If any of you are on Twitter and are Wild fans, if you are not already, I'd high recommend you follow both Minneapolis Star Tribune's Michael Russo (@Russostrib) and Wild.com's Kevin Falness (@RadioFalness as they will from time to time banter back and forth as they attempt to zing one another. Falness hosts the Wild's games on radio as well as does interviews for their use on Wild.com, and one thing he loathes about Russo is his use of Florida Panthers' references. Michael Russo was the Florida Panthers beat writer from 1995 to 2005 where he moved to the State of Hockey to cover the Wild. Russo almost goes out of his ways to drop Florida Panthers' references to the irritation of Falness. During the Wild's last game, Wild captain Mikko Koivu discovered a snake in the Wild's dressing room at Tampa Bay's St. Pete Times' Forum. Ironically enough the snake-bitten goal scorer registered his first goal of the season in a 3-1 loss. Russo of course couldn't wait to compare Koivu's discovery of a snake in the locker room to former Florida Panthers' and Wisconsin Badgers' star Scott Mellanby discovering a rat in the locker room just prior to the season opener in 1996. Mellanby promptly killed the rat with his hockey stick and in the game he ended up scoring the game winning goal in that game and the 'rat trick' was born. It caught on quickly as Florida fans would shower the ice with rubber rats everytime the Panthers' scored, and in that magical 1996 season they went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals before being swept by the Colorado Avalanche. The NHL actually instituted a rule because of the 'rat trick', a penalty would be given to the home team for delay of game for throwing objects onto the ice. Technically you could say they'd institute this penalty if fans did this after a hat trick or a teddy bear toss like you see at minor league and major junior games but because it doesn't happen all of the time officials never enforce this. Should Wild fans start throwing rubber snakes onto the ice whenever a Wild player scores? Not to sound too similar to a certain cult classic movie, but how many snakes would a Wild fan need to bring to a game?
Right now, the answer might be one or two snakes. The Wild's lack of offense has set the team back with two back to back losses as the enter their final game of this 4-game road trip. Minnesota needs to establish some secondary scoring and its weak penalty kill makes the Wild's margin of error rather slim. So can they solve both problems against the Panthers tonight?
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1st Period Thoughts: (yawn) Let me get that out of the way but that was a very boring and sloppy period of hockey. The Wild made some changes to its lines and the chemistry the team had exhibited the last few games was non-existant against the Panthers. Passes were often off target or missed altogether so the puck possession style sort of went out the window as Minnesota chipped the puck off the boards resulting in a plethora of needless turnovers. Josh Harding had to bail out the Wild on a a bad turnover near the blueline by Mathew Dumba. I understand the kid probably doesn't have a lot to learn playing in major junior but this team needs to seriously consider sending him down because right now one mistake can bury our team. But Harding came up big and stopped Kris Versteeg on the breakaway to keep the game scoreless. Minnesota carried most of the play as Florida was content to sit back and wait for a Wild mistake to pounce on. Florida clogged up the zone, although at times they sent in two men on the forecheck and the pressure did draw some bad passes that luckily didn't turn into goals for the Panthers. Penalties nearly got the Wild behind the 8-ball as Nino Niederreiter sat for high sticking but Minnesota's penalty killer stepped up and did a good job at denying passing and shooting lanes. Minnesota's Kyle Brodziak made the Wild's job a little tougher as he hooked Tomas Fleischmann. On the 5-on-3 the Wild were a bit scrambly but Marco Scandella and a fine little play by Niederreiter who re-joined the play knocked a puck out of the air and backhanded it down the ice. Florida would then help out the Wild with a hooking penalty as Brad Boyes was sent to the sin bin. Just moments after that Florida gave the Wild a 5-on-3 as Jesse Winchester hooked Jason Pominville as he was about to pull the trigger on a shot from the slot. On the 5-on-3, the Wild started out with Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Pominville with Ryan Suter and Dany Heatley working the points. Heatley looked shaky and slow on the 5-on-3 and Minnesota wanted to set him up for a big shot but the Panthers were waiting to pressure him so the Wild had to avoid him. The Wild patiently moved the puck around the perimeter, moving it to Parise who tried to stuff it through Tim Thomas but he was able to shut the door. Heatley would leave and be replaced by Jared Spurgeon. Spurgeon would then get the lion's share of the opportunities as he tried blasting away but Thomas was up to the challenge and Minnesota wasn't able to get anything by Thomas. The period would thankfully end and while Minnesota outshot Florida 11-7 the Wild were missing the net far too often and playing right into the Panthers' hands. Hopefully the Wild exhibits a bit more fire in the 2nd.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota apparently got chewed out a little as the team had a bit more jump and energy to their skates to start the period. The Wild's hustle was causing the Panthers problems in their offensive zone as they got their forecheck going right away. Minnesota would earn an early power play as Tomas Fleischmann hooked Mikael Granlund who seemed to be all over the ice throughout the period as he tried to skate with the puck into the slot. Minnesota's 1st power play unit was guilty of trying to be a bit too fancy with the puck and even though they possessed the puck in the offensive zone they were not accomplishing much of anything. The 2nd unit came on, with Heatley, Granlund and Niederreiter up front and they moved the puck with more purpose and crispness and they got Florida chasing around in its own end. Heatley would move down low and slide a pass from beneath the goal line towards the crease that Niederreiter couldn't get to but the puck kept rolling out to the high slot where Jonas Brodin stepped into a slapper that deflected off Winchester and by Thomas to give the Wild a 1-0 lead on the power paly tally. It was Brodin's 3rd of the season. The Wild would continue to dominate the play, but I would still say they were not really playing 'their game.' The team was still resorting to using the boards and glass for a lot of their passes and that meant they were spending more time chasing around the ice for the puck. However, Florida wasn't able to get much of anything going the other way so they started to try to take out their frustration on the Wild with some physical play. Mike Weaver would nearly decapitate Zach Parise with a check and then he'd level Mikko Koivu with a big check that drew cheers from the sparse Florida crowd. A few minutes after Weaver's big hits the Wild had a big hit of their own as Erik Gudbranson and Stephane Veilleux collided near the dasher in the Florida zone. Gudbranson wanted to light up Veilleux as he chased down a puck but Veilleux, whose 6'1" frame sits a little lower than the 6'4" defenseman had better leverage and the big man hit the boards pretty hard and this drew the ire of his teammates and gave Veilleux a boarding penalty. Minnesota's penalty kill was again strong against Florida's weak power play. The Wild would skate into the 2nd intermission leading 1-0, but a one-goal lead is one shot away from being worth nothing at all. The Wild were playing to Florida's level and they still have some offensive issues they need to work out. Minnesota outshot Florida 13-8. Mikael Granlund is having a tremendous game. He has shown speed, strength on his skates and with the puck as well as good instincts.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild seemed to take their foot off the gas a bit as they seemed content to defend its one-goal lead. Bad move. Minnesota would fail to apply much pressure on the Panthers and this invited a comeback. The opportunity came on a Wild penalty, a foolish tripping penalty off a faceoff by Zenon Konopka. The Panthers would move the puck around the Wild zone before Tomas Fleischmann stepped into a one-timer that beat Josh Harding cleanly to tie the game at 1-1. The goal sparked the Panthers, and now you had two teams showing a little more desperation. Minnesota would get a gift of two 'iffy' calls to give the Wild a 5-on-3 and instead of burying a power play goal to re-take the lead the Wild looked nervous and scared. No one seemed to want to shoot the puck as they attempted pass after pass, and when they finally did shoot a shot by Pominville that was stopped on the door step by Thomas and the puck skittered across the crease and Parise pushed a shot wide of the mark on what should've been an easy tap in goal. It was not a good sign. If the period had a bright spot it was the play of Matt Cooke, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter who moved the puck decisively and created some good chances as Granlund unloaded a big shot that rang off the post and the game would go to overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: The Wild showed the urgency it lacked in the 3rd period as Minnesota took every chance it could to shoot the puck. Minnesota was moving well but they were not able to create a lot of quality shooting opportunities the first few minutes. Lots of long range shots that Thomas had little trouble with. Later in overtime the Wild had a great chance as Nino Niederreiter as he won a battle for the puck down low and then moved out front where he swung a shot on goal that was steered away by Thomas. The Panthers had a great chance of their own as Harding went behind his net to play the puck and his pass was intercepted and pounced on by Jonathan Huberdeau who rifled a shot on goal that was snagged out of the air by the glove of Harding. Minnesota had one last great chance as Mikko Koivu took a long outlet pass and would move across the blueline and into the slot where he seemed to be all alone and he inexplicably made a pass to no one that was picked up by Jared Spurgeon who slid it back to Koivu for a one-timer that was deflected on goal by Parise that was blocked away at the buzzer by Thomas to send the game to a shootout.
Shootout Summary: The Florida Panthers would elect to have the Wild shoot first. The Wild's first shooter was Zach Parise and the Wild assistant captain tried to go backhand to forehand deke and Thomas was able to hold the post with his leg pad. Florida's first shooter was Jonathan Huberdeau who moved a little to the right before moving down the slot before deking to his forehand which got Harding to drop and he patiently dragged it around the Wild goalie for an easy goal. 1-0 Panthers. The Wild's next shooter was Mikko Koivu and I think everyone on the ice and in Minnesota knew what move he was going to use. Unfortunately for him, so did Tim Thomas. Koivu skated in where he attempted his patented forehand to backhand shelf move but Thomas was there to put his big glove up to knock the attempt down and keep Minnesota scoreless. The Panther's next shooter was Brad Boyes and the former Toronto Maple Leafs 1st round pick would skate leisurely down the middle of the ice where he made a simple move of sliding a backhander through Harding, 5-hole to seal a 2-1 shootout victory.
Josh Harding should sue for a lack of support as he gave up just one goal on 22 shots. Harding came up with some terrific saves to bail out his team. The breakaway stop on Versteeg was tremendous. Minnesota played well defensively. I thought Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon both had a real solid game. Its tough to blame the Wild's penalty kill which did give up a goal tonight but for the most part did a good job ad denying shooting opportunities for the Panthers.
Offensively, the Wild's changes to the lineup were mostly ineffective. Parise, Koivu and Pominville were a failure as a line. All of them, including Parise seemed to lack confidence and were trying to make the perfect play too many times on the poor quality Florida ice. Dany Heatley lack of wheels and jump needs to be addressed. He holds back every line he's with. The Wild's inability to capitalize on two-long 5-on-3 power plays doomed the Wild in this game and its something they need to figure out. They got better chances from their youngsters than they did with the veterans. Mikko Koivu may have hit a post but he pushed a lot of prime shots wide too. On the bright side they had 31 shots, but 1 for 31 isn't going to win a lot of hockey games.
"I'm disappointed for our guys, to be honest with ya, they're playing they're tails off, they're playing well defensively but we're not winning games," said Wild head coach Mike Yeo in the post game press conference. He said guys were pressing and lacking confidence and pointed to their dismal performance in two 5-on-3's. "We have to figure something out, we can't keep trying to win with just one goal." Other than that, you had your typical list of coaching cliches and the whole speech seemed to be a rationalization of the Wild's lack of finish. He seemed to even hint at placing youngsters Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter on the top power play as well as hinting that some of the vets may be struggling and not wanting to demoralize them further by a demotion. At this point are a player's feelings more important than wins? My advice to those with the fragile confidence, score a goal, maybe you'll feel better. 5 goals in the last 4 games is unacceptable with the roster this team has. Mike Yeo better make some changes or he might be a part of that change whether he wants it or not.
~ The Wild roster this evening was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, Matt Cooke, Dany Heatley, Kyle Brodziak, Justin Fontaine, Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka, Stephane Veilleux, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner. Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding. Charlie Coyle (knee) and Mike Rupp (knee) were out of the lineup with injuries. Nate Prosser was the lone healthy scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Tim Thomas, 2nd Star Josh Harding, 3rd Star Tomas Fleischmann
~ Attendance was 13,081 at BB&T Center.
~ The Iowa Wild traveled to Charlotte to play the Checkers, and the Iowa Wild played a sound defensive game as the earned a 3-1 victory. Tyler Graovac scored his first goal as a professional off a rebound chance on a shot by Jonathan Blum. Minnesota would add to its lead as speedy former Golden Gopher Taylor Matson swept a puck by Mike Murphy to make it 2-0. The Checkers would answer back with a big shot from Chris Terry that beat Johan Gustafsson top shelf. With Charlotte pouring it on, Zack Phillips would find a little room and charge down the slot before sniping a shot by Murphy to seal a 3-1 win for the Wild. Gustafsson stopped 33 shots in the victory, the first road victory for Iowa in its franchise history. The Iowa Wild play tomorrow against Charlotte around noon (CST).
Minnesota Golden Gophers Hockey Report:
The Golden Gopher women continued their winning ways, earning their 54th consecutive victory with a 4-0 win over in-state arch rival UMD Friday night up in Duluth. Sarah Davis, Megan Lorence, Dani Cameranesi (who's brother Tony ironically plays hockey for UMD) and Rachel Bona had the goals for the Golden Gophers. Amanda Leveille had 19 saves in the shutout. The second game would have a bit more drama as the lamp would be lighting up often but Minnesota again prevailed 6-3. Sarah Davis got the Gophers going early with a goal, but UMD responded with a goal of their own as Hannah Bramm buried the biscuit but Davis would add one more to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead going into the 1st intermission. The Gopher women would strike twice in the 2nd as Maryanne Menefee and Cameranesi found the twine but UMD cut the lead in half late in the period as Jenna McParland lit the lamp. Minnesota continued to pour it on as Kelly Terry and Cameranesi bagged her second to seal the 6-3 rout and series sweep. Leveille had 27 saves in the game. The Gopher women are 6-0 this season.
Meanwhile, the Golden Gopher Men's team traveled to Bemidji to take on the Beavers where they rallied back from an early Bemidji State lead to win 6-3. Danny Mattson scored first for the Beavers, but Minnesota responded with goals from Travis Boyd and Ben Marshall to take a 2-1 lead going into the 2nd period. Bemidji State would tie up the game early in the 2nd on a tally by Cory Ward but then the Gophers would answer back with a goal from Sam Warning. Hudson Fasching continues his hot start with another goal early in the 3rd. Radislav Illo power play goal cut the Gophers lead back to one, but Minnesota buried two more goals from Nate Condon and Connor Reilly to seal the 6-3 win. Adam Wilcox had 18 saves in the victory. Minnesota would earn the seriese sweep with a 5-1 victory on Saturday night. Just like Friday, it was the Beavers that got out to an early lead as Jeff Jubinville scored, but after that it was all Gophers as they responded with 5 unanswered goals from Warning (with 2), Taylor Cammarata, Connor Reilly and Justin Kloos with the markers. Wilcox made 24 saves in the win. The Gophers are 4-0 this season.
Wild Prospect Report:
RW – Adam Gilmour (Boston College, H-East) – The 6'3" winger had a huge night in a 9-2 rout of Wisconsin on Friday night. Gilmour continues to play on the Eagles' top line with Bill Arnold and "Johnny Hockey" Johnny Gaudreau. The former Muskegon Lumberjack had 3 assists in the thrashing of the Badgers and was a +3 with 5 shots on goal. Gilmour has 3 assists in 3 games this season.
LW – Mario Lucia (Notre Dame, H-East) – The lanky winger helped the Fighting Irish earn a 3-2 win over a pesky Michigan Tech squad on Friday. Lucia who is playing on the Fighting Irish's 2nd line with T.J. Tynan and Bryan Rust had an assist, his first point of the season in Notre Dame's win. Lucia has 1 assist in 3 games this season.
RW – Kurtis Gabriel (Owen Sound, OHL) – The 6'4" 218lbs power forward had a huge night for the Attack as he chipped in a goal and two helpers in Owen Sound's 4-2 win over Sarnia Friday night. While the assistant captain's goal was an empty netter it was a fitting reward for all his hard work each shift which also made him +3 on the evening. Gabriel has 2 goals, 8 points and 2 PIM's in 7 games for the Attack this season.
D – Dylan Labbe (Shawinigan, QMJHL) – The offensively gifted defenseman set up the Cataractes game winning overtime goal as Shawinigan earned a 4-3 victory over the Rimouski Oceanic. Labbe continues to be a regular on the scoresheet, even as his team has struggled through much of the season thus far. The 6'2", 192lbs blueliner has 1 goal and 8 points in 12 games this season.