Famous physicist Albert Einstein once said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results." Is that always true? The Wild find themselves in a dogfight for 1st place in the Northwest Division between itself and rival Vancouver Canucks. Both clubs have trading 1st place with each win. The Wild have done so by starting Niklas Backstrom each night throughout that span. There were signs that Backstrom was starting to fatigue, esepecially over the last two games after giving up 7 goals over that span. So tonight Matt Hackett gets the start despite glowing reports about Josh Harding's condition. I am glad Hackett is getting the start and perhaps it will help refocus the team in a game that will likely garner a very inspired effort from the Stars. On Monday the Wild won in a crazy 7-4 game in Dallas, ending a 10-year winless drought. It was an embarassing performance for Dallas, and they will be looking for revenge tonight.
Minnesota followed up its high scoring game in Dallas with a bizarre overtime win at home against Phoenix. The team understood they escaped with 2 points, and we can only hope this served to keep the Wild level headed enough to dig deep and take away another victory in Dallas. Will the Wild show they can win with a different goaltender in the crease or will be wishing we accepted a little more insanity?
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The result of this game was hardly a surprise. It was the 2nd road game to Dallas in the last 5 days and the Wild had previously handed the Stars its collective arse with a 7-4 loss. So you knew coming into this game Dallas was going to be more aggressive and far sharper and smarter in their own end then they were on Monday when turnovers in their own zone haunted them repeatedly. The Wild were coming into this game without its stalwart between the pipes and playing a goaltender who is about .500 goalie in the AHL right now along with the knowledge they'd be facing a very tough Los Angeles Kings' team the next night back in St. Paul. I am not making excuses, but the environment was set up pretty well for a bit of a let down. However, this wasn't the typical pathetic let down from years ago. It wasn't the kind of let down where you question the team's motivation or competitive fire at the end of the game. The team still battled fairly well considering those circumstances it had going into the game and they forced Dallas to really earn it.
1st Period Thoughts: If the Wild were to come out on top they'd have to weather a storm in the 1st period and come away unscathed, but that didn't happen. Minnesota did have a fantastic scoring chance to start the game as the 2nd line of Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi and Pierre-Marc Bouchard cycled the puck down low before Cullen passed a puck to Setoguchi in the high slot who fired a shot that missed wide but the puck would carom right out to Bouchard who was denied by Kari Lehtonen who slid across his crease to make a great save. Dallas opened the scoring just past the 4 minute mark on the power play as Ray Whitney blistered a slap shot right off the faceoff win that beat a stunned Hackett to go up 1-0. I wonder if the Dallas Stars' power play got told to try that play from its AHL team, the Texas Stars which had played the Wild's AHL team on Tuesday where Matt Hackett was scored on a nearly identical play. Did I mention that the Aeros lost that game 7-6? The Wild were on the defensive for much of the period and the Stars were not hesitating to fire the puck on goal, which was the exact approach Minnesota had against them on Monday and it was working. Dallas would add to its lead as Aaron Rome wristed a shot from the point that was redirected by Reilly Smith (who scored on Hackett in Tuesday's Aeros' tilt) and tapped home by Tomas Vincour and by Hackett to make it 2-0 you started to wonder if it was time for a change between the pipes. That may have been the thought of the Wild coaching staff but Minnesota would score late in the period as the 2nd line of Cullen, Setoguchi and Bouchard were again pesky in the offensive zone and it was Cullen taking advantage of a poor clearing attempt in the Dallas zone where he found Setoguchi who one-timed a shot over the shoulder of Lehtonen to split the Stars' lead in half, 2-1 going into the 1st intermission. It was a big goal that had the potential to stem the tide if the Wild could get something going early in the 2nd period. The Wild did have a few moments in the 1st where its forecheck was dominant but they had a difficult time getting pucks on goal as Dallas was dropping to block shots all game long. Minnesota registered 7 shots on goal (compared to Dallas' 17) but Dallas had blocked 8 of them.
2nd Period Thoughts: In the 2nd period it was much the same story as the end of the 1st. The Wild were able to create some problems for Dallas with its forecheck, but it was tough to get pucks to reach Kari Lehtonen. There was also a growing level of chippiness to the game as Antoine Roussel, while not even close to as physically punishing as former Star Steve Ott, was certainly embracing the role of agitator. Minnesota was starting to move its feet better and making sharper passes and this was leading to better shot opportunities as Dallas couldn't scramble fast enough to get bodies and sticks into shooting lanes. Minnesota would go on the man advantage late in the period when Brendan Dillon got sick of Charlie Coyle whose hard work along the boards was becoming a thorn in the side of Dallas, and the Wild would make them pay for their lack of discipline. The Wild's power play moved the puck pretty well and it was Mikko Koivu moving down just beneath the left faceoff dot befor setting up Kyle Brodziak for a quick shot from the slot that was stopped by Lehtonen and Jared Spurgeon was there to bury the rebound to tie the game at 2-2. I am sure at this point doubt really started to come to the minds of the Dallas Stars who had watched a game slip from them at the hands of the Wild earlier in the week. Dallas tried to answer back as Jaromir Jagr threaded a pass to Jamie Benn who got 3 shots off in a span of about 7-8 seconds as well as another point blank opportunity by Eric Nystrom that were all denied by Hackett in the closing seconds of the period. It was an ominous sign of what was to come next.
3rd Period Thoughts: Dallas would start the period with its energy line of Roussel, Cody Eakin and Erik Cole and after a failed Wild rush the unit would counter attack where Eakin dropped a pass back to Cole who fired a heavy wrist shot on goal that was stopped by Hackett but the rebound went right back to him and Cole buried it on his 2nd chance to give the Stars a 3-2 lead just over a minute into the period. Barely a minute later, a pair of penalties would really doom the Wild as Mikko Koivu was sent to the box for hooking and Ryan Suter was sent for cross checking. On a full 2-minute 5-on-3 the Stars moved the puck with relatively little puck pressure by the Wild's penalty kill and Jaromir Jagr worked the point and he'd swing a pass down to Whitney who hesitated slightly before making a perfect cross-ice pass to Jamie Benn for an easy back door goal that Hackett had no chance on and just like that it was 4-2 Dallas. It was Jagr's 1,000th NHL assist and so the home crowd gave a huge ovation on the insurance goal as the celebrated his achievement (and rightfully so). The antagonism would boil over as Mike Rupp and Zenon Konopka tried to lift Reilly Smith up and over the boards and into the Wild bench. This started a fracas where both clubs converged, throwing few punches but it never quite turned into a brawl as Dallas' lineup really wasn't equipped to throw down on even terms even though Rupp took a few liberties with Jagr that drew the ire of the home crowd. Konopka would get 4 minutes for roughing on top of a 10-minute game misconduct (which Rupp got as well). Smith was given 2-minutes for more or less getting tossed around and Roussel also was give an 10-minute misconduct as well in the kerfuffle. Tensions would continue, and a minute later a big open ice hit by Nystrom on Justin Falk had the Wild defenseman challenging him and the two would drop the mits. Falk used his height and reach to good effect as he threw a few jabs while Nystrom getting tagged. The fight would end as Falk slipped a bit and Nystrom pounced. I think Nystrom gets the edge in this one. With penalties abounding, the Stars would add to their lead on the weakest goal of the night as Derek Roy fired a shot from the right faceoff circle that drew an ugly rebound in the slot for Cody Eakin to bury to make it 5-2. Minnesota didn't go away quietly as some hard work on the forecheck by Cal Clutterbuck led to a sequence where it was Torrey Mitchell backhanding a shot by Lehtonen to give the Wild a more respectable 5-3 loss.
I know earlier in the article it sounded like I really blamed Hackett for the loss but that really isn't true. All but the last goal were of the variety that would've beaten any goaltender. While giving up 5 goals on 33 shots isn't great, he kept Minnesota in the game for a while. He still has to work on his rebound control, but he also made some great saves under considerable pressure from an inspired Stars' team. Defensively the Wild ha,ve to be at least a little concerned with how they have performed the last few games after being so stingy and now to have given up games with 4, 3, and 5 respectively. The penalty kill gave up more than one goal for the first time all season so that could be tightened up a bit more. It does go to show that penalties to Mikko Koivu can really hurt as not only do you lose access to a decent penalty killer but perhaps just as importantly you lose one of your best players on his draws as well.
Offensively, the Wild had a great game from its 2nd line of Cullen, Setoguchi and Bouchard. The line works the puck so well and has been using their speed and quickness to set up chances. The 1st line of Koivu, Coyle and Zach Parise were ok, but not nearly as dominant as they were on Monday when Dallas had no answer for their strong play along the wall. The Wild's 4th line also was exposed a bit for lacking speed with Konopka and Rupp out there and Dallas tried to use its speedier lines and the result was Minnesota was getting pinned in its own end more often than not. This might be an issue that could be solved via trade if our opponent doesn't possess guys known for thugging it up. If they want to stick with a move from within, David McIntyre to me would fit that role of speedy 4th line checker perfectly. The player I'd sit would be Zenon Konopka, who is great on his draws but Rupp can handle the tough stuff and then McIntyre can play their natural center position.
The Wild's loss made it a rough night for Minnesota sports as fans were still awfully upset at the disappointing overtime loss for the Golden Gophers' men's hockey team at the hands of Yale, 3-2 in overtime. Yet, it could've been worse and the team still did a lot of things well. The winning streak had to end sometime and all we can do is hope they rebound with a win against the Kings. To sort of use a line that I've heard Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo say a few times over the past two years, its not going to be easy, but nor should it be. Adversity reveals character and we'll find out the character of this team against Los Angeles.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Devin Setoguchi, Dany Heatley, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Zenon Konopka, Mike Rupp, Torrey Mitchell, Justin Falk, Clayton Stoner, Tom Gilbert, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. Darcy Kuemper backed up Matt Hackett between the pipes. Niklas Backstrom, Nate Prosser and Brett Clark were healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Dallas Stars' beat writer Matt Heika were: 1st Star Jaromir Jagr, 2nd Star Jamie Benn, 3rd Star Ray Whitney
~ Attendance was 17,376 at American Airlines Arena.
~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate Jaromir Jagr on earning his 1,000th NHL assist. While you may not be a Wild player, its certainly an honor that you've earned through hard work, persistance and uncanny on-ice vision.
Wild Prospect Report:
RW – Raphael Bussieres (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) ~ The Sherbrooke Phoenix will have to wait until next season to rise again after they were vanquished in a sweep by the Baie-Comeau Drakkar after a 5-2 win on Wednesday night. It was a good night for the Wild prospect who contributed 2 assists in the winning effort along with 2 hits as well as 4 PIM's. Bussieres has 3 goals and 9 points in 4 playoff games.
F – Erik Haula (Minnesota, WCHA) ~ Well it was another early exit for Minnesota who was the top seed in the West regional but for whatever reason they did not come out with a lot of fire against Yale and give credit to the Bulldogs for taking advantage of that. Minnesota would battle back to tie the game, but in overtime it would take just six seconds in the extra session for the Gophers' season to be concluded. Part of the Gophers' comeback was the play of Erik Haula who delivered one of the best hits of the game, as well as 2 assists. Haula finishes his junior season with the Gophers as the club's leading scorer with 16 goals, 35 assists, 51 points and 14 PIM's in 37 games. After the game Haula did not say whether he was going to return for his senior season or not and we'll probably know the answer to that question in the next few weeks as he ponders his future.
F – Louie Nanne (Penticton, BCHL) ~ Louie Nanne is starting to heat up in the playoffs, after an up and down regular season where he would score points in bunches and then be invisible for a few games the former Edina star is starting to show consistency in the post-season. The future Gopher is having a strong post-season thus far for the Vees, scoring at over a point-per-game rate with 2 goals, 8 points in 6 games. Last night Nanne earned 2nd Star honors for a 1 goal, 1 assist performance as the Vees beat West Kelowna 6-4. Penticton is not the unstoppable winning machine it was a season ago when fellow Wild prospect Mario Lucia was there but they're still hoping they can repeat that success by earning another BCHL title.