Brian Campbell was knocked down by Dubnyk's glove, but the puck landed in the crease behind the Minnesota goalie, and sat there just long enough for Toews to slap it home.
The Wild answered to make it 1-1 on a power play when Granlund got ahold of a loose puck in front of Crawford and slid a shot between the goalie's knees, after defenseman Duncan Keith's clearing attempt failed.
But the home crowd's celebration was short-lived as Toews set up Panik for a wrist shot from the slot that sailed over Dubnyk's left shoulder. It was the fourth goal in as many games for Panik.
-- Wild D Matt Dumba was back in the lineup Tuesday, having missed the previous four games with a lower-body injury. Dumba was hurt in Minnesota's Feb. 10 shootout win over Tampa Bay. He has 24 points, two shy of his career best.
-- Tuesday's game came one year after Minnesota defeated Chicago 6-1 in the first outdoor Stadium Series contest played by the Wild. A crowd of better than 50,000 at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus watched the game.
-- Xcel Energy Center is where Blackhawks C Tanner Kero recorded his final collegiate win. Two years ago, Kero, then a senior at Michigan Tech, was on the second line for the Huskies in a 5-2 victory over Bowling Green in the semifinals of the WCHA tournament played there.
-- While the Wild's five-day break begins Wednesday, the Blackhawks are back in home action next, hosting the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday.