Family reunions. Depending on your family, they occur yearly or infrequently as a way to bring everyone (cousins, distant cousins, etc) together to get back in touch with people's lives and talk about the 'good ol' days'. For the older family members, it seems easier to remember names and immediately start discussions. For younger family members, it's largely a giant collection of strangers and so you stick close to the relatives you see more frequently and rarely branch out to get in touch with your more distant (and unfamiliar) relatives. Oddly enough, when you're a kid, its great. You get to be around a bunch of kids you don't really know at all and you can just go and have fun playing the games you may not have had enough cousins your age to play before. It also can be an awkward time, if something unfortunate or scandalous has occured since you have seen those relatives it becomes the elephant in the room. I wonder if that's how Greg Zanon felt on Thursday. The Wild did their best to make the reunion between its former defenseman a miserable one. The Wild gladly traded Zanon away last season where they felt he'd lost a bit in his game and he did nothing to prove the Wild wrong on Tuesday as he was victimized by his own decision to drop to the ice giving Minnesota an early lead which ultimately led to a big win at home. Moments after that Zanon was roughed up a bit by Mike Rupp, which is like getting knocked around by some distant cousin.
The Wild have found more offense lately (knock on wood), showing some of the potential that people had hoped for when the team landed the free agents they did this summer. Minnesota is finishing a home and home series with Colorado this afternoon. Colorado is slipping more and more in the standings and they will want to avenge their loss on Thursday. Will the Wild manage to get the sweep or will Minnesota get ambushed in this Northwest Division reunion?
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1st Period Thoughts: The fireworks started early in this game as Tom Gilbert got into it with John Mitchell, and then Justin Falk would end up dropping the gloves with Ryan O'Byrne. Falk landed a good left handed punch to O'Byrne before falling to the ice and the officials moved in and as fast as it started it was over. When it was all said and done, Justin Falk got an extra minor for roughing as he joined Gilbert (unsportsmanlike conduct) in the box along with Colorado's John Mitchell and Ryan O'Byrne and so Colorado had an early power play. The officials would explain their call to the Wild bench and Minnesota would go on the penalty kill. The Wild's penalty kill was excellent, winning the initial faceoff and dumping it down the length of the ice. Minnesota's penalty killers were challenging Colorado's puck carriers through the neutral zone making it difficult for the Avalanche to get established in the offensive zone. The Wild were moving their feet well and Colorado got absolutely nothing going on the man advantage. Jamie McGinn would give the Wild its first power play when he popped Jonas Brodin in the mouth after he started the breakout with a good work along the boards. The Wild would make Colorado pay for their lack of discipline. Jonas Brodin would take the first shot as he rifled a heavy wrist shot that was fought off by Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Minnesota's power play would regroup and with some quick passing it was Jared Spurgeon setting up Ryan Suter for a one-timer that beat Giguere cleanly to make it 1-0 Wild. Perhaps sensing his team needed some energy, former Wild draft pick Patrick Bordeleau would drop the gloves with Mike Rupp. It was a spirited affair as Rupp gained an early advantage as he grabbed a fistfull of sweater before raining a series of right hands at Bordeleau, and then Rupp would hold back a bit, perhaps hurting his hand and Bordeleau went on the attack. Bordeleau started throwing lefts and Rupp answered back with a few rights before losing his balance and the fight was over. Rupp would head to the locker room after the fight. A draw if you want my decision on the fight. A few minutes later the 2nd line would out hustle the Avalanche in their own zone and it was Matt Cullen who won a battle along the wall finding Devin Setoguchi in th slot where he lasered it by Giguere. Sensing his team in free fall, Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco would talk things over with his team but he did not replace his goalie. The Wild would right back on the attack as Kyle Brodziak set up Dany Heatley for a point-blank range chance that was fought off by Giguere. Colorado tried to counter with some offensive pressure of its own, but Niklas Backstrom was able to come up with a big save before Pierre-Marc Bouchard swept it away. Minnesota would continue to pour it on offensively as Dany Heatley wound up and blasted a slap shot that was off the left post which was then picked up by Cal Clutterbuck who quickly fired a shot towards the goal and it snuck through Giguere to make it 3-0 Wild. Minnesota then sent out its 2nd line which cycled with impunity in the Colorado zone as the Wild were really taking it to the Avalanche. Minnesota were winning the races to the loose pucks, but the Wild would relax a bit and the Avs struck as John Mitchell fired a shot rhat beat a well screened Backstrom, 3-1 Wild. Minnesota went back on the attack and Heatley would wire a shot off the post and it was directed in by Brodziak, 4-1 Wild. Minnesota would play keep away in the final minute to take their 3-goal lead into the first intermission. Colorado's John Mitchell tripped up Clayton Stoner in the closing seconds of the first period.
2nd Period Thoughts: Colorado would go with Semyon Varlamov between the pipes as the Wild started period on the man advantage. Minnesota was fairly relaxed on the power play, taking ther time to set up a one-timer for Zach Parise that missed wide. The Avalanche would go on the attack and ir was P.A. Parenteau taking the initiative to take the puck to the crease were he beat Backstrom, cutting the Wild lead to two, 4-2. The 2nd period continued a very physical start to the game as Cal Clutterbuck would rock Jan Hejda twice with big hits, and Mike Rupp would blow up Ryan O'Reilly with a big shoulder check. The physical play would start to cause Minnesota to have some problems and a quick attack led by Parenteau that had Backstrom scrambling in his crease and the pressure drew a hooking penalty on Clutterbuck. The Avalanche's power play looked very good as they moved the puck well and set up some excellent scoring chances as John Mitchell one-timed a shot from the slot that missed just wide. Colorado continued to persist, and while the Wild's defense did their best to sweep away rebonds when Backstrom couldn't asborb the puck but the Avalanche would finally cut the lead to one just as the period expired. The Wild would again get caught chasing in its own zone as O'Reilly found Matt Duchene down low who quickly moved it out front and Gabriel Landeskog sniped a wrist shot by Backstrom to cut the Wild lead to one, 4-3. Wild Head coach Mike Yeo had seen enough and called a timeout to settle his team down. The refocus talk worked. Minnesota would answer back with its 2nd line and after a solid forecheck led by Devin Setoguchi and Matt Cullen the puck was picked up by Pierre-Marc Bouchard who swept up a rolling puck for a wicked backhander that found the space just above the shoulder of Varlamov and the Wild again had a two-goal lead, 5-3. Bouchard's goal was huge in slowing the momentum Colorado had been steadily building up throughout the period. The Avalanche would try to respond and David Jones would come dangerously close to making it a one-goal hockey game after he stepped into a slapper that was stopped by Backstrom and he'd pick up the rebound and fire a wrist shot that moved behind the sprawling Wild goalie and skitter through the crease harmlessly. Minnesota go back on the attack as the top line of Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle and Parise created a scoring chance as Coyle fed Parise for a quick wrist shot that was held onto by Varlamov. A few minutes later the Avalanche tried to go on the attack and Minnesota would luck out a bit as Clutterbuck got his stick on the back of Parenteau's leg to spin him around before he could wire a shot on goal that drew the ire of the home crowd. The Wild had to feel a tiny bit relieved how they stabilized the game after Colorado's surge, still they did give the Avalanche hope that they were still very much in this game instead of simply pouring it on and giving them a feeling that resistance was futile. The game was still quite physical and so far Minnesota was staying fairly disciplined. The Wild were outshot 13-9.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period started with a somewhat cautious but focused intensity as both clubs were checking well and trying to establish some space and time in the offensive zone that was hard to find. The Wild were a bit more passive as they tried to stay well-positioned defensively. Yet this more relaxed approach nearly came back to haunt Minnesota as a shot from the point by Shane O'Brien missed wide but the rebound would be picked up by Parenteau who tried to jam it home and the puck slid behind the Wild goalie and an alert Ryan Suter prevented a goal. The Wild would counter attack with its 3rd line and Heatley set up Clutterbuck for a close in chance that was robbed Varlamov. Both teams were looking to go on the attack and McGinn pulled the trigger on a heavy shot that was stopped by Backstrom and then pushed wide by Parenteau. The Wild's top line would have a beauty of an opportunity of their own as Chalie Coyle won a battle for the puck along the wall and he'd push a puck over to Koivu who then fed Coyle out front who got off a quick shot that was steered wide by Varlamov. Minnesota's counter punching would continue to reap rewards as a long pass to Bouchard turned into a pretty little saucer pass to Setoguchi who snuck a shot through Varlamov, 5-hole to make it 6-3 and really take the emotion out of the home crowd. Colorado's heart really wasn't in it an their execution of simple plays suffered and the home crowd started to turn a little hostile towards their team. You could see the frustration in Colorado's game as they went out of their way to deliver hits but the Wild had little trouble escaping that pressure and putting the Avalanche on their heels in their own zone. Colorado kept working late as Minnesota hoped to play keep away, but the Avalanche would cut the lead to two as a point shot by Greg Zanon that led to a rebound by Backstrom which was swept at by Cody McLeod before Chuck Kobasew could bury it to make it 6-4. Colorado would pull Varlamov for an extra attacker with about a minute and a half left. The Avalanche were unable to get any pucks on goal and the Wild would earn another victory at Colorado's expense.
Niklas Backstrom was 'ok', making 28 saves in the win. While he had some great saves with traffic near his crease at times he was fighting the puck a bit and when he did have a tendency to give up rebounds it often proved costly. Minnesota's defense did a fair job at being alert near the blue paint and helping Backstrom out but this wasn't his sharpest game. The Wild's penalty kill was again strong, but winning the draws in the defensive zone has been a major reason for its success. Ryan Suter continues to play very well at both ends of the ice.
Offensively, the Wild got great contributions from its 2nd and 3rd lines as they put up 5 of the Wild's 6 goals. Setoguchi is really playing well as of late, with a two-goal, 3-point effort who finished the game an impressive +4. Another player who had a great game was Pierre-Marc Bouchard who followed up a reasonable game on Thursday with an even better effort this afternoon putting up a goal, and two helpers. Yet the bigger surprise was the contributions from the 3rd line of Kyle Brodziak, Dany Heatley and Cal Clutterbuck. The line was able to strike in part because Heatley was firing shots on goal, more accurately the posts and his linemates were burying the biscuit. This team is always better when Heatley takes his chances to shoot the puck. The 4th line was also very good. Lucky for the Wild that Joe Sacco waited until the end of the 1st period to pull Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
A nice road effort and while giving up 4 goals is probably not something the Wild will wish to repeat it is nice to see the offense showing a little variety and having contributions from all of its lines. For the longest time (knock on wood) the Wild were a one-line team getting next to nothing beyond its top line. Its no coincidence as the offense has perked up from the bottom 9 that victories have been coming more frequently. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo stated, "It was a hard game, physically they were trying to come at us, but no only can we respond, taking care of each other and it doesn't deter us from playing our game." He added "it was total team effort, and that's what we need" Most certainly, especially if you expect to earn a win in Vancouver on Monday.
~ The Wild roster is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Kyle Brodziak, Dany Heatley, Cal Clutterbuck, Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell, Mike Rupp, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk, Tom Gilbert, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Ryan Suter. Matt Hackett backed up Niklas Backstrom. Nate Prosser, Brett Clark and Jason Zucker were the 'healthy' scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were by the Denver Post's Mike Chambers: 1st Star Devin Setoguchi, 2nd Star Pierre-Marc Bouchard, 3rd Star P.A. Parenteau
~ Attendance was 17,708 at Pepsi Center.
Wild Prospects Report:
RW – Raphael Bussieres (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) ~ The wirery winger had a goal last night in Baie-Comeau's 4-3 shootout win over Victoriaville. The unassisted tally was Bussieres' 28th of the season. He also went 2 out of 4 on his draws too. Wearing the "A" for the Drakkar, he has a career high 67 points and is an impressive +26 in 59 games this season.
F – Adam Gilmour (Muskegon, USHL) ~ The Hanover, Massachusetts-native continues to be the pacesetter for the Lumberjacks this season offensively as he chipped in an assist along with 3 shots in Muskegon's 3-1 loss to the U.S. National Development team. Gilmour has 18 goals, 42 points and is +19 on a team that currently stands 3rd in the USHL's Eastern Conference.
C – Tyler Graovac (Belleville, OHL) ~ The lanky Brampton-native not only can score goals but he is a decent playmaker as well as he contributed an assist in a 3-0 Bulls win over Mississauga. The helper was 33 assists on the season to go along with 71 points in 59 games.
F – Louie Nanne (Penticton, BCHL) ~ Almost a full week after his brother won a state title with Edina, Louie has a 1st star-worthy performance in Penticton's 4-2 victory over Salmon Arm. The Golden Gophers' recruit had a goal and an assist to lead the way for the Vees. Nanne has 19 goals and 41 points in 45 games.
D – John Draeger (Michigan State, CCHA) ~ The former Shattuck-St. Mary's product played a role in Michigan State's huge 3-0 upset over Miami in the CCHA playoffs. Draeger played on the Spartans' top pairing with Jake Chelios and he chipped in an assist. This gives Draeger 9 helpers on the season.