Just give up already, you know its over, its pointless, resistance is futile are all things Wild fans might be thinking as their team plays the Calgary Flames. If you expect the Flames to just throw in the towel then you do not know this team which has fully embraced the role of spoiler as they rallied to beat 2nd place Anaheim and then held on to beat a desperate Detroit team on Wdnesday. The Flames are playing for next year, hoping to prove it to team management that they have a future role on the club. So you have a team that is not resigned to its fate but one that feels it needs to prove thay can compete with anyone. The Wild still control their own destiny, but its mission is simple, keep winning and they will qualify for the post-season for the first time since 2008. At this point, every game is a playoff game.
It recent seasons, it was the Wild who found themselves in this position where many felt the team sabotaged its own position in the draft by winning 'pointless' games down the stretch. So will this be something Calgary regrets; especially a team that is in for a long-term rebuild? Perhaps. If the Wild can't win today, this will likely be a game they regret, quite possibly for a very long time. So will the Wild take another step towards the post season or will Calgary continue to do its best to spoil the home team's chances?
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1st Period Thoughts: Niklas Backstrom would give the Wild fans a bit of anxiety by wandering from his crease early, and was nearly caught on the Calgary Flames forecheck. The Flames were hustling well at the start which was expected and Minnesota was scrambling a bit in their own end as Calgary was dictating the pace of play. The Wild's first ok scoring chance of the game came on a nice little pass by Cal Clutterbuck to Torrey Mitchell who got a step on the Flames' defense as he swatted a backhander on goal that was steered aside by Joey MacDonald. The Wild's top line finally caused some havoc by working the puck down low as Mikko Koivu set up Ryan Suter for a shot from the slot that was stopped by MacDonald and Minnesota kept pressuring as it was Suter pinching down low and directing the puck out to the point where Jonas Brodin stepped into a slap shot that was fought off by the Calgary goalie. Yet the failed pressure did draw a tripping penalty on Mike Cammalleri. Minnesota's power play was a bit pass happy as they moved the puck quickly but no one seemed to want to pull the trigger. Towards the end of the power play the Wild had a great sequence where a long pass off the boards caromed out to just above the left faceoff circle where Suter stepped into a slapper that was stopped by MacDonald and the puck would bounce around where Jason Pominville fired another shot that MacDonald denied and then another by Suter but Minnesota couldn't find the twine. A few minutes later the top line again caused some pressure as Suter again took his chance to fire the puck on goal and the line would stay in the Calgary zone but not enough pucks were being funneled towards MacDonald. Former Park Center Pirate Tim Jackman would hook Matt Cullen, giving the Wild its 2nd power play of the game. On the power play the Wild would try to set up Jared Spurgeon on a backdoor play but Pominville's pass towards the top of the crease just failed to connect. Overall the Wild's power play was guilty of overhandling the puck which led to a series of turnovers which really prevented the man advantage of establishing any sort of cohesion. The Wild would kill off their own power play as Mikael Granlund interferes with Matt Stajan. It would prove to be a costly lapse of discipline as the Flames would take the lead on the ensuing power play. It started simple enough as a faceoff win led to a laser of a shot by Mark Cundari who ripped a wrist shot up and over the shoulder of Niklas Backstrom to make it 1-0 Calgary on his 1st NHL goal of his career. Sadly predictable. The Wild appeared to be having trouble handling the puck as it was bouncing a lot and it looked as though the Wild would go into the intermission trailing by one. Yet it was another solid shift by the top line as Charlie Coyle won a battle along the boards near the dasher and slides a pass out front to Parise and he'd patiently get MacDonald to sprawl before firing a shot into the gaping net to tie it up at 1-1. Outstanding work by Coyle along the boards, who continues to demonstrate both poise and uncommon strength in that part of the game. The closing seconds would expire and the Wild had to feel a bit relieved to be tied after carrying most of the play in the period. Ryan Suter was particularly active, being credited with 5 shots in the period. The Wild will be well served to keep it simple; direct pucks toward the goal and crash the crease. The 2nd line of Cullen, Devin Setoguchi and Jason Zucker / Pierre-Marc Bouchard needs to attack the Calgary zone with speed with speed not slow it down and play a cycling game as its not what they are best at.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period had eerily similar outline to the previous period. The Wild came out firing as Kyle Brodziak and the 3rd line of Jason Pominville and Pierre-Marc Bouchard swarmed in the Calgary zone with some good pressure that forced MacDonald to make some big stops early. Tom Gilbert would then ring a shot off the right post. Minnesota continued to apply pressure as they were directing shots on goal and then crashing towards the crease but just couldn't seem to get a stick on the puck at the right time. On the power play the Wild would again try to work the simple play, as Mikko Koivu dropped his hips and made a good power move out front where he backhanded it on goal while Parise jammed away at the puck but MacDonald was just able to keep the puck on the goal line and the whistle would blow. Minnesota's power play were moving the puck efficiently but they would continue to be unrewarded for their efforts. The missed opportunities would be punished as Calgary would re-take the lead as Lee Stempniak sped around Gilbert who raced in and got off a backhand shot that was stopped by Backstrom but he'd poke at it one more time and the puck would flutter up into the air where it fell back down near the top of the crease where Mikael Backlund was able to tap it home to make it 2-1 Flames. The goal was poetic injustice as the Wild created a number of similar opportunities to the one Stempniak's effort created but unlike Backlund was unable to poke that puck into the back of the net. A few minutes later the top line would have another golden opportunity as Mikko Koivu carried the puck deep into the Calgary zone before dropping a pass back off into the slot to Zach Parise who got off a shot from the slot that was stopped by the shoulder of MacDonald. In the closing minutes of the period the top line again tried to spearhead a last big push for the equalizer as Zach Parise fed Ryan Suter who joined the rush an his shot would be directed away by MacDonald. There would be no 'huge' late period equalizer this time and the Wild had to feel a little anxious as they trailed by one going into the 3rd period. I like the simplified approach the Wild had in the offensive zone but the other lines need to step up their game. Right now its as though they're waiting for the Wild's top line to come up with another big goal. Its put up or shut up time.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild had good pressure to start the 3rd period, as the top line again battled well along the boards to set up a close range chance for Mikko Koivu but MacDonald was again up to the task. The 4th line of Torrey Mitchell, Cal Clutterbuck and Mikael Granlund would have an excellent chance. Initially it was started by some great hustle by Mitchell who won a race for the puck down low in Calgary's zone and this created a chance for Granlund who took the puck right to the crease but MacDonald made the stop before Mitchell and Clutterbuck could bang home a rebound. The Flames were looking to counterpunch and Mike Cammalleri would dangle into the slot as he dished it to Sven Baertschi who was stopped by Backstrom and luckily the puck would elude Backlund before he could tap it home. The top line continued to lead the way as Charlie Coyle won a battle for the puck that was swept up by Koivu who pulled the trigger on a shot that was kicked out by MacDonald where Suter pounced but the sprawling Flames' goalie made the save. A few minutes later Koivu and the top line again as Parise set up the captain who got off a good shot only to be stonewalled by MacDonald who gave up a rebound that was swept away by T.J. Brodie. The Flames were looking to counter attack and a saucer pass by Brodie tried to set up a charging Mike Cammalleri who was hauled down by Gilbert. Again the Wild would be punished on the man advantage as the Flames moved the puck from its defenseman and partially fanned pass by Mark Cundari turned into a perfect back door feed to Mike Cammalleri as he hammered it by Backstrom to make it 3-1 Calgary. The Flames were content to muck it up and force Minnesota to waste valuable time as they dumped it deep. You could sense the Wild did not have much push back as the Flames controlled the play. Charlie Coyle's trip of Sven Baertschi more or less sealed the Wild's fate. The Wild would pull Backstrom for an extra attacker but it didn't really help as it only put the home team at even strength and Jiri Hudler's empty netter sealed a 4-1 victory.
Niklas Backstrom was ok, making 21 saves in the loss but his defenseman did not do him in any favors as they left pucks near his crease which really what hurt the Wild on the Flames' 2nd goal. It certainly wasn't one of Backstrom's light's out comeback performances after a nasty effort the game before. The Wild were terrible on the penalty kill giving up 3 goals on all 3 of the Flames' power plays in just 2:58 of power play time. Tom Gilbert and Brett Clark again struggled defensively with the Flames' speed and effort.
Offensively the Wild's pressure is a bit misleading in my opinion. If you really look at the 35 shots the Wild got on goal you can really just sum it up as the 1st line and then everyone else which was what we saw at the beginning of the season.
Mikko Koivu ~ 6 Shots
Zach Parise ~ 9 Shots
Ryan Suter ~ 6 Shots
That's 21 shots from 3 guys and just 14 from the rest of the team. Just one from Zucker, Bouchard and Cullen as well as none from Pominville and Coyle is not going to get it done. This team should've overwhelmed the Flames with its superior level of talent but the team wanted to watch the 1st line carry the club to victory and it wasn't enough. I'll give the 1st line credit for being assertive and active but the rest of the lines were missing in action. The 2nd line of Cullen, Setoguchi and Zucker seemed to be battling the puck all night long and were a non-factor in terms of putting the Flames in conflict in their own zone and Minnesota needs that line to at least cause a little trouble for opposing teams. They were at their best when they used their speed to offer the Wild a change of pace that opponents had to account for but recently they seem to want to play like the 1st line and slow it down and cycle and I think it really lets their opponents off the hook. You're fast, USE IT!
The Wild got what they deserved in this game. The team looked overconfident and it wanted to coast to a victory. The Wild have been guilty of being 'too comfortable' when they've played at home having lost in its last 5 games at home. There is no way this team should have been caught off-guard by the effort of the Flames. Missed opportunities killed the Wild in this game and now they are dangerously close to miss a chance of qualifying for the post-season. Hopefully when the Wild's players let fans have the jersey's off their back they took the bad luck that went with them.
~ Wild roster this afternoon is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Jason Zucker, Kyle Brodziak, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Cal Clutterbuck, Torrey Mitchell, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Brett Clark, Tom Gilbert, Clayton Stoner, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Ryan Suter. Darcy Kuemper backed up Niklas Backstrom. Nate Prosser and Justin Falk were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Joey MacDonald, 2nd Star Zach Parise, 3rd Star Ryan Suter
~ Attendance was 19,039 at Xcel Energy Center.
Houston Aeros Report:
Houston 5, San Antonio 2
The Houston Aeros are in the last weekend of the AHL regular season and the team is showing all of the signs that they are ready for a long playoff run with an impresssive win on Saturday night. After spotting the San Antonio Rampage 2 goals, the Aeros responded wtih 5-unanswered tallies of their own as they rolled to a 5-2 victory. The Aeros had decent pressure on the Rampage early in the game but they couldn't manage to get pucks by Dov Grumet-Morris and so San Antonio scored twice in the space of about a minute to take a 2-0 lead into the 1st intermission. The goals were by Jared Gomes who has been on fire since joining the Rampage late in the season as well as a bomb from the point by Colby Robak that beat Aeros goaltender Mike Condon. From this point on it was all Aeros, as Brett Bulmer found the twine just 2 minutes into the 2nd and the comeback was on. A few minutes later it was Dan DaSilva, who has scored 5 goals in the last 7 games beating Grumet-Morris on a sharp angle shot to tie the game. A turnover in the neutral zone turned into an odd man rush for David McIntyre who fed a pass over to Steven Kampfer who rifled it by Grumet-Morris to give the Aeros the lead. Justin Fontaine would add two more goals in the 3rd to cushion the lead as the Aeros prevailed 5-2. Mike Condon was tremendous between the pipes for Houston, making 39 saves in the victory. The Aeros will enter the AHL playoffs as the 6th seed in the Western Conference.
Wild Prospect Report:
LW – Raphael Bussieres (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) ~ Suring the regular season, perhaps no other team in 'Q' gave the Baie-Comeau Drakkar fits than Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, but so far (knock on wood) Baie-Comeau is holding its own earning a pair of 2-1 victories including Saturday night. Raphael Bussieres contributed a goal and a hit in the cause. Bussieres has 4 goals and 14 points in 10 playoff games. Baie-Comeau leads the series 2-0.
C – Tyler Graovac (Belleville, OHL) ~ Just prior to the start of their series with Barrie for the OHL's Eastern Conference crown it was revealed that Graovac would miss at least the first two games with an undisclsed injury he sustained in Game 4 of his previous series against Sudbury. Graovac is the Bulls' leading playoff scorer with 5 goals and 17 points, so his absence is pretty significant. The Bulls split their first two games against Barrie, with a 3-2 OT win Friday and a 5-0 loss on Saturday night. Belleville plays Barrie on Monday.