- Kyle Brodziak dangles the puck around a sprawling T.J. Oshie.
I will admit, I am barely invested in tonight’s Wild game. If I had my choice, I would take this game off. The game that is on television right now that has my interest, isn’t even an NHL game. The game I would rather watch is the North Dakota vs Minnesota game in the Frozen Four semi-final game. Union College beat Boston College 5-4 earlier today. What is more exciting about the University of Minnesota game, is that they and North Dakota have a long-standing rivalry, and for the first time in many seasons, they did not meet up during the regular season. With the advent of the Big Ten Hockey Conference, it split this rivalry up. They also won’t meet in a non-conference game during the regular season, as North Dakota has yet to solve their mascot issues. Now, it looks like there are sadly some attendance issues in Philadelphia tonight. First off, why would you put a Frozen Four in an arena, where there’s not a huge draw for college hockey? You add that, with the horrendously expensive price of tickets, you’re not going to sell out. However the price of tickets aside, had this game been played in Minnesota, Michigan or Massachusetts, you would most likely have far better attendance. However, with the NCAA in charge, they’re not exactly known for making the best decisions. Case in point, not broadcasting the women’s hockey national championship.
- Jason Pominville weathers a check from Barrett Jackman.
But since I have to find a way to care about tonight’s Wild game, I will give you this. I honestly don’t know who I want to win. Now, in most games, of course I would want Minnesota to win. I’d love to see them get their first win against St. Louis. However, this isn’t most games. The Wild clinched not only their playoff appearance but being in possession of the top Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Now, if the St. Louis Blues were playing hockey right now like they’ve been doing the rest of the season, I would want Minnesota to win. But that’s the thing. St. Louis has been floundering recently. Something in my gut has me thinking that this is intentional on their part. They want nothing more than to get the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the playoffs. However, the Blues need to be careful. As of now, the Blues do have us as their opponent, but they can’t Colorado out. The Avalanche are just two points behind the Blues. Should Colorado overtake St. Louis, this means that the Blues would then have to face Chicago in the first round. Wouldn’t that be some nifty karma? All I know, is I have absolutely no desire to play St. Louis in the first round. This is partly why I want St. Louis to win tonight. I want them back in the top spot in the Western Conference. However, knowing our luck nothing will line up in our favor. Oh well.
- Jaden Schwartz protects the puck against Kyle Brodziak.
1st Period Thoughts: If you thought head coach Mike Yeo was going to rest the big name players for the playoffs, you’d be wrong. According to Yeo, he wants to keep those players engaged, so that when the games really matter, they’re ready to play. Yet, there are plenty of new or missing in action faces. As you can see, John Curry has to be one of the smallest goaltenders currently active in the NHL. He takes up far less space in the net especially compared to St. Louis’ Ryan Miller. Even more interesting, Curry is the fifth goaltender the Wild have dressed against St Louis. Curry would be tested early in a dangerous scrum in front of him. It was a combination of his work and his skaters in front of him, especially Erik Haula that keeps the puck out of the net. The Blues would get the first power play of the game, due to a closing the hand on the puck call on Nino Niederreiter. The Wild would successfully kill the penalty, although there would once again be a scramble in front of Curry. I’m not sure how he does it, but for his size, he somehow is keeping pucks out that I almost expect to go in. Just over a minute after killing a penalty, the Wild would get their first power play of the night. This time, Steve Ott was called for goaltender interference. However, all through the delayed penalty and as he was marched to the box, he was complaining about being pushed. He was not, and in truth he was lucky for not getting called also for cross checking or possibly even abuse of officials/unsportsmanlike conduct. I don’t feel any sympathy for Ott, as he’s just one of those players I cannot stand. Sadly, it was another of the typically ineffective Minnesota power plays. Minnesota would get the next power play as well, after Jonathon Blum would be taken down by a cross-check by Ryan Reaves. The Wild win the initial power play faceoff and get a shot on Miller. However, since it was a shot to Miller’s chest, it was an easy save. Yet, with Minnesota’s lack of shooting, I guess I can’t be too picky sometimes. In general the puck movement and control on this power play was much improved from the first power play. Once again, these are the little things you want to see from your team, especially as we are heading into the playoffs next week. St. Louis would also kill off this penalty, but the improvement was welcome. Even though St. Louis would kill the penalty, the Wild would once again go on the attack, and the Wild would take the 1-0 lead on a possible redirect by Niederreiter with assists from Blum and Matt Cooke. Although on replay it looked more like a clean shot from Blum, so I expect to see a scoring change at some point tonight. Once again, Curry is finding a way to see the puck, even over vastly taller skaters in front of him. I don’t know if that will last through the rest of the game, but it is somewhat reassuring, considering the number of goaltenders we’ve gone through this season. With the playoffs around the corner, we have absolutely no idea who is going to be healthy or not. While Curry is not ideal, it’s somewhat comforting knowing that once again our goaltenders and defense can take control when need be. And as Kevin Falness, a member of the Wild broadcast team, just said on Twitter, “Welcome to the Minnesota Wild. Goalie Factory, USA.” He has it just about right. Which is better than the long time one about scorers: “Minnesota Wild, where scorers go to die.” With mixed feelings on my part, the Wild would head to the locker room with the 1-0 lead.
2nd Period Thoughts: Early in this period, I am once again reminded why I am so happy to have Erik Haula in the lineup, especially with the current absence of Mikael Granlund. Haula simply has that hockey sense good players just have. It’s that sense that just seems to come so naturally to him. He’s willing to skate, willing to shoot, and will even go in those dirty areas to get the puck. And with a team, especially tonight’s roster, that isn’t always known for speed or a willingness to shoot, Haula’s skill set is just very much appreciated. Not too shabby for a seventh round pick. Curry would continue to play bigger than his stature would imply. Minnesota will have to be careful however, as about midway through the period, the Blues would start to pick up their physical play. Even with players like Cody McCormick and Mike Rupp dressed for the Wild tonight, they will never be able to fully compete hit for hit with St. Louis. Minnesota is at least not wilting completely in the face of the rougher game. Once again with the playoffs coming up, that’s another one of the little parts of the game, that’s refreshing to see out of the Wild. Rupp however would cause big trouble, as he would earn a match penalty with contact to the head of TJ Oshie. But if that’s not bad enough, the Wild will be down two men, as Marco Scandella was already heading to the box on a high sticking penalty. It will be a full 2-minute power play. The Blues were also upset as the puck did go behind Curry, as the referees blew the whistle due to Oshie being down. It wouldn’t take long for St. Louis to tie it up, thanks (or, no thanks) to a Kevin Shattenkirk goal. Personally, I knew that was coming. However, if there’s any silver lining, it’s that Heatley is serving Rupp’s time in the box. Strangely enough, the Wild would once again take the lead while short-handed from none other than majorly snake-bitten Kyle Brodziak. On top of the go-ahead goal, St. Louis’ Ott would be nailed with a 10 minute instigator penalty. Couldn’t happen to a better person. Minnesota would just have about 10 seconds remaining on the major assessed to Rupp, when Maxim Lapierre would be tagged for tripping Charlie Coyle. And just when you think things might be turning in the Wild’s favor, the Blues would get their own shorthanded goal by Alexander Steen after a giveaway by Ryan Suter. Minnesota would once again take by the lead just after their power play ended, thanks to a pass from Heatley to Matt Moulson. I can’t tell if St. Louis is really trying tonight, but if they are, this game should say to whoever the Wild face in the first round, expect them to fight for each and every goal in each and every game. Yet, this has been a strange game and I don’t think we’ll see another game quite like this again, including in the playoffs. The Wild would once again go on the power play after Steen slashed Cooke. We’ve had shorthanded goals and a power play goal by St. Louis, so it is time for the Wild to tally a power play goal of their own. Minnesota once again did a good job of keeping the puck in the offensive zone. St. Louis had a couple of chances to clear, but the Wild bodies and sticks managed to get in the way of passes and clearing attempts. The Wild will start the third period with abut 43 seconds of power play time remaining. After the horn sounded for the end of the period, there was a lot of discussion and pushing between the players. So yes, if this is the first round match up, it will certainly be an interesting one. Tonight has had a playoff feel all night. I guess we might as well continue that feeling.
3rd Period Thoughts: Well, if Hell hasn’t officially frozen over yet, it has now. Just under a minute in, Brodziak scored his second of the night. Earlier today, I had a very strong feeling that somehow tonight either Brodziak or Heatley would come out big offensively. Nice to know I wasn’t far off. Koivu would take another penalty for tripping Jaden Schwartz. But even more strange, the Blues would make a goaltending change before the start of their power play, with Miller going down the tunnel and Brian Elliott taking his place in net. No one can really pinpoint an injury or an odd save. Perhaps they’re trying to save him for the first round. Derek Roy thought he had a goal, except for another spectacular glove save by Curry. There was another of those scrambles in front of (and on top of) Curry, for a while that I thought he too might go the way of Miller, as he appeared to have a hard time getting back up from the ice. Thankfully, my thought has proven wrong. He got up, and looks like he will be playing the rest of the game. It sounds like Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise will be spending much of what is remaining in the period on the bench, giving them a much needed rest. I’m not sure who will be buying the next team dinner. Curry has certainly kept the Wild in this game, however his skaters have also bailed him out. Perhaps, they’re just better off splitting the bill. What is not good to see, is the referees allowing extra-curricular shots across the back to go uncalled. This is how serious injuries happen, by letting the emotions explode. I would have expected that after the Rupp hit on Oshie, they would have tightened the calls. I guess I’m wrong. I guess it doesn’t matter if players from either team get hurt because they’re not willing to blow the whistle. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely hate when referees call each and every little thing, even phantom calls. However, you have to make the calls when player safety is possibly at risk. Ultimately, Minnesota would take this game 4-2. Yes, I’m torn about the win, but I am glad to see a Minnesota Wild team ready to play tough and find ways to score and win against a team they haven’t been able to beat all season. As the old saying goes, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Minnesota was finally able to do it.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Charlie Coyle, Cody McCormick, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Dany Heatley, Kyle Brodziak, Nino Niederreiter, Matt Cooke, Matt Moulson, Mike Rupp, Jason Pominville, Erik Haula, Christian Folin, Marco Scandella, Jonathon Blum, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, and Nate Prosser. Goaltender John Curry started with Ilya Bryzgalov serving as backup.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by were: 1st Star, John Curry; 2nd Star, Kyle Brodziak; 3rd Star, Matt Cooke.
~ Attendance was 18,664 at Xcel Energy Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
D - Mathew Dumba (Portland, WHL) ~ The Winterhawks took a commanding 3-1 series lead on the Victoria Royals on Tuesday with a 4-3 victory. The Calgary-native played a significant role in that victory, chipping in two assists as well as being a +1 on the night. Dumba has 2 goals, 9 points and is a +12 in 8 playoff games played this season.