"Like sand through the hourglass, so are the Days of Our Lives" which is the intro to the famous NBC soap opera. Its amazing how much an NHL season can be like a soap opera minus the love triangles. There are disappointments, betrayal, happiness and times of sorrow. For the Minnesota Wild they've had more then their fair amount of drama as they've had to replace some of the pivotal members of its cast with some younger players with mixed results. In any soap opera, when a main character leaves its often shrouded in mystery. Thanks to the way injury disclosure is handled in the NHL, when a player leaves the lineup due to a malady more often than not all you'll get is 'lower body' or 'upper body' injury. Timetables are seldom shared but when yor team is struggling the fans wait anxiously for that player's return and it never seems to be soon enough. The waiting is the worst part, especially as you watch the results and see unfavorable results flash across the ticker. That unfavorable scores draws out the agony. If you can get a few victories the gloom lifts and everyone is happy.
So where are the Wild faithful right now? Anxious and a little shaken. With the team's points cushion all but gone the Wild are hanging on to 7th place by just 1 point above 8th place Detroit and just 3 points ahead of 9th place Dallas. So unless the Wild wish to feel disappointment just like an ill-fated soap character they need to put up or shut up. Its up to the club to turn its game around otherwise they'll find out they only have One Life (point) to Live. So will the Wild manage to earn a crucial victory over Columbus or will the Blue Jackets and the other clubs chasing Minnesota gain some more ground?
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1st Period Thoughts: The fireworks started early as Brandon Dubinsky would end up dropping the gloves with Charlie Coyle after Coyle leveled Artem Anisimov with a big hit. There were not a lot of punches thrown as both forwards wrestled before the rookie wrangled Dubinsky to the ice. Coyle would be tagged with a match penalty as they said he made contact to the head. Anisimov was bent over as he made the hit and it didn't look cheap or dirty at all and Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo protested the call but to no avail. Dubinsky was given an instigator penalty which would make for 2 minutes of 4-on-4 action before it would be Columbus going on a 3-minute power play. Neither club did much of anything with the extra ice as Columbus seemed content to just wait for their extended power play. Minnesota's penalty killers were very active and motivated after teh call and they pressured the puck quite effectively, clearing the zone and making life difficult foro the Blue Jackets power play. Good active sticks, excellent hustle as the Minnesota penalty killers were busy poking away passes really prevented Columbus of getting anything going on the man advantage. As the penalty expired the Wild would break out of the zone in a 3-on-1 led by Kyle Brodziak along with Cal Clutterbuck and Jason Zucker and it was Brodziak moving down the slot where he fired a shot that missed just wide of the net. The bad call seemed to get the Wild a little fired up and Cal Clutterbuck delivered a big hit to Dalton Prout and this caused a turnover which was passed over to Tom Gilbert who ripped a shot on goal that was knocked down by Sergei Bobrovsky but he lost track of it momentarily before sweeping it away just before Mike Rupp arrived looking to poke home a rebound. However the Wild would draw a hooking penalty on Adrian Aucoin in the process and Minnesota would go on the power play. The Wild were very assertive on the power play as they set up Parise for a few outstanding chances through the 1st half of the man advantage including a forehand chance in the slot that was stolen by a sick glove save by Bobrovsky. Moments after that, the Wild set up Parise again in the high slot which was stopped by Bobrovsky and the puck went back to Parise but he had his stick lifted at the last moment before he could get off another shot. As the Wild power play expired the Wild had a golden chance as Torrey Mitchell won a battle along the boards and he found Brodziak all alone in the slot who took the pass with his skate and worked it back to his stick but he'd misplay the puck and wasn't able to get a shot off as Bobrovsky slid out to absorb the puck. The Wild would have another great chance as Zucker motored into the Columbus zone where he unloaded a slap shot on goal that created a rebound that was shoveled on goal by Mikael Granlund but Bobrovsky was able to make the save. A fight would break out between Clayton Stoner and Jared Boll and Stoner got dominated by Boll who started up with some vicious uppercuts that seemed to get Stoner off balance and he could never do much more than throw a few hooks that didn't really land with any effect before falling to the ice. Clearcut win for Boll, and another mistake by Stoner. A few mintues later Jason Zucker as he took off into the Columbus zone where he sped behind the defense and Mikael Granlund found him with a beauty of a saucer pass that Zucker tapped on goal that Bobrovsky stopped with a leg pad save but Devin Setoguchi couldn't quite get there to cash in on the rebound. Minnesota would keep applying pressure and their persistance would be rewarded as Brett Clark would take a shot from the point that was partially deflected by Pierre-Marc Bouchard and off Bobrovsky and his rebound would carom off the skate of Columbus' Jack Johnson and into the goal to make it 1-0 Wild. it was an ugly, somewhat flukey goal, but the kind of goal you see Detroit resort to when they need to get things going. Either way, it still counts and Bouchard would be credited with the goal. Minnesota would play aggressively late in the game as hey skated into the 1st intermission up 1-0 which garnered and an appreciative ovation from the home crowd. Coyle's match penalty forced Mike Yeo to shuffle the lines a lot more than he probably wanted to but it wasn't all that noticeable as the Wild were really flying all over the ice and Columbus had to feel lucky to only be trailing by one after being dominated so completely by Minnesota. Jason Zucker certainly gave the Wild a big spark offensively and good things seemed to happen with each every one of his shifts. Great opening period, but this team is going to need to score more than one if they want to win tonight.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild didn't have quite as much energy to start the 2nd as Columbus was trying to be more assertive in the offensive zone but they also would retreat quickly forcing the Wild to go through a gauntlet of Blue Jackets defenders if they wanted to get any pucks on Bobrovsky. Minnesota seemed to be lulled into a sleep as they were chasing around their own zone as Brandon Dubinsky carried the puck down low and he'd spin and deliver a backhanded pass to the slot where Vinny Prospal stepped into a shot that beat Backstrom to make it 1-1. The Blue Jackets started to utlize more of a puck possession style as they cycled the puck without much of a challenge by the Wild's defense and Columbus would add to its lead as after nearly another minute of zone time Fedor Tyutin ripped a shot by Backstrom who had Dubinsky in his his face. 2-1 Columbus. Wild head coach Mike Yeo would call a timeout to chew his team out as they were not hustling at all. Yet Minnesota did not respond immediately to the lecture as Prospal rang a shot off the crossbar. Minnesota would try answer back as the top line of Parise, Koivu and Setoguchi would try to get something started off the rush as Setoguchi threaded a pass to Parise who hammered a shot on goal that was stopped Bobrovsky who then had to stop Parise's attempt to tap home the rebound as well. The Blue Jackets were content to defend their lead as they sat back in a 1-2-2. The Wild would continue to attack as Kyle Brodziak moved in a 2-on-1 with Setoguchi and Brodziak would deliver a pass to Setoguchi who tried to dangle around a sprawling Bobrovsky who was able to steal the puck off of his stick before he was able to make the stop. On the play the Wild would get a power play as James Wisniewski was given a minor for elbowing. Unfortunately the Wild would do nothing with the man advantage. Too much passing, too many attempts to be fancy allowed the Columbus' penalty killers to get their sticks on pucks and clear the zone. The crowd was not happy, booing on and off throughout the poorly executed power play. After the failed power play, the Wild would try to raise its game physically and Cal Clutterbuck blew up Wisniewski with a huge hit and then moments after that it was Devin Setoguchi rocking Tyutin with a nice check of his own. The Wild kept trying to storm the crease and Mikko Koivu managed to set up Parise for a point-blank range chance but Bobrovsky would shut the door. Minnesota would get caught with 'too many men' on the ice in the closing minute of the period and Columbus would get a late power play. With Bouchard serving the power play the Wild's penalty killers scrambled enough to prevent the Blue Jackets from adding to its lead but they had to feel disappointed after giving up those two quick goals after a lethargic start to the period. Overally the energy level left a lot to be desired. It was as though the Wild felt they could coast on its strong 1st period. The Wild did manage to create some chances but they'll have to dig deep if they want to avoid another 3rd period of disappointment.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Blue Jackets would start the period with about a 1:20 worth of power play time and the Wild penalty killers did a good job of giving Columbus nothing of consequence with the man advantage. The Wild would go back on the attack and the 2nd line would create a quality scoring chance as Granlund found himself alone behind the net with the puck and he'd tried to jam it near the left post but Bobrovsky made the stop even as Jason Zucker moved in to tap a shot on goal himself. Minnesota continued to take its chances to go on the attack as the 3rd line of Bouchard, Brodziak and Setoguchi went on the attack and it was Bouchard firing a shot that was deflected up and into the netting behind the goal. Niklas Backstrom wasn't entirely out of the game just yet as Columbus' 1-2-2 was bound to create turnovers in the neutral zone and it was Dubinsky stealing a puck and moving on a breakaway where he'd get of a wrist shot that was steered aside by the Wild goalie. Minnesota would answer back with a great chance off a pretty saucer pass by Setoguchi who was trying to connect with a streaking Zucker who missed but Granlund was there to follow it up but Bobrovsky again came up with the save. The Wild would get a break when Columbus was caught with 'too many men' on the ice as Minnesota would go on the power play. Yet the power play would get out to a horrendous start as some poor decision making an execution would squander the 1st minute without much effort on the part of the Blue Jackets. Minnesota only managed a wrist shot from the point by Mikko Koivu that was easily dismissed by Bobrovsky and the crowd would boo what was another brutal power play effort. The Blue Jackets were working the puck deep and forcing the Wild to work the puck up the full length of the ice. The top line would have another tremendous chance as Parise set up Jason Pominville for a quick shot that was kicked away by Bobrovsky right to Koivu who pulled the trigger that was stopped by the Blue Jackets netminder. Minnesota went back on the attack and the 2nd line of Granlund, Zucker, and Setoguchi would work hard along the boards and Dalton Prout cross checked Setoguchi to the ice giving them a late power play. Minnesota would not overlook this opportunity as they'd bury the equalizer as a point shot from Ryan Suter created a rebound that was Pominville fired home to tie the game 2-2. With the sellout crowd very much back into the game the Wild tried to work for the go ahead goal as Mikko Koivu led the charge and he'd try to connect on a saucer pass with a crashing Zach Parise that just failed to connect. The game would go to overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: Marian Gaborik had the first shot of the game as he sped around the Wild defense for a quick shot on goal that was fought off by Backstrom. Columbus would have another great chance a few moments later as R.J. Umberger moved down the slot and he'd fire a shot that was stopped by Backstrom and swept away by Jonas Brodin. The smallish tandem of Bouchard and Pominville would create some space with their speed as they ultimately set up Brodin for a shot that was held onto by Bobrovsky. The Wild were never really able to get much going in overtime as they got caught in long shifts so when they had time and space they didn't have the legs to take advantage of it and the game would go to a shootout.
Shootout Overview: Minnesota would opt to shoot first and their first shooter was Zach Parise would try to race down the middle of the ice where he attempted to get Bobrovsky to drop with a little leg kick and Bobrovsky stayed still and his backhand bid was easily stopped. Columbus' first shooter was Mark Letestu and the speedy forward would race in and he'd beat Backstrom with an excellent shot that sent the water bottle flying. The Wild's next shooter was Mikko Koivu who took a wide left appraoach where he tried to feint at his forehand to backhand deke as he moved back to his forehand and Bobrovsky was all over it to make the stop. Columbus' next shooter was former Boston College scoring ace Cam Atkinson and the diminutive shooter moved in with speed where he got Backstrom to drop on his backhand to forehand deke and he pulled the puck back and slid the puck around the Wild goalie to give his team the 3-2 shootout victory.
You can't blame Niklas Backstrom on the loss, as he stopped 20 shots including some clutch stops late to keep his team in the game. He was seeing the puck well and while he was torched in the shootout, the shooters executed their moves perfectly and I think the game never should've gotten to this point. Defensively the Wild got a valiant effort from Ryan Suter who really labored to help make Marian Gaborik a non-factor. There was no way Suter was 100% and I felt he Jonas Brodin was again excellent, while Brett Clark and Clayton Stoner were shaky. The goals the Wild gave up were the result of a breakdown in effort as a team, not poor defensive play.
Offensively the Wild had the best offensive pressure we've seen in a long time as they peppered Sergei Bobrovsky with 41 shots. Bobrovsky stood on his head several times as good portion of those 41 shots were quality chances. Minnesota was generating shots from its top 3 lines (which were being juggled all day long) and a big reason for that was the arrival of Jason Zucker, who had six shots on goal. His speed and energy was contagious. I thought Mikeal Granlund had his best game in a Wild uniform and he worked reasonably well with Zucker. The Wild need to simplify its power play and I felt they had their best pressure when they just kept working pucks on goal, and when they did they were rewarded. Whenever you're in a drought, trying to work the perfect play is often a recipe for frustration.
Losing Coyle early on the weak sauce match penalty certainly disrupted things but I like the snarl the team had after that. This team had some outstanding energy throughout the 1st, winning races to the loose pucks and putting Bobrovsky under siege. Unfortunately they sleepwalked into the 2nd and that is really what cost them the game in my opinion. The team gave up 2 goals in quick succession and they had a helluva time trying to claw their way back into the game. Yes, it was a good effort but giving up two points to Columbus in a home game is a small disaster. The team is floundering while teams on the outside like Dallas and Columbus are rallying back. Mike Yeo did his best to sell the one point being an accomplishment but this was a defeat in more ways than one. This team basically squandered an entire homestand with a sputtering offense despite some good goaltending from Backstrom. Sorry, there's no sugarcoating that. Now the team goes on a 3-game road trip where you have to look at each game being a must-win now. The cushion is gone. Its put up or shut up time for this team.
~ Minnesota roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Jason Zucker, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mikael Granlund, Devin Setoguchi, Kyle Brodziak, Charlie Coyle, Cal Clutterbuck, Mike Rupp, Torrey Mitchell, Clayton Stoner, Brett Clark, Tom Gilbert, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. Darcy Kuemper backed up Niklas Backstrom. Nate Prosser, Justin Falk and Zenon Konopka were the healthy scratches while Matt Cullen is listed as day to day.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Sergei Bobrovsky, 2nd Star Jason Pominville, 3rd Star Ryan Suter
~ Attendance was 19,187 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate St. Cloud State center and Hermantown, MN-native Drew LeBlanc on being named the 2013 winner of the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's top player.
~ The State of Hockey News would also like to congratulate this year's Men's NCAA Division I hockey champions, the Yale Bulldogs on their 1st ever NCAA title after a 4-0 win over Quinnipiac. They join the University of Wisconsin: Eau Claire as the Men's college hockey national champs.
Houston Aeros Report:
Houston 4, San Antonio 1
As much as the Wild peppered Bobrovsky with shots tonight, the Houston Aeros did their best to pepper San Antonio's Brian Foster and Dov Grumet-Morris with shots as they fired 42 of their own on goal. The only difference was the Aeros were being rewarded for their domination on the shot counter. Houston got the scoring going as Justin Fontiaine scored on the power play late in the 1st off a nice pass by Erik Haula. San Antonio would answer back early in the 2nd period with a shorthanded goal by Jared Gomes. It was at this point the Rampage would go on a parade to the penalty box. The Aeros would take the lead on a goal from Dan DaSilva and then a minute later they'd light the lamp again as Chad Rau ripped a shot off the faceoff to make it 3-1. The bleeding would not stop as Fontaine scored again off a nice pass from David McIntyre. The team would hold off the Rampage for the rest of the game. Goaltender Mike Condon had 22 saves in the victory.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Mathew Dumba (Red Deer, WHL) ~ The young defenseman's major junior career is likely behind him now that his Red Deer Rebels were eliminated Thursday night in a 5-1 loss to Calgary who romped to a 4-1 series triumph. It was mostly a series to forget for the Wild prospect who was collectively a -7 for the 5 games they played. Dumba was held scoreless in all but one game, contributing an overtime game winner which really gives you kind of spoiler for those of you wondering what to expect from the defensemen. He plays a high-risk, high-reward game and this season the 'victories' were overshadowed by the 'losses' and while he was able to give fans a few glimpses of his his terrific skill set he still was very inconsistent and my sources also told me he was more or less 'tuned out' all season long. Yet, even a 'tuned out' Dumba had a fairly productive season in the WHL scoring 16 goals and 42 points in 62 games. My guess is Dumba will get sent to Houston to join the Aeros who are trying to make the playoffs as well, and while they certainly could use a dose of offense he's going to have to earn his playing time from Head Coach John Torchetti.
C – Tyler Graovac (Belleville, OHL) ~ In the exact opposite spectrum of Dumba is Tyler Graovac whose team advanced to OHL Eastern Conference finals with a sweep of Sudbury after a 5-0 victory Thursday night. The Bulls brought Graovac in to be the offensive workhorse and he's been just that as he leads the diverse Belleville attack. Graovac had a goal and an assist as well as a fight and an instigating penalty as the Wolves tried to thug it up in the closing moments of Belleville's victory Thursday night. The Brampton-native has been consistently productive, pacing the Bulls offense with 5 goals, 17 assists and is a +10 in 10 playoff games. Belleville will play the Barrie Colts in the Eastern Conference finals. Graovac was also recently awarded the OHL's William Hanley Trophy as the league's Most Sportsmanlike Player as well as being rated in OHL Eastern Conferences' post-season coaches poll as possessing the 2nd best shot and being considered to be the 3rd most dangerous player in the goal area. You can read the whole article here.
G – Johan Gustafsson & D – Daniel Gustafsson (Lulea, Eliteserien) ~ Gustafsson has managed to carry Lulea to the Eliteserien finals. Unfortunately Lulea dropped game one, 1-0 to a high-powered Skelleftea attack led by former Los Angeles Kings' farmhand Bud Holloway. You can't blame Gustafsson for the loss as he kept Lulea in the game making 39 saves in the contest. The Koping, Sweden-native has been a huge reason for Lulea's success in the post-season posting some gawdy numbers with a 1.79GAA and a .932% save percentage. Fellow Wild prospect, defenseman Daniel Gunnarsson was an even and had 2 PIM's in Lulea's loss to Skelleftea. Gunnarsson had his best season yet in the Eliteserien, and has been a contributor in the post season notching 2 goals and 4 points in 12 playoff games thus far.