Backstrom and the Wild rebound with important 3-0 road win over Columbus

Mikael Granlund

The monotone voice, the blazing speed, the lack of variety in his one on one moves, and the glass groin he possessed dazzled and frustrated Wild fans for years.  He teased you with his skill, a streaky player who in certain moments could look like one of the most gifted players in the league and at other times a player who was disconnected and genuinely didn't want to be there.  Then of course there was the man who brought him here, Doug Risebrough.  The former Wild general manager who did about all that he could to try to assist the Trencin, Slovakia-native's health but in the end couldn't get a deal done and the Minnesota Wild were forced to watch the most talented player they have ever drafted walk away for nothing in return.  The void left by Marian Gaborik's departure hurt the team for years (as well as poor drafting) and ultimately it cost Risebrough his job.  Now Gaborik has been traded for the first time in his career, in a deadline day deal by the upstart Columbus Blue Jackets who have been scratching and clawing their way towards the Western Conference playoff picture under new GM Jarmo Kekalainen and Team President John Davidson.  Former Wild coach Todd Richards has managed to spark his bizarre collection of veterans and youngsters into being one of the most successful teams in the league through the month of March.  There is as much hope in Columbus now as there has been since the team hired Ken Hitchcock as coach and who led the team to its first and only ever run to the playoffs.  The playoff 'run' was a 1st round sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings, and the team spiraled downward ever since.  The red-headed stepchild of the NHL has had plenty of bad luck along the way, including losing its franchise player Rick Nash in summer trade and the disastisfaction of Jeff Carter to stay with the Blue Jackets who was dealt to Los Angeles at last year's deadline.  The Blue Jackets faithful, the few that are left, feel their team has paid its dues and taken its lumps and now its time for its fortunes to turn around and Gaborik is supposed to push them over that last hurdle.  Wild fans can tell any Columbus fan what happens when you rely on Marian Gaborik.  You end up disappointed.    

Marian Gaborik

However the Wild as of late haven't had much more success than its expansion cousin.  So the Wild probably shouldn't be talking too much trash when they venture to Nationwide Arena Sunday night, an arena where they've typically struggled to win games.  The Blue Jackets will be hungry and motivated and hoping to extend the Wild's 3-game losing streak.  Can the Wild dig deep and stem the tide with a crucial win in Columbus or will the Blue Jackets and Marian Gaborik have the last laugh?  

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Mikko Koivu


1st Period Thoughts: The Blue Jackets were focused and aggressive to start the period as Marian Gaborik fired a quick shot from the high slot that was directed aside by Niklas Backstrom. Columbus was moving its feet well while the Wild seemed a little sluggish early on.  The Wild would get their first shot on goal as Torrey Mitchell used his speed to drive the Blue Jackets defense off before turning back and feeding a quick pass to Mike Rupp waiting in the slot and he blasted a shot on goal that was denied by Sergei Bobrovsky.  The Blue Jackets went right back on the attack and aplay of the puck by Niklas Backstrom was intercepted by Cam Atkinson who tried to jam it to the right post but Backstrom was able to get back just in time.  The Wild countered with a fine pass by Jared Spurgeon which found Kyle Brodziak who split the defense but the puck would start rolling and he'd turn and drop a pass back to Charlie Coyle who wasn't ready but the puck was swept up by Spurgeon who wound up and fired a slap shot that was steered away by Bobrovsky.  Minnesota started to get its legs moving where it tried to establish the forecheck and despite some good hustle it was not yielding much in the way of shots on goal.  Gaborik would exhibit his great speed when he got a step on Ryan Suter as he ripped a shot off the rush that was kicked away by Backstrom.  The Blue Jackets tried to intensify their physical game as they started to dish out more hits as former Wild draft pick Colton Gillies delivered a big hit to Spurgeon.  After a few minutes where Columbus was swarming around the Wild end Minnesota would finally sustain some offensive pressure thanks to the skills of the 'captain line' of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville as they cycled the puck very effectively.  The 'captain line' moved the puck very well but were not able to create anything more than a solitary shooting opportunity Zach Parise and then Koivu tried to set up Pominville on a backdoor play but the pass was deflected a bit and the Wild would come up empty.  Zenon Konopka would trip up Columbus' Matt Calvert giving the Blue Jackets a late power play.  The Blue Jackets tried to move the puck down low where they hoped to jam it near the post and Backstrom was just about tackled by Vaclav Prospal to no call but the Wild's penalty killers did a good job of keeping Columbus to the perimeter.  The period would end with both teams knotted at 0-0 and it was an 'ok' period for the Wild.  At times I thought the Wild were guilty of trying to be a bit fancy with the puck instead of just peppering Bobrovsky with shots on goal.  The 2nd line really is M.I.A. without Matt Cullen, and the line of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mikael Granlund and Devin Setoguchi are barely visible out there.  This team needs Setoguchi to be a factor but without Cullen it doesn't seem likely that he can do just that.  Charlie Coyle also seems a bit lost on the 3rd line too.


2nd Period Thoughts:  The Blue Jackets would start the period with about 40 seconds left on the power play.  This is where I really felt the Wild took over this game from an effort and momentum stand point.  It didn't come from simply being more skilled than the Blue Jackets, it came from outworking Columbus.  Minnesota got it started with a good effort on the penalty kill where Cal Clutterbuck forced a pass over to Kyle Brodziak who took it to the Columbus net for a backhand that was fought off by Bobrovsky.  The hard work that paid off on the penalty kill translated to the next shift by the 4th line as Blake Comeau tripped up Torrey Mitchell.  The Wild wasted little time on the power play as Mikko Koivu carried it into the Columbus zone before passing it over to Jared Spurgeon at the point who found Jason Pominville with a pass into the high slot and he swung a pass back to Ryan Suter who flung a wrist shot by a well-screened Bobrovsky to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead.  Minnesota did give the Blue Jackets a few power plays but the penalty kill did a great job of sweeping away rebounds given up by Backstrom and making Columbus one and done if it did manage to get a shot on goal.  Even as Columbus tried to intensify their physical game as Colton Gillies and Derek McKenzie but the Wild would counterpunch with the 'captain line' and the 3rd line of Brodziak, Clutterbuck and Coyle. Coyle would go into beast mode and make some huge plays for the club late in the period.  The first was a play where he outmuscled Columbus along the boards and then moved the puck into the Blue Jackets' zone where he tried tracking it down only to be hooked by Vinny Prospal.  Prospal tried to raise his arms but the stick was clearly around Coyle's mid-section for an obvious penalty. The Wild's power play did a fine job of moving the puck around as they tried to set up Jason Pominville in the slot for a one-timer and they managed to do so once and he ripped a rising shot that caught Bobrovsky's shoulder.  The Wild would send out its 2nd power play unit and again it was Coyle raising his game to make a big play for his team.  It started with Coyle chasing down a puck in the Columbus zone where he worked it back to the point where Spurgeon stepped into a slap shot that was stopped by Bobrovsky who gave up a rebound that went out to Setoguchi who passed it out to the point where Granlund wasted no time in making a perfect back door feed back to Coyle for an easy goal, 2-0 Wild.  It was a beautiful pass by Granlund and nice to see Coyle rewarded for his hard work.  The Wild had to feel pretty confident going into the 2nd intermission leading by two as Coyle's goal seemed to deflate the home crowd but more importantly the Blue Jackets themselves. 


3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would go into lockdown mode in the 3rd period. Straightforward, defensive hockey as they moved the puck deep and keeping shifts short. The Blue Jackets tried in vain to get something going offensively, but Minnesota's defenseman did a nice job of tracking pucks down and never allowing Columbus to get its forecheck going. Jonas Brodin, Ryan Suter were particularly effective at frustrating Columbus' attempts to bottle up the Wild in its own end. The Blue Jackets' pressure would yield two power plays but the Wild never gave up much more than a few shots from the perimeter that were easily stopped by Niklas Backstrom. The Wild got the icing on the cake on a late goal set up by the 'captain line' as Zach Parise delivered a perfect cross-ice pass to Jason Pominville who tapped it home on a pretty bang-bang play.


Backstrom had a tremendous game, earning his 2nd shutout of the season as he stopped all 24 shots he faced.  This also continues Backstrom's remarkable trend of great efforts after games in which he's been pulled, going 17-0-2 in those games.  His rebound control was much better overall and when he did yield a few rebounds his defenseman were there to sweep dangerous pucks away.  The penalty kill was again terrific for the Wild.  I thought Jonas Brodin, Ryan Suter really stood out for me.  For whatever reason the team seemed to perform better defensively with Nate Prosser in the lineup whether that's a coincidence or not the team seems to win when he plays.  I would expect him and Falk to be in the Wild's lineup again Tuesday night against Chicago. 


Offensively the Wild took advantage of its power play opportunities cashing in twice.  The 'captain line' of Pominville, Parise and Koivu was very impressive once again, cycling the puck effectively and really was the only line that was able to sustain offensive pressure on a consistent basis.  I thought the 2nd line of Bouchard, Granlund and Setoguchi did show a little improvement but still Setoguchi is a shadow of what he was when he was on a line with Matt Cullen.  Charlie Coyle really is starting to show what he learned from being the top line with Parise and Koivu and if he can become a secondary scoring option that can be huge in the homestretch for the playoffs.  I thought the 4th line of Rupp, Konopka and Mitchell had a better game as well and the Wild will need them to be a source of strength against Chicago. 


This was a solid effort against a desperate team and I felt the Wild just wore them down.  Goals are tougher to come by and the team found a way to get enough offense to win the game while their workhorse goaltender demonstrated great resilience.  The good feelings from this victory are nice but the team will have to refocus itself for a game against the best team in the Western Conference.  Chicago is back to its winning ways again after going through a bit of a rough patch and the Wild will have to play a near perfect game if it wants to come away with two points. 


Wild Notes:


~ The Wild roster is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Mike Rupp, Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk, Clayton Stoner, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. Darcy Kuemper backed up Niklas Backstrom. Tom Gilbert and Brett Clark were the healthy scratches while Dany Heatley and Matt Cullen are out of the lineup with injuries.


~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Ryan Suter, 2nd Star Niklas Backstrom, 3rd Star Charlie Coyle


~ Attendance was 15,909 at Nationwide Arena.


Wild Prospect Report:


C – Tyler Graovac (Belleville, OHL) ~ The Bulls took a 1-0 series lead after a 6-3 win over Sudbury last night.  The Brampton, Ontario-native got things rolling early with a power play goal, and later in the game he added an assist as the Bulls cruised to victory.  On Sunday, Belleville would add to its series lead with a 4-1 win overthe Wolves. Graovac got involved with the scoring early as he typically does as he set up Jordan Subban for the first goal of the game. The Wild's 7th round pick in 2011 (191st Overall) has 3 goals, 13 points in 8 games. 


RW – Raphael Bussieres (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) ~ Baie-Comeau takes a 1-0 lead in their 2nd round series against Victoriaville after a 5-3 win on Friday night.  Bussieres had an assist and was a +3 in the victory.  The Drakkar extended their series lead, 2-0 as the prevailed 6-2 over the Tigres and Bussieres again did his part to help as he chipped in two assists and was a +2 in the win.  The Longuiel, Quebec-native has 3 goals, 12 points and is a +9 in 6 games. 


Houston Aeros Report:


Houston 5, Chicago 2


The Aeros have started to catch fire again, earning a big win over its former IHL rival Chicago.  Houston took an early lead as Zack Phillips buried a power play.  Chicago answered right back as Darren Archibald scored just about 30 seconds later.  The Aeros would retake the lead as Justin Fontaine found Steven Kampfer moving down the slot and he ripped a shot by Matt Climie to make it 2-1.  A few minutes later Jason Zucker fired home a rebound off of a shot by Fontaine on the pwer play to make it 3-1.  Shortly after that Matt Climie would get caught out of his crease and Houston's Dan DaSilva was able to score on a wrap around before Climie could get back to the blue paint making it 4-1.  Wolves' Head Coach Scott Arniel had seen enough and he pulled Climie in favor of Joe Cannata.   The goalie change did refocus the Wolves who swarmed in Aeros end before former Colorado College star Bill Sweatt banged home a rebound given up by Cody Reichard to make it 4-2.  Houston would answer back late in the period as Jason Zucker would intercept a pass in the neutral zone and he'd turn on the jets and dangle around a Wolves defender before beating Cannata on a nifty goal 5-hole to make it 5-2 going into the 3rd.  In the 3rd period, Reichard would get tangled up with Chicago's Anton Rodin and he'd leave the ice under the assistance of the Aeros' training staff.  This meant Jeff Deslauriers would go between the pipes for the first tme since being part of a deadline day deal with Anaheim and he was rock solid as he stopped all 8 shots he faced to seal a 5-2 victory for the Aeros.  The Aeros have won their last two games and Jason Zucker has been on fire having scored two-goals in each game as well as chipping a helper too.  Houston's next game is tonight against Hamilton.  

Houston 2, Hamilton 0

Houston would earn another huge win at home as Jeff Deslauriers was again perfect in stopping all 22 shots he faced.  Although for the most part the Aeros strong defense kept the Bulldogs scoring chances few and far between.  The Aeros would score late in the 1st period as Zack Phillips found Dan DaSilva on a nice back door pass for an easy tap in behind Robert Mayer to make it 1-0.  Houston was pouring it on with an aggressive forecheck that really put Hamilton on its heels.  The Aeros would get an insurance goal late in the 3rd when Nick Petersen jammed home a rebound off of a shot by Jake Dowell to make it 2-0 and Houston rolled to a victory. 

Jack Jablonski & Jenna Privette

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!

Wild vs. BJs

Wild vs. Blue Jackets

The Super Bowl; which is more entertaining the game or the commercials?  Marketeers tried to jump the gun a bit to perhaps entice a few more viewers by putting previews of their Super Bowl ads prior to the game itself.  For anyone that thinks no one really cares about the commercials, many of these Super Bowl ad sneak previews were instant viral hits generating as many as 10-15 million views.  Honestly, 10-15 million people wanted to watch the commercials ahead of time.  I am not quite sure what that says about our society.  Whether we just love to laugh a bit, or we crave to see creativity or we’re bored at work its hard to say why people are so drawn to these commercials which they will probably see over and over again as the month goes on.  Still, I have to say I’m most impressed by this ad by Budweiser.  I am not a big flash mob guy, but this one is actually pretty cool.  You can see genuine surprise on the faces of these beer league hockey players and I must say the hockey actually looks pretty decent too, and I think its awesome (and surprising) they chose to showcase hockey during the Super Bowl. 

I am sure the Columbus Blue Jackets would appreciate someone flash mobbing them with all of the empty seats that you can normally see at their games.  Even the Amigos’ colors were sort of reminiscent of the Blue Jackets.  It sure beats having 250 fans launching a protest about the dismal state of the team like they did in Columbus last week, doesn’t it?  You can read more about that here

Blue Jackets fans protest  A Columbus Blue Jackets style of flash mob 

I will stop poking too much fun at the league’s worst team but I must admit I do enjoy razzing them.  So will the Wild give the Blue Jackets’ dwindling fanbase something good to think about or will they make an already sour group a little more bitter? 

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Devin Setoguchi

1st Period Thoughts:

2nd Period Thoughts:

3rd Period Thoughts:

Wild Notes:

~ The roster tonight was as follows:

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were:

~ Attendance was at Nationwide Arena.

Houston Aeros Report:

Aeros vs. Admirals

Recent Score:  Houston 2, Milwaukee 1

The Houston are about to go on an extremely long road trip that will take them away from the friendly confines of the Toyota Center, but one last game remained against their old rival the Milwaukee Admirals.  The first period was fast and furious as both teams traded chances with one another as Jeff Taffe and Chad Rau rang shots off the pipe behind Atte Engren.  Milwaukee would strike first as Blake Geoffrion scored just his 2nd goal of the season, and Houston tried to rally back but they couldn’t manage to get it by Engren.  The Admirals would extend their lead as former Wild draft pick Kyle Wilson scored on the power play to make it 2-0 Milwaukee.  Cody Almond tried to spark his team by dropping the gloves with Geoffrion in nice tilt.  One Houston player who really did all that he could to will the Aeros back into the game was team captain Jon DiSalvatore who was all over the ice and Houston started to burn Milwaukee as they became a little careless with the puck.  DiSalvatore would earn a penalty shot, and his move to the backhand was denied by Engren.  Houston would finally light the lamp early in the 3rd period on a goal by Jeff Taffe, but unfortunately the Aeros were not able to get the equalizer and they’d lose 2-1.  Matt Hackett had 22 saves in the loss. 

Wild Prospect Camp Tryout Watch:

J.T. Brown & Jack Connolly  UMD’s Jack Connolly (left) & J.T. Brown (right)

RW – J.T. Brown (Minnesota-Duluth, WCHA) ~ Listening to KFAN’s Beyond the Pond with Brandon Mileski, Nate Miller and Pat Michelletti they talked about whether the Wild would attempt to sign prospect camp attendee J.T. Brown who had a fantastic weekend in UMD’s series against Alaska-Anchorage as he was the college hockey equivalent of Sam Gagner after posting a 4-goal night on Friday and adding one more on Saturday for 5 goals in 2 games.  The Wild certainly could use a player with Brown’s work ethic, strength on the puck, athleticism and scoring ability.  Brown will likely be a sought-after free agent at the end of this college hockey season no matter how it turns out for the Bulldogs.  The former Rosemount Irish standout has 16 goals, 37 points in 28 games in UMD.  According to Mileski, some scouts have questioned Brown’s on-ice intelligence and there are some character issues as well after his incident outside a Duluth bar.  Yet I like J.T. Brown’s game and I think it fits very well into Mike Yeo’s forechecking style he likes to employ. 

C – Jack Connolly (Minnesota-Duluth, WCHA) ~ In that same conversation on KFAN’s Beyond the Pond, the discussion became over whether J.T. Brown’s team mate, senior Jack Connolly would have a better chance at the NHL.  Connolly is more of a playmaker, but he stood out a bit more at the Wild’s prospect camp this summer than Brown did.  The former Duluth Marshall star had 2 assists in the 2-game series with the Seawolves but he is having another Hobey Baker worthy season, leading UMD in scoring with 15 goals and 42 points.  While I think the Wild have enough playmaking forwards in their system, the fact is Jack Connolly is a player with outstanding hands and great instincts and I think the Wild would also have to strongly considering doing all they can to bring a player of his talent and skill into the fold. 

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!

Mental mistakes torch Wild in heartbreaking 4-2 loss to Columbus

Minnesota Wild’s radio host and message board hero Kevin Falness said it best after last night’s 5-0 throttling at the hands of the Nashville Predators describing the game as a “3-hour root canal.”  Hard to argue with that, it was painful to watch an apathetic Wild squad go through the motions as Nashville clearly wanted it more than Minnesota did.  As a fan and a coach the effort was as disgusting as it was unforgiveable.  With the standings so tight the Wild needed to earn every point possible if it was to have even a glimmer of a chance and instead of battling hard and coming up short the team simply rolled over onto its back and fell asleep.  The Wild put up a pittence of shots on goal, just 17 of them and even Wild Head Coach Todd Richards stated that only a few Wild players really brought any effort at all last night.  In Richards’ words “we had a few guys going and when these games mean so much it wasn’t what I expected.”  Well Todd, it sure as heck wasn’t what we (as fans) were expecting either.  Why does it keep happening then?  Have some players just given up; and are looking forward to their summer off?  Either way, those are some uncomfortable questions that I doubt Richards or any of his assistant coaches or the team’s upper management wishes to answer. It is always an anxious and disconcerting to know that part of your team has perhaps decided to call it a season already.

The loss also gave the St. Louis Blues to leapfrog the Wild in the standings and here is the present playoff picture in the Western Conference.  Sorry if its getting repetitive but it certainly is relevant.

7.  Nashville Predators – 85pts

8.  Detroit Red Wings – 80pts

9.  Calgary Flames – 79pts

10. St. Louis Blues -75pts

11. Minnesota Wild – 74pts

12. Dallas Stars – 73pts

13. Anaheim Ducks – 72pts

The Wild trail the 8th place Red Wings by just 6 points but it seems about as large as the Grand Canyon right now.  The Wild are now facing a bitter Columbus Blue Jackets squad that feels as though it let its fanbase down by failing to qualify for the post-season after their first, albeit short trip after being swept by division rival Detroit in 4 games.  Columbus has always played with a bit more vitriol against the Wild at home as their franchise is always inevitably compared to one another since they both entered the league in 2000.  Blue Jackets Head Coach Claude Noel once had Todd Richards as his assistant (with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL) and Richards’ himself gives Noel much of the credit for the coach who he is today.  Without question Richards will want his team to perform well against his former mentor in a game that is crucially important to the Wild.  Will it be a case of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Noel) defeating Darth Vader (Richards) or will the sly mentor out duel his former apprentice?

The well rested Blue Jackets had some great jump to start the 1st period as they were moving well, but perhaps they were a bit too excited as Marc Methot was tagged with an early elbowing penalty to put the Wild on the power play.  Minnesota would move the puck well on the power play, carrying the puck a bit more than just the half wall back to “D” passes you normally see from the Wild and they set up a few quick shots from long range that Mathieu Garon had little trouble stopping.  The Wild’s best chance came on some nice passing by Martin Havlat to set up Antti Miettinen who pulled the trigger from the point that was snared by the glove of Garon.  Shortly after the failed Wild power play, Chuck Kobasew would be trip up Antoine Vermette giving the Blue Jackets a power play.  Columbus’ puck movement was excellent but the Wild were dropping to block shots and they were showing a far greater sense of urgency than they did last night in Nashville.  The Blue Jackets’ best chance was a point-blank range chance from the top of the crease by R.J. Umberger but Harding was able to stonewall him twice before covering it up for a whistle.  The Wild managed to earn the big kill, but Columbus was still attacking and Jakub Voracek found some room and he’d wind up and uncork a slapper that was gloved by Harding who was seeing the puck well early on.  A terrible turnover near the Wild blueline turned into a 3-on-2 that culminated in a quick shot by Kristian Huselius that was just steered wide by Harding.  Columbus was working the forecheck well but Minnesota was making good quick passes in its own zone and would go on the counter attack as Mikko Koivu dangled his way into the Blue Jackets zone before finding Wild newcomer Casey Wellman for a quick snap shot taken from the left circle that he lifted just high over the goal.  Moments later a long outlet pass found Antti Miettinen behind the defense and he’d rip a shot that missed just wide and he’d swoop around pick off a fanned Columbus pass and hammer another shot on goal that was stopped by Garon who gave up another big rebound and Mikko Koivu pounced and blasted a shot by the Blue Jackets goaltender to give the Wild a 1-0 lead.  Minnesota continued to apply pressure as James Sheppard showed some good initiative as he stepped around the Blue Jackets’ defense and he let loose with a backhand that missed just wide.  Marek Zidlicky would attempt a ill-advised cross ice pass through his zone that had no zip on it that was easily intercepted by Kristian Huselius who stepped into a shot that was blocked.  The Wild would try to add to its lead as the 2nd line would set up Guillaume Latendresse all alone in the slot and he rifled a snap shot that was stopped by Garon and on the tail end of the play he would end up getting bumped by Martin Havlat who ended up earning a goaltender interference penalty.  Columbus would struggle to get set up in the Wild zone as they were challenging well in addition to collapsing quickly near the crease to help their goaltender.  Just as the Columbus power play expired, Rick Nash unloaded a slapper from the point that was blocked aside by Harding.  The Wild’s top line would go back to work and Koivu would dangle around a few Blue Jackets defenders as he pushed it back out to the point where Cam Barker flung a wrist shot that was gloved by Garon.  Sheppard was again showing good strength as he sped around the Blue Jackets defense, using his body to shield the puck as he carried it towards the crease forcing Nathan Paetsch to take a penalty to prevent him from having a great scoring chance.  Minnesota was a bit too fancy on the man advantage, overhandling the puck and not moving their feet well enough and about midway through the power play it was Marek Zidlicky taking a lazy holding penalty to even things up with just about 30 seconds left in the period.  The final seconds would evaporate without incident and the Wild still held onto a 1-0 lead going into the 2nd.

The Blue Jackets would kill off the remaining seconds of 4-on-4 time and go on the power play just under 30 seconds into the 2nd.  Minnesota’s penalty kill again was very good as it challenged the puck carrier well and then won the races to the dump in’s for some easy clears for the zone.  Another solid kill for the Wild and even when Columbus was swarming in their end the Wild didn’t panic and bided its time to leave their own zone.  The patience of the Wild would pay off as Casey Wellman would give Minnesota fans a taste of what he can do as he made a terrific little play in the Blue Jackets zone as he dangled around a Columbus defender before backhanding a perfect pass to Chuck Kobasew who tapped a shot by Garon to give the State of Hockey a 2-0 lead.  Columbus would try to answer back but Minnesota’s defense kept its feet moving and they were able to keep the puck from reaching Harding.  The Blue Jackets’ top line kept pressing and Rick Nash started to dangle with Zidlicky shadowing and he swung a pass to Kris Russell for a blast from the point but he’d quickly dish the puck down to a wide open Derrick Brassard who didn’t get all of it and Harding was able to get across his crease to make the save.  Moments later a bad turnover near the blueline turned into a breakaway for Derek Dorsett and he’d race in and was held onto by Jaime Sifers and after a no call that drew the ire of Nationwide Arena the officials would give Nick Schultz a high sticking call to make up for what probably should’ve been a penalty shot.  Oddly enough, Casey Wellman would serve the penalty and Schultz would go out on the penalty kill.  Minnesota’s penalty killers were again denying time and space from Columbus making it tough for the Blue Jackets to have time to put a shot on goal.  As the Wild killed off the Columbus power play, the Blue Jackets kept swarming and Jakub Voracek had a good opportunity that was denied by Harding.  Minnesota would counter attack with Martin Havlat and Casey Wellman and Havlat found Wellman sneaking behind the defense and he would backhand a shot on Garon that he stopped before crashing into the Blue Jackets netminder.  The offiicials would give Nathan Paetsch a hooking call on the play and Minnesota went on the power play.  The Wild had a great chance early as Mikko Koivu blazed a slap shot that reached Garon and Brunette tried to chip it by him but he was able to hold the post and Columbus was able to clear the zone.  Moments later, a botched play near the blueline turned into a shorthanded rush for Rick Nash and Martin Havlat felt compelled to hold and slow down the speedy Columbus forward for an obvious power play.  Columbus again found themselves struggling against a very aggressive Wild penalty kill as Cal Clutterbuck hounded Blue Jackets puck carrier and Minnesota killed off another power play.  The Blue Jackets continued to work the puck down low and it was shot on goal from the boards by Jared Boll and in a melee in the crease, it was Kristian Huselius finally tapping home a goal before Harding could cover it up.  A few moments later it was Brassard that rang a shot off the pipe, but Minnesota would answer back with a beauty of its own as the puck was carried to the crease by Cal Clutterbuck that Garon couldn’t quite control and an opportunistic Casey Wellman moved in and looked to have his first NHL goal as he fired it on an open net but was robbed by the skate of R.J. Umberger and the puck was covered up by Garon.  Columbus would answer back with a nice play of their own as Rick Nash would put on a stickhandling exhibition as he walked right around Nick Schultz causing Harding to sprawl but he wasn’t able to work a wrap around and Minnesota was able to carry the puck out of danger.  The Blue Jackets would try to add a late-period goal as they swarmed around the Wild zone as Anton Stralman flung a wrist shot that was knocked up into the air by Harding and Minnesota was able to keep the puck out as the period expired still holding onto a 2-1 lead.

Minnesota’s forwards were hustling early to start the 3rd period, trying to kill the will of the Blue Jackets to come back in this game.  The Blue Jackets would take advantage of Minnesota’s aggressive posture or a 2-on-1 between Umberger and Voracek, and youngster’s saucer pass just hopped over the stick of Umberger before he could get a shot off.  At times the Wild were getting a bit too excited as they suffered from a few mental mistakes as they would carelessly go offsides on the rush.  Minnesota was trying to be physical as they attempted to stymie some good puck possession in their zone by Columbus as Guillaume Latendresse delivered a big shoulder hit to R.J. Umberger that left him a bit weak in the legs.  The Wild were not really threatening all that much offensively, but they were moving their feet very well and keeping their sticks active to disrupt the passing lanes.  Minnesota’s James Sheppard would get a bit overzealous as he hooked Kristian Huselius and with a delayed penalty he dished a puck back to Kris Russell who wound up and cannonaded a shot by Josh Harding who was bumped a bit by R.J. Umberger.  Harding would protest but to no avail.  Just 27 seconds after Russell’s goal, a poor decision to go for a line change by Cam Barker ended up leaving Rick Nash all alone for a breakaway and he’d race in and sneak a backhander through the pads of Harding to give Columbus a 3-2 lead.  Minnesota would try to answer back as Cal Clutterbuck would level Nash with a huge hit, but the Blue Jackets’ captain would answer right back with a hit of his own that Clutterbuck managed to avoid.  You could sense the desperation in the Wild’s play at this point as Casey Wellman found some space and he fired a laser of a slap shot that was blocked aside by Garon and he’d track down his rebound and dish it back out to the point where Cam Barker fired a point shot that the Columbus goaltender would knock down but unfortunately neither Kobasew or Wellman could make it to the biscuit before the Blue Jackets defense did.  A few moments later, Cam Barker would give a butt end towards Antoine Vermette as he skated by knocking him to the ice and Vermette was not happy as he went after Barker who did not want to fight but nothing would come of it.  The Wild tried to go on the attack but Columbus was quick to muck up the play along the boards and then just skate it across the red line and throw it deep into the Wild zone.  It was all desperation as the Wild went to one forward and placing Martin Havlat on the point.  Minnesota would pull Josh Harding with about a minute left to play.  After coming very close to giving up an empty netter to the Blue Jackets they’d be saved by a timely offsides call.  With 52.6 seconds left, Todd Richards would call a timeout to talk things over, but before they had to return Harding to his crease.  Some poor passing made those ‘plans’ made during the timeout a moot point as Rick Nash swept in and fired home an empty netter to seal a 4-2 Blue Jackets victory.

Once again, Josh Harding feels the pain of a loss that really was not his fault.  The Wild’s defense, a motly patchwork of seldom used and farm team players simply wore down in this game.  The few veterans on the Wild blueline that are left finally just broke down and made the mistakes that gave Columbus the opportunities to earn the victory tonight.  The penalty kill was outstanding, Minnesota was challenging very well and not giving Columbus much to look at.  Yet it was turnovers near the blueline that again plagued Minnesota as it did against Nashville.  Rookie Justin Falk making his NHL debut did not last long before suffering an lower body injury that already shortened an inexperienced bench forcing the Wild to give minutes to blueliners they probably rather would’ve tried to keep on the bench in John Scott and Jaime Sifers.  Falk had his moments in this game but was hesitant and looked out of place at the NHL level. As of right now it looks like Nate Prosser might make his NHL debut.

Offensively the Wild had to feel disappointed that they eased up after taking a 2-0 lead managing to create just 20 shots on goal.  9 shots in the first, 6 and 5 in the 2nd and 3rd respectively say it all.  The Wild sat back more and more and waited for Columbus to attack as the game went on.  On the road that is a dangerous combination.  One player looked very natural in the offensive zone and that was newest member of the Wild, Casey Wellman.  Wellman exhibited great speed and good offensive awareness but his defensive play looked a bit lost.  However his speed, anticipation, stickhandling, shot and vision was certainly there.  I can’t wait to see how he does in his next game and I think he certainly deserves and opportunity.  Martin Havlat was working hard all over the ice, but he needs to shoot the puck more.  The Wild need to simplify their power play and while I understand why they want to set up Latendresse in the high slot they need to have a plan “B” and either crash the crease or work for the deflections on shots from the point.

It was another disappointing let down by the Wild, and even though the overall effort was considerably better than it was the night before the team lapsed again in a game where it could not afford it and Minnesota’s playoff dreams are effectively over.  It does not get any easier for the Wild on Sunday when the Calgary Flames come to St. Paul for what will likely be a very hard fought game.  The Flames will be desperate and hoping to gain ground in the West, but do the Wld have enough left in the tank and its personnel to play the role of spoiler?  We’ll find out on Sunday.

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild’s roster tonight was: Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Owen Nolan, Antti Miettinen, Chuck Kobasew, Andrew Ebbett, James Sheppard, Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Wellman, Guillaume Latendresse, John Scott, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, Jaime Sifers, Cam Barker and Justin Falk.  Wade Dubielewicz backed up Josh Harding.  Robbie Earl, Derek Boogaard, and Nate Prosser were your healthy scratches.  Clayton Stoner, Shane Hnidy, Greg Zanon, and Brent Burns are all out with ‘lower body’ injuries while Pierre-Marc Bouchard is still on the shelf with post-concussion symptoms.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Rick Nash, 2nd Star Kristian Huselius, 3rd Star Kris Russell

~ Casey Wellman wore #17 for the Wild while Justin Falk wore #41 in their NHL debut.

WCHA Frozen Five Report:

It is semifinal friday once again as the WCHA Frozen Five has pared itself down to four teams after last night’s .  With the awarding of the McNaughton Cup just one more night away for some college teams not in the playoffs and no hopes of an NCAA tournament bid the demolition has already begun as the reality of graduation and players turning pro hits home.  The Golden Gophers are feeling the pain of this as sophomore Jordan Schroeder turns pro to become a part of the Vancouver Canucks organization.  That is the reality of having bluechip recruits on your team, as they usually leave early.  Here is a run-down of tonight’s WCHA Semi-Final action.

St. Cloud State Huskies (22-12-5) 2 Vs. Wisconsin Badgers (24-9-4) 0

During the regular season the series between the Badgers and Huskies was split with both teams earning victories in the other’s arena.  St. Cloud State was one of the few teams who seemed able to find the back of the net against a strong defensive team like the Badgers are.  Wisconsin’s greatest strength is in its blueline where junior Brendan Smith has been absolutely outstanding at both ends of the ice, providing rock solid defense as well as an impressive amount of offense as he fired home 15 goals and 44 points.  St. Cloud is blessed with some quality scoring forwards in junior Garrett Roe (19 goals, 45 points), and senior Ryan Lasch (18 goals, 44 points).  The Huskies will definitely enjoy a ‘home-ice’ type advantage with a strong contingent of St. Cloud fans making the 40-mile trip to St. Paul but they will have to be careful of the Badgers senior Michael Davies who took an early season benching to heart and has been on a terror for most of the season leading Wisconsin with 17 goals and 48 points.  Wisconsin will no doubt look to junior goaltender Scott Gudmanson (16-3-4 record, 2.33GAA, .914%) to shut down the Huskies while St. Cloud State Head Coach Bob Motzko has a tough decision to make between his two-headed monster tandem of Dan Dunn or Mike LeePrediction:  I think the Badgers defense will be too much for St. Cloud State to deal with and I think Wisconsin wins this one 5-1.  (I have to admit, this one really surprised me but it just goes to show just how important a hot goalie can be and Roseau, Minnesota’s Mike Lee made 37 saves to shutout the Badgers.)

North Dakota Fighting Sioux (23-12-5)  Vs. Denver Pioneers (27-7-4)

The Fighting Sioux are coming off a hard-fought 2-0 victory over UMD, but they still have a daunting psychological barrier to get over as they face top ranked Denver.  The Pioneers have simply owned the Fighting Sioux this season, sweeping them twice.  Denver Head Coach George Gwozdecky has another talented squad playing for him, and the trio of seniors Rhett Rakhshani (20 goals, 49 points), Tyler Ruegsegger (16 goals, 40 points), and sophomore Joe Colborne (21 goals, 39 points) make for an explosive offensive combination.  Colborne, the former Boston Bruins 1st round selection in 2008 (16th Overall) has shown a knack for scoring important goals in big games for the Pioneers.  The Fighting Sioux will need Brad Eidsness to play a very solid game if North Dakota is going to have a chance, because they will be facing the best goaltender in the WCHA in junior Marc Cheverie who sported 24-4-3 record, a ridiculous 1.94 goals against average and a gawdy .937% save percentage.  Expect North Dakota to be very physical, but they must be careful when they pinch defensively as Denver has more than enough speed in its lineup to burn the Fighting Sioux bad.  Prediction:  Cheverie shuts down the Fighting Sioux as Denver wins in methodical fashion 3-0.

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!