Bad penalties doom Wild in dramatic 4-3 shootout loss to Chicago

Wild vs. Blackhawks

Its a classic scene from the movie Wayne’s World (1992) where the mullet-ed heroes Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) play a game of street hockey in their hometown of Aurora, Illinois in their Blackhawks sweaters.  I think just about everyone who saw that scene replicated the “Game on! (game on!) Car!!! (car!!)  Its gone, Game On! (Game On!)” at least once.  Apart from the singing of Queen‘s Bohemian Rhapsody in Garth’s AMC Pacer, or the near psychotic Glen (Ed O’Neill) working at Stan Mikita‘s Donut Shop its a great film with lots of hilarious lines both in English and Cantonese.  The movie became a pop culture hit and for young people of my generation the lines quickly became a part of your normal lexicon from bowing repeatedly saying “We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy” to any sort of impressive act to asking someone to spew into Dixie cup by saying “if you’re going to spew, spew into this!”  Its a bit silly sure, but films are cultural touchstones that people connect to.  The move was irreverent and ridiculous, but its what you expected from an expanded version of a Saturday Night Live skit.

Seriously, who didn’t want to learn the word “Excellent!” in Cantonese?  The Wild are still not earning much respect on “Canada’s Sports Leader” as they currently have Minnesota sitting in 8th on their power rankings behind the likes of the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers.  Really?!?!  Another team that is rated ahead of the Wild are tonight’s opponent the Chicago Blackhawks who TSN’s Scott Cullen (TSN’s official moron) has 6th.  The Blackhawks are of course led by their lethal foursome of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.  While I will grant they’re a very formidable group up front, the Wild have proven they are greater than the sum of their parts.  So can the Wild show some of that success it had on the road with a strong effort back in St. Paul?  Or will the Blackhawks justify Cullen’s continued skepticism? 

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Minnesota Wild

1st Period Thoughts:  The game would have a strategic like start as both clubs were trying to win a territorial battle as the Blackhawks worked it deep early and then Minnesota would take its turn.  The Wild’s energy line of Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak and Nick Johnson were outworking the Blackhawks but could not createa a lot in the way of shots.  Chicago was being very patient, looking for weaknesses in the Wild’s defensive coverage.  Patrick Kane would skate into the Minnesota zone rather leisurely and he’d spin and let loose a weak shot that was easily turned aside by Niklas Backstrom.  A few moments later after some more patient play the Blackhawks got its offense set up and it was former Wild forward Andrew Brunette passing a puck out to the point from down low where Niklas Hjalmarsson stepped into a slap shot that nearly beat Backstrom as he was just able to get enough of it to direct it aside.  Chicago was trying to break Minnesota’s coverage with the drop pass back to the point where Steve Montador blasted a shot that didn’t miss by much.  The Wild tried to work its own forecheck as the puck was dumped deep into the Chicago zone that was followed up by Johnson who nearly forced a turnover from Ray Emery, but not before letting up and getting a facial from Emery’s mask.  Minnesota was pretty sloppy at times in their own zone as the defense made some poor decisions with the puck that nearly led to a wrap around opportunity for Brunette.  The Blackhawks would send out their top line and it looked like a power play as Minnesota was bottled up in its own zone but defensively the Wild were able to keep Chicago to the perimeter.  The Wild were getting absolutely nothing accomplished offensively and with just over 5 minutes to play in the period, Minnesota still had yet to register a shot on goal.  Minnesota was looking a little lethargic late in the period, content to just dump it deep.  Chicago was pressing the play and a tired 2nd line and the Blackhawks had a few dangerous slappers from the point.  The Blackhawks nearly took the lead after a shot by Viktor Stalberg that was blocked into the air by Backstrom who batted the puck to the corner and the Wild would carry it out of the zone where Mikko Koivu fired a shot from beyond the Chicago blueline that was gloved easily by Emery and drew a big Bronx cheer from the home crowd as the Wild registered their first shot of the period with just under 3 minutes left.  Minnesota had another great chance, after Darroll Powe won a little race for a puck in the Chicago zone and he chipped a pass over to Koivu who alertly made a nice little backhand pass over to Dany Heatley who didn’t get a lot of velocity on a snap shot that was directed wide by Emery.  Not a great period, but the energy level was something you’d expect from a team coming home from a long road trip.  However, being outshot 11-2 is something they’ll have to remedy if they really want to have a chance to win this game.  Marek Zidlicky was very shaky, playing hesitantly and looking very uncomfortable out there.  The Wild are lucky Niklas Backstrom showed up tonight.   

2nd Period Thoughts:  The cautious play would start the 2nd period, but Kyle Brodziak would draw a little excitement as he swept up a puck that was over skated by former Wild 1st round pick Nick Leddy in the Chicago zone and he’d turn and rifle a shot on goal that Emery struggled with a bit.  The Blackhawks would create a little excitement of their own as Dave Bolland raced into the Wild zone on the forecheck and he directed a puck towards the goal that slid right behind Backstrom who dropped to cover it and missed and Minnesota was just able to escort it out of danger.  Perhaps feeling both clubs needed a spark, Daniel Carcillo would drop the gloves with Brad Staubitz.  The fight would start out a bit cautious as both fighters wanted to get a firm grip on the other before start throwing big right hands.  Staubitz would start, but the shorter Carcillo was able to stay out of range initially.  After a few Carcillo hooks landed, the Wild enforcer switched hands that he was unprepared for and Staubitz unloaded a barrage that withered the Blackhawks agitator for a clearcut victory for the Wild pugilist.  The fight seemed to ignite a little more energy in the Wild and the top line of Koivu, Heatley and Powe had a great shift as Koivu set up Heatley for a close range chance that was just blocked away by Emery.  Minnesota kept swarming around the zone and it was the Wild’s best sustained pressure of the evening to this point.  A few minutes later, Mikko Koivu would get tagged for a trip when it appeared as though Brent Seabrook stumbled on his own.  Minnesota’s penalty killers were working hard and they thought they had given Matt Cullen a breakaway opportunity but he was tracked down by Duncan Keith who lifted a stick that caused Cullen to spill to the ice before he could get a shot off that was not called.  The non-call drew a loud persistent boo but also some major ranting from the Wild bench and especially Cullen who felt he was tripped.  Those words would prove costly as Cullen was tagged with a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct giving the Blackhawks a 5-on-3 power play.  Minnesota’s penalty killers did a good job of weathering the storm of just over a minute of being two men short.  Mikko Koivu would end up coming back but the Blackhawks would move the puck towards the crease and after a short pass right near the blue paint was intercepted it was banged home by Marian Hossa to give Chicago a 1-0 lead to another chorus of boo’s.  The damage wasn’t done there, as Chicago went on the attack and some very lazy defensive work by (what a shock) Zidlicky allowed a long diagonal pass by Marcus Kruger to reach Michal Frolik who tapped in before Backstrom could slide across his crease to make it 2-0 Blackhawks.  The Wild were feeling pretty down, and how could it be anymore perfect that Kyle Brodziak would provide the pick-me-up.  The linesman would waive an icing call at the last second and two Blackhawks defenders would run into one another and the puck was picked up by Nick Johnson who dished it out front to Brodziak who patiently waited for Emery to drop and he lifted a shot by him to cut the Chicago lead to one, 2-1.  Blackhawks bench boss Joel Quenneville was raging on the Chicago bench after the non-icing call which probably should’ve been made but far be it from me to criticize it at this point.  Minnesota was starting to counter punch, and a turnover into the neutral zone combined with being caught in a line change gave the Wild a 2-on-1 as Cullen was able to saucer a pass to a crashing Cal Clutterbuck who somehow dangled a puck on goal that was stopped by Emery but tapped home by Cullen to tie the game at 2-2.  The Wild was starting to show some confidence as the top line set up a beautiful chance as Koivu stole a puck and raced into the Chicago zone and he dropped a pass back to Jared Spurgeon who had joined the rush and he dished it to the high slot to Heatley who laced heavy wrist shot that missed high.  Minnesota’s pressure would draw its first power play of the game as Steve Montador got his stick into the grill of Marco Scandella.  The Wild’s power play was moving the puck well early, as they set up Mikko Koivu for a few good blasts from a sharp angle that Emery didn’t have too much difficulty on.  Minnesota’s best chance on the power play came off the rush as Dany Heatley dangled around Seabrook before setting up Brodziak for a wicked shot that missed high as he tried to pick a corner.  The Wild had to feel pretty good with the way the period ended after an ugly 1st half of it.  It makes you wonder what could have been without those costly penalties that led to Chicago’s first goal.  Latendresse was not on the Wild bench that period, but one player I wish was not on the Minnesota bench was Zidlicky who was his typical awful self.   

3rd Period Thoughts:  The 3rd period would have a cautious beginning as both clubs were wary of making an early mistake.  The Wild were patient, biding time for an error and a blocked point shot of Chicago’s became an opportunity as Cullen, Clutterbuck and Warren Peters went on the rush and Cullen dropped it back to Peters whose shot was deflected by a backchecking stick of Bolland.  Minnesota was dropping back rather quick defensively and the active sticks were making it very difficult for Chicago to get any sort of shots on goal to challenge Niklas Backstrom.  Yet, Chicago persisted and the talent level of the Blackhawks would show as a failed clearing attempt by Mike Lundin would be stolen away by Jonathan Toews and he drove to the net and he skated in and beat Backstrom by roofing a forehand shot to give Chicago a 3-2 lead.  A great individual effort by Toews but its not without controversy as Lundin’s clearing attempt hit the netting above the glass which would’ve made it a dead puck.  Daniel Carcillo would take a run at Warren Peters who tried to lean and poke the puck forward and his elbow struck Peters on what was a pretty weak call.  Yet the Wild were happy to have their 2nd power play of the game.  Minnesota had some good puck movement from the halfwall back out to the point where Zidlicky blazed a slap shot that was stopped by Emery and then he stopped Brodziak’s point-blank range attempt to stuff it in.  The Wild would come up short on the man advantage and now time was becoming an issue for Minnesota.  Minnesota was taking its chances to press the attack as Cal Clutterbuck would motor into the offensive zone and he’d rip a wrist shot that was stopped by the shoulder of Emery and then a few moments later it was Brodziak rifling a heavy wrister that was stopped by the ‘Hawks goalie.  The Wild’s top line was pouring it on and a heavy shot by Powe nearly made its way past Emery but he’d follow it up for a rebound chance and he was tripped up as he attempted to do so.  On the delayed penalty the Wild were patient and Clutterbuck fed a diagonal pass over to Koivu who snapped a shot by Emery to tie the game at 3-3.  The Blackhawks would have a few great scoring chances late as a nice defensive play by Marco Scandella to help thwart a 2-on-1 featuring Chicago’s Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.  A few moments later a quick shot from the point by Keith was stopped by Backstrom and Marcus Kruger was unable to lift a puck over the sprawling Wild goalie and the game would go to overtime. 

Overtime Thoughts:  Minnesota would have the first quality scoring chance of overtime as Scandella would dangle by a Blackhawks defender and he ripped a wrist shot that Emery was just able to fight off.  The Wild nearly gave the game away after some poor decisions by Mike Lundin and Nick Schultz who gave an errant pass that was intercepted by Seabrook who raced in and blasted a slapper that Backstrom held onto.  Another turnover, this time by Kyle Brodziak at the Chicago blueline turned into a solo rush for Viktor Stalberg and the former Vermont Catamount drove a shot that missed wide.  Scandella would again provide some spark as his speed allowed him to step around Leddy but he was unable to get much of a shot on Emery.  Chicago answered back with a chance of their own but Leddy’s shot was steered aside by Backstrom and the game would go to a shootout. 

Shootout Thoughts:  The Wild would elect to shoot first, and they’d send out Matt Cullen.  Cullen would race in and slow down but Emery didn’t react at all and his wrist shot was stopped with ease.  Chicago’s first shooter was Jonathan Toews, and he’d race in and beat Backstrom 5-hole with a simple wrist shot.  Minnesota’s next shooter was Dany Heatley, and he tried to pull of a backhand to forehand deke but he lost the puck and never got a shot off.  Patrick Kane was Chicago’s next shooter and he moved in and then nearly stopped as he very slowly kept his forward momentum as he pulled the puck back and forth waiting for Backstrom to commit and once he did and Kane buried it to seal a 4-3 Chicago shootout victory. 

Niklas Backstrom played well enough to give the Wild a victory, making 28 saves in the loss.  I thought he made some great saves from in close and it was some poor plays by his defense that let him down.  Marek Zidlicky was a disaster, and Mike Lundin wasn’t much better.  Minnesota’s best defenseman were its too youngsters in Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon. 

Offensively, I think we can say Kyle Brodziak has made himself a significant contributor.  Its not just the fact he leads the Wild in goals with 11, but he was a leader in chances firing 4 shots on goal and being almost as much a threat to score as Koivu and Heatley were.  He continues to personify the Wild in terms of effort on each shift and is doing so many of the little things that allows Minnesota to transcend its talent on paper.  Minnesota simplified its approach in the 2nd and 3rd period and 30 shots on goal is a respectable figure after a paltry 2 shots in the 1st. 

You have to like the persistence of the Wild to battle their way back twice in this game.  However, it was also evidence of how small the margin of error is for this team.  A brief lapse of discipline and Minnesota found itself down 2-0 rather quickly.  The Wild have dropped their last two games in a row, but they’re still in 1st place for the moment and now its time to refocus and ready themselves to battle a scrappy Islanders team that embarrassed them earlier in the year.  To use a Mike Yeo-ism, its time to see this team respond and on Saturday we’ll see just what that response is. 

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild lineup tonight is as follows:  Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen, Guillaume Latendresse, Darroll Powe, Warren Peters, Brad Staubitz, Colton Gillies, Cody Almond, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, Mike Lundin, Clayton Stoner, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella.  Matt Hackett backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Greg Zanon, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Casey Wellman were the healthy scratches. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Jonathan Toews, 2nd Star Cal Clutterbuck, 3rd Star Mikko Koivu

~ Attendance was 19,254 at Xcel Energy Center (6th largest in franchise history).

Wild Prospect Report:

F – Mikael Granlund (HIFK Helsinki, Sm-Liiga) ~ Granlund continues to impress as he buried two more goals in a 3-0 win over Ilves Tampere on Saturday.  The Oulu-native now has 16 goals, 38 points in 30 games and has surged to a +18. 

Johan Larsson

F – Johan Larsson (Brynas, Eliteserien) ~ At one point it appeared as though Larsson was going to be the one making a big splash this season, but his production has slowed considerably the last few weeks.  The Lau, Sweden-native’s totals have more or less flatlined, as he has gone scoreless throughout much of the last two weeks as he has 6 goals, 21 points and is a troubling -7. 

G – Dennis Endras (HIFK Helsinki, Sm-Liiga) ~ Endras started the season with the Houston Aeros, but after playing 2nd fiddle Matt Hackett he asked to be allowed to go play in Europe.  So now he’s being the main backstop for Mikael Granlund’s HIFK squad and so far the German-born goalie is performing well going 5-0 with a sparkling 1.81 goals against average, and .925% save percentage. 

About Derek Felska

I am a lifelong hockey fan from Minnesota who loves and appreciates the game at all levels. I have been blogging about the Minnesota Wild since 2005. I cover just about every aspect of the organization from the team itself, its coaches, its management, its broadcast as well as its AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild and the club's pool of prospects. In addition to the NHL I occasionally take the time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!

Persistence is rewarded with a little luck as Wild earn 4-2 road victory over Chicago

Andrew Brunette tried to solve Marty Turco

Every year the President of the United States issues his State of the Union address around the last week of January.  In essence it is sort of a parent-teacher conference for the nation.  Depending on how you view the nation this can be a time for some anxiousness, ego-boosting or just a general lack of concern of any kind.  Either way, the President is going to do his best to tell you where America stands, areas where its making progress and problems or concerns that need to be addressed.  Normally, those are outlined in a rather general fashion and delivered in a way that even when most signs are not too promising there is at least something positive that can be gained from the struggle and that there is hope things will be better in the future.  In professional sports its much the same way as leagues like the NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball have their season’s somewhat split by an All Star break.  The NHL is slightly different in the fact that the Olympics occasionally are the reason for this break in the regular season.  For those players not invited to play in this game, its a chance to heal up, get some much needed rest and or family time.  When these breaks occur its also time for the fans and members of the media to reflect on the ‘1st half’ of the season and seriously consider the direction of the team.  Each team does its very own “State of the Union”, although mostly in private to evaluate the progress that has been made and attempt to look for solutions to the concerns and problems if they can be had.  Instead of the President leading this reflection its a team’s General Manager and other upper office staff; like Professional and Amateur Scouts, coaches, and sometimes even hired outside consultants.  It does not matter if you’re President Barack Obama or a high school Social Studies teacher like myself, you may have say some things that could be uncomfortable to hear or help add validity to what a nation / child may already be doing, but no matter what its likely to stir up some additional conversation.  Or at least you hope it does. 

Going back to the parent-teacher conference thing, what grade would you give the Wild?  (please vote in our poll)  If you had that chance to talk about what needs to be done for the team to qualify for the post-season what changes would you suggest?  Or do you believe the team going in a different direction altogether?  What do you think Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher say about the team’s direction once the All Star break begins after tonight’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks?  The last few games have offered a mixed picture to anyone looking for a clear path for the Wild.  The team had managed to string together some great road wins, but then had some struggles as well.  Minnesota played like a team that was desperate and hungry on Saturday night against San Jose in a 4-3 loss.  Without question, San Jose who was at the time in a virtual tie with the Wild probably felt a little better after the win, and it is fitting that Minnesota plays another team close to the playoff picture edge in Chicago.  The Blackhawks are still a very formidable team, but they look far less invincible than the squad that won the Stanley Cup last season.  Will the Wild give Chuck Fletcher reason to believe this team is one that has the strength and perseverance to fight their way into the playoffs with a win tonight or will they make him wonder if the team is too fragile mentally, emotionally, physically and lacking the endurance to overcome the early season hole it dug for itself? 

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1st Period Thoughts:  Hard not to like the way the Wild started the game, with Martin Havlat scoring less than two minutes into the game.  It was something Havlat needs to do more of, and that is just taking a chance and firing a shot on goal and this time he managed to find a corner.  The momentum of the early goal did not last long as the Wild started to play on their heels.  Minnesota’s defense stopped moving their feet while the Blackhawks were motoring all over the ice, and the result was predictable as the Wild found themselves a man down due to a lazy interference penalty on Cam Barker.  Chicago’s power play moved the puck very effectively from the points down to the half wall before Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews managed to just have enough on a cross ice pass to find its way through an attempted interception by Mikko Koivu and the puck reached a wide open Patrick Sharp who fired it by Niklas Backstrom to tie the game.  Minnesota’s penalty killers looked as though they were in slow motion as they speed of Chicago’s puck movement completely overwhelmed them as they just turned and reached instead of moving their feet.  The goal really got Chicago going as they begin to win all of the battles for the puck along the boards, and were carrying the play physically while Minnesota really started to look timid.  The Wild’s lack of jump and confidence turned Minnesota’s zone into a veritable shooting gallery for Backstrom who was under siege in the crease.  Even members of his own team seem to be conspiring against him as Andrew Brunette was chasing Blackhawks forwards in the Wild zone and he inadvertently ran into Backstrom knocking him completely out of his crease.  To Backstrom’s credit and focus he’d not give up and he’d make a diving save on a point-blank range chance for Troy Brouwer.  Brouwer would make no mistake a few minutes later as the Blackhawks kept swarming around the Wild crease and Brouwer would bang home a rebound chance as Minnesota’s defense looked to be locked in ice.  No one on the Wild seemed interested in answering back physically against Chicago even when the opportunities presented themselves.  Moments later, Backstrom would be knocked down again as Brad Staubitz shoved Nick Boynton into his goaltender.  Bonyton did not seem to be looking for such a collision and as he turned around to face Staubitz, all the Wild enforcer did was give Boynton a weak shove.  Minnesota got lucky and Boynton was tagged with an interference penalty.  On the power play the Wild really struggled against an extremely aggressive Blackhawks penalty kill that had 3 players standing up near the blueline to challenge he entry into the offensive zone.  Their aggressiveness nearly came back to bite them as Ryan Johnson tripped up Mikko Koivu giving the Wild a fairly long 5-on-3.  However, Minnesota’s patience and perhaps a level of overconfidence on the power play as they were simply too picky waiting for the perfect shot.  The Blackhawks collapsed down into a triangle not too far out from their crease and forced Minnesota to attempt to thread the needle and they were unable to do so.  The penalty would expire and you had to feel a huge amount of potential momentum had been lost but despite Chicago’s domination of the period they still only trailed by one. 

2nd Period Thoughts:  Considering everything that went on in the 1st period for the Wild they would surprise just about everyone, myself included with one of its strongest 2nd period performances all season long.  Right from the drop of the puck the Wild were hustling well and this immediately began to pay dividends in the form of some puck pressure in the Chicago zone.  The line of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen and Chuck Kobasew had terrific jump early and it was Bouchard who skated into the Chicago zone, pulling up just as he crossed the blueline and nearly drawing the puck back over the line which would’ve been offsides but instead he finds Jared Spurgeon with a pass and he turn and a pursuing Patrick Sharp lost an edge.  Spurgeon then fires a shot on goal that it was difficult to tell whether Kobasew got a piece of it or not but the end result was that it trickled through the pads of Corey Crawford and it tied the game.  Chicago was the one sitting back and playing rope-a-dope while Minnesota kept pouring it on.  When the Blackahawks tried to counter attack, Minnesota’s defense was physical.  One player who had a great period defensively was Clayton Stoner whose job it was to shadow Patrick Kane and the shifty Kane could not seem to elude the 6’3″ Powell River, British Columbia-native.  On the other end of the spectrum was Stoner’s partner Greg Zanon who was getting caught flat footed a lot, and only another sprawling save by Backstrom kept the game knotted at 2-2.  Minnesota would get a big goal late in the period off the rush as Mikko Koivu flung a pass to Brunette who threaded a perfect pass to a crashing Antti Miettinen for a pretty tap in goal to give the Wild a 3-2 lead.  The Wild were physical; as forwards Cal Clutterbuck and Brad Staubitz started to throw their bodies around a bit and Minnesota had to feel pretty pumped up with how well they played in the 2nd. 

3rd Period Thoughts:  The 3rd period of this game may have made Chicago fans almost take a moment and forget about Jay Cutler.  Well, maybe not that bad but they certainly were fuming, but more on that a bit later.  The Wild were having a ton of luck early, as the Blackhawks were pressing for the equalizer as Niklas Backstrom delivered a few sprawling saves.  Backstrom’s diving stop to deny Troy Brouwer was tremendous.  The hard work by Backstrom was rewarded with some blessings from the hockey gods as a blast from the point by Duncan Keith struck the post.  Minnesota was scrambling in its own zone, but it did help out its goaltender even at a considerable physical cost as Clutterbuck was left limping after blocking a shot but he finished his ship by clearing the zone.  The Wild would counter attack, as they were chipping the puck off the glass and looking to take advantage of Chicago’s defenseman that were pinching in.  Pierre-Marc Bouchard would skate in a 2-on-1 where he fed a pretty saucer pass to Kobasew who made a deke and tried to slide a backhander but he’d miss wide but the persistent Wild gathered up the puck and Bouchard found himself with it in the slot where he fired a wrister over a sprawling Crawford to give Minnesota a little breathing room, 4-2.  The Blackhawks were a bit deflated while Minnesota was happy to just lift the puck deep into the Chicago zone and keep their shifts short.  This leads to the controversy.  The Blackhawks really started to storm the crease and on another crazy play the puck would be jammed by Backstrom just as the whistle blew the play dead and the officials waived off the goal while Chicago Joel Quenneville nearly lost it from the bench.  I don’t care how much of a Wild homer someone may be, but the replay showed the puck going over the goal line before the whistle had blown.  No matter what the 20,000+ in attendance let their disdain be known for the next 5 minutes of the game.  As a puck hit NHL linesman Lonnie Cameron it was met by a loud cheer by Chicago fans.  The Blackhawks would pull Crawford with about 1:30 left, and there was another long sustained flurry near the Wild net but it was Brent Burns dropping to the ice to make two key saves when his goaltender was caught out of position as Minnesota prevails 4-2. 

Niklas Backstrom was terrific, making 31 saves in the victory.  His never give up attitude paid off with a few improbable saves that turned out to be game savers, preventing the game from getting out of hand in the 1st period where the Wild were really being outplayed.  Defensively the results were mixed.  I thought Burns, Stoner and Spurgeon played very well while Cam Barker and Greg Zanon did not play very well.  The Wild had good backchecking from its forwards and through the last two periods, players were paying the price to block shots and that’s often the difference between victory and defeat in close games. 

Offensively the Wild counter attacked very well.  Wild Head Coach Todd Richards summed the game up, “Didn’t start off great, they took advantage of some opportunities but we weathered the storm yet I thought we really played well in the 2nd,”  He added, “These guys were coming off a tough loss on Sunday, we were bending but not breaking and we regrouped and came out and played a strong 2nd and got the win.”  I have to completely agree with his assessment of the 2nd period.  It was the best 2nd period this team has played all season.  It was skating, it was hitting and it was creating some offensive pressure 5-on-5 and this was where Minnesota took this game away from the Blackhawks. 

Minnesota now goes on the All Star break.  For many players that means they’ll be taking small vacations to relax and rejuvenate.  It sort of is unfortunate to stop the momentum now, but this team has earned a rest and hopefully they can re-establish that momentum when they return against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, February 1st.  The win places Minnesota right along the edge of the Western Conference playoff picture, so it probably puts Wild GM Chuck Fletcher in a tough position going forward but at least he probably feels the team has a lot of positives going for it rather than the alternative. 

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster for tonight is as follows:  Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen, John Madden, Kyle Brodziak, Chuck Kobasew, Brad Staubitz, Eric Nystrom, Cal Clutterbuck, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Martin Havlat, Matt Cullen, Jared Spurgeon, Cam Barker, Clayton Stoner, Greg Zanon, Nick Schultz and Brent Burns.  Jose Theodore backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Marco Scandella and Cody Almond were the healthy scratches.  Marek Zidlicky (shoulder), James Sheppard (knee) and Guillaume Latendresse (groin and sports hernia) are on injured reserve. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were:  1st Star Niklas Backstrom, 2nd Star Jonathan Toews, 3rd Star Martin Havlat

~ Attendance tonight was 21,247 at United Center.

~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate Martin Havlat on being named to the 2011 NHL All Star Game.  Replacement or not, he still warranted enough consideration to be selected and that’s no small accomplishment, and at the very least his addition was far more deserved than it was for Filip Kuba back in 2004. 

Boys High School Hockey Report:

South St. Paul Packers ~ 11-5-0 record (Classic Suburban Conference)

Most recent game:  South St. Paul 3, Simley 0

The South St. Paul Packers have a long and storied tradition.  The banners speak for themselves at Wakota Arena that attest to State Tournament Appearances, and some of the legends to played for the SSP Packers like Doug Woog and Phil Housley.  South St. Paul and Head Coach Jeff Lagoo has another strong squad earning quality wins against Cloquet/Esko/Carlton and Mahtomedi while sporting some very respectable games against some of the state’s best in two goal losses to St. Thomas Academy and Hill-Murray.  The Packers are led offensively by senior Jesse Poznikowich who has 12 goals and 32 points, but the real key cog that makes everything South St. Paul go is senior defenseman Adam Barlow.  Barlow stands out in my mind for his strong play 1-on-1 defensively and his on-ice vision and cannon-like shot from the point make him an excellent power play threat.  The Packers have a solid #1 goaltender in senior Luke Palmquist who has a respectable 8-5 record, 2.29 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.  South St. Paul plays Spring Lake Park this evening. 


Bemidji Lumberjacks ~ 16-1-1 record (Mariucci Conference)

Most recent game:  Bemidji 6, Hermantown 2

Bemidji are appropriately named the Lumberjacks when you consider their feat of handing the last undefeated team in the state, Hermantown a decisive 6-2 loss last Saturday.  Yet this is not Bemidji’s only big victory; as they have wins against strong teams teams like Brainerd, Warroad, Roseau, and a tie against Moorhead.  This is not the kind of team that will blow you out, but they are the type of team that will wear you down.  Head Coach Wade Chiodo‘s squad has a very balanced attack featuring 3 solid scoring lines that make them very difficult to match up against.  The Lumberjacks have 5 forwards with at least 10 goals or more with senior forward Steven Heller uses his 6’2″, 200lbs frame effectively as the leading scorer with a modest 10 goals and 25 points.  Between the pipes , senior goalie Jeremiah Graves carried the mail for Bemidji and boasts an impressive 14-1-1 record, a very stingy 1.47 goals against average and a .932 save percentage.  The Lumberjacks play against an excellent Grand Rapids team this evening at the IRA Civic Center in Grand Rapids. 

About Derek Felska

I am a lifelong hockey fan from Minnesota who loves and appreciates the game at all levels. I have been blogging about the Minnesota Wild since 2005. I cover just about every aspect of the organization from the team itself, its coaches, its management, its broadcast as well as its AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild and the club's pool of prospects. In addition to the NHL I occasionally take the time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!