Anticipation. Nerves. Excitement. Those are just some of the things I've been feeling. With the way the season and the playoffs have gone for the Minnesota Wild this year, it's truly hard to know which team will show up. If it's the team that showed up on Sunday, the fans can add pride to the list of emotions. The never-say-die attitude they possessed that afternoon is what propelled them into the playoffs. However, if the team that showed up for Game 2 in Chicago, then you can add disappointment to that list of emotions. If I truly had to pick an emotion right now though, it would be wary. The Minnesota Wild have a long history of disappointing the fans in a game immediately following an amazing game. Even worse, is that we're home for the second game in a row. That also can add to the sense of dread. And while we the fans are willing the team to win again to even up the series, we simply do not know if the Wild can do it again. I know it's not the most uplifting of thoughts, but I have to try and temper the feelings of excitement. Yet it's a delicate balance of tempering those emotions and not creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. My guess is that we'll know within the first five minutes of the first period which team we're going to get and which emotions will descend upon us.
One thing that fans may get tonight, is the return of a player we just started getting to know before he was taken away from the lineup. Jason Pominville has practiced only twice in the past two weeks, but there is a small possibility that he will be in tonight's lineup. According to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, he thinks that if he does play tonight, it would be on the fourth line. By playing there, he would get game experience, albeit limited time. As a fan, I know I want to see him playing again, yet also need to temper that feeling as well. There's nothing worse than rushing a player back into action after an injury. If he does play tonight, look to see Chicago players playing physically on him, trying to get him off his game before it even begins. And even if Pominville isn't in the lineup, I (and everyone else) expect to see a major push by Chicago. The Blackhawks cannot afford to have enother game like Sunday's.
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1st Period Thoughts: The first five minutes of any game are often the most important. The Wild came out hard, starting with the third line of Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. They came out with intensity. That intensity fed the Wild to keep skating and in turn draw the first power play of the game early in the period thanks to a Michal Handzus interference call. Unfortunatey, like many Wild power plays, it was ineffective, and ended with the Wild generating no shots on goal. While the power play was not very powerful, it's as if it woke the Wild up. The next few shifts after Chicago returned to full strength, players like Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle came to life. While Chicago has gotten some chances on Josh Harding, I would say that the intensity battle belonged to the Wild. Well, until Jared Spurgeon and Mikko Koivu decided to let up, which then led to a goal by Patrick Sharp. The important thing now, is how Minnesota would respond to the goal. Well working and skating hard helps. When you do those things, you tend to draw more penalties, this time Todd Gilbert took a stick to the face by Daniel Carcillo. Strangely though, this season the officials have missed many a high stick aimed at the faces of Minnesota players, and in this case they're calling in interference and not what it was, a high stick. I can't begin to express the importance of this power play. The best part of the once again goal-less Minnesota Wild power play is having Pominville back. It is so nice to have a player who actually takes shots on the power play, and not just shots, but shots with conviction. Minnesota would eventually go on the penalty kill when Spurgeon took down Brandon Saad. However, that's not the scary part. In a previous play, Harding went down and found Jonathan Toews on top of him. He got up slowly, and was testing himself out during the break that sent Spurgeon to the box. We'll be watching Harding for a while now, and wondering if we'll see Darcy Kuemper get his first taste of Stanley Cup Playoff hockey. The best part was seeing the Wild skaters essentially rally for their goaltender, as it was probably one of the best Wild penalty kills that we've seen in a while. Even better, even though they were still down in the waning minutes of the period, the Wild continued to push to try and even up the score. While they failed to score, the intensity that took them to the buzzer, was very much a welcome sight.
2nd Period Thoughts: Well, here's where things get interesting. Kuemper gets the start for the second period. The Wild will need to protect their backup goaltender. I don't know about you, but the BEST way to protect one's goalie is to score goals on the opposition's goaltender. Crawford needs to get some action on his end of the ice. Sadly, on the first shot he faced, a goal made it past Kuemper on a shot by Sharp for his second of the night. It's times like this, where you really miss goaltenders that the team has let go. Having Matt Hackett right about now would be nice. Or going back a little further, either Anton Khudobin or Jose Theodore would be helpful. Like one of my fellow message board members said, "beating the best team in the league with our 3rd string goaltender has disaster written all over it." While you don't want to blame Kuemper, you just wish we went into the playoffs with a better goaltending lineup or better split the goaltending time during the regular season. The Wild would once again head to the power play after a Johnny Oduya cross-checking call after the high-sticking call was missed. You just have to think that eventually, the Wild will score on the power play, but I'm not going to hold my breath. Unfortunately, nothing seems to be working tonight. Now, the Wild should have a bunch more power play chances, but between their ineptitude at scoring on the power play and Stephen Walkom working as a referee tonight, that simply isn't going to happen. The Wild get another one, this time thanks to a Michal Rosival call for interference. I know I'm not alone in the feeling, that I am sick and tired of watching a team act like they don't know what to do on the power play. Half the time, Chicago plays like they're the ones with the man advantage when that's not the case. I also sort of wish that Minnesota could simply decline the power play, because they seem to play better full strength than on the power play. The also major difference tonight, is that they're simply not playing like they did on Sunday. MInnesota somehow needs to recapture their game play from that night. Minnesota would once again head to the locker room, still trailing. I honestly don't know if they can find a way to tie up the game. Depressing, I know.
3rd Period Thoughts: If you needed to know what one needs to happen in this final period, you need look no further than Mike Meyers' character from Mystery Alaska. He played a Don Cherry type character named Donnie Shulzhoffer. One of his best lines was "I don't care how fast a skater you are, if you don't play this game with a big heart and a big bag of knuckles in front of the net, you don't got dinky-do." That is what needs to happen and happen sooner rather than later. This period will determine if they have the heart and determination to take this series. Patrick Kane sent the puck over the glass early in the period, which took the Wild to the power play yet again. What is to be seen is if it's a power play or a power-less play as the fans have dubbed it for quite a while now. Yes, the powerless play reared it's ugly head again, but just after Kane's penalty ended, Saad would go to the box for tripping. However, the interesting thing is that now Niklas Backstrom is sitting on the bench as back up goaltender. There's debate as to when he eligible. Some say he's only eligible if Kuemper gets injured while others say he only needs to sit one shift. The lack of emotion would continue and the final nail would be hammered thanks to a bad angle shot from Bryan Bickell which became a goal making the game 3-0. I'm afraid my friends, that this game will most likely power the Blackhawks to end this series in Game 5 in Chicago. While Chicago is not as good as everyone makes them out to be, it will fall to another team to show the weaknesses of the Blackhawks. The Wild simply do not have the ability, or possibly desire, to do the task. And the ultimate theme for tonight's game, if not the entire series, has been the failure of the Minnesota power play. Teams that go far in the playoffs, are generally teams with an effective power play.
~ Wild roster tonight was as follows: Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi, Zach Parise, Jason Zucker, Torey Mitchell, Stephane Veilleux, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Jason Pominville, Charlie Coyle, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Marco Scandella, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon, and Todd Gilbert. Darcy Kuemper relieved Josh Harding after he was injured in the first period. Niklas Backstrom would show up during the 3rd period to serve as Kuemper's backup.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star, Corey Crawford; 2ns Star, Patrick Sharp; 3rd Star, Ryan Suter.
~ Attendance was 19,378 at Xcel Energy Center.