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Minnesota clinches top wildcard spot with 4-3 shootout victory over Boston

Mikko Koivu tries to solve Tuukka Rask.

Senioritis.  Maybe you remember this from your senior year of high school if you decided to just sort of cruise on by without a care in the world as you knew it was just a matter of time before you graduated and went on your merry way.  Senioritis is often the bane of parents and teachers who want these students to invest their last year of high school towards preparing themselves for the academic rigor at a post-secondary institution but find their arguments easily rebuffed by senior skip days or class trips.  Let’s face it, for many seniors, your last year of high school is just sort of time spent enjoying the moment and waiting for that time when you graduate with all of those kids you grew up with.  The Wild might be feeling a little senioritis tonight after they pushed that much closer to ‘graduating’ to the NHL’s post season with a 1-0 win over Winnipeg last night.  As they return home to the mostly friendly confines of Xcel Energy Center they might feel so comfortable being that close to the playoffs that they might just try to ‘cruise’ tonight instead of putting forth the same determined effort as they have the last few games.

Ryan Suter tries to track down Boston’s Patrice Bergeron.

But they’re not officially in just yet.  They haven’t officially clinched.  Yes, the scenario for the Wild to be overtaken for that final playoff spot by the Phoenix Coyotes is extremely improbable but the Wild would be wise not to be complacent.  Afterall, this is a team that only made it into the playoffs last season because of a tiebreaker they held over the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Will the Wild try to bask in the glow of being so close and forget about the Bruins tonight or will they punch their ticket into the post-season with authority by earning 2 points against the best team in the Eastern Conference?

Marco Scandella races Chris Kelly for the puck.

1st Period Thoughts:  The Wild would draw a penalty early as Jared Spurgeon was tripped up by Milan Lucic as he was about to exit the Minnesota zone.  Minnesota’s power play would strike fast as Mikko Koivu won the draw as Zach Parise raced into the corner as he tapped a pass back to Koivu who swung the puck over to Jason Pominville who bombed a one-timer by Tuukka Rask.  1-0 Wild.  Minnesota would then take a bad penalty of their own as Ryan Suter slashed Brad Marchand.  On the power play, the Bruins moved the puck with great efficiency but the Wild had their chances to clear the zone but couldn’t do so.  It was on one of these failed clearing attempts as Kyle Brodziak couldn’t get it by Reilly Smith and the former Miami star rifled a shot from the point that was deflected by the sprawling body of Brodziak and by Ilya Bryzgalov.  It was the first goal Bryzgalov had given up in 145:15, and completely preventable if the Wild took care of its details.  As the period wore on, the Wild started to get distracted from its game by little slide shows of pushing and shoving with the Bruins.  Whether it was Matt Cooke attempting to goad Zdeno Chara between the whistle or some other lame scrums the Wild were allowing the Bruins to get under their skin.  The Bruins would take the lead as the Bruins worked the puck out to the point where Chara let go a wrist shot that theaded its way on goal that Bryzgalov stopped and resulted in a big rebound that was swept up by Patrice Bergeron, who sniped it home.  2-1 Bruins.  The whole sequence was started by a failed clearing attempt by Suter.  Fortunately the Wild would answer back offensively as Erik Haula won a draw in the Bruins’ zone and he pushed the puck forward to Matt Moulson who delivered a perfect pass out in front of the Boston goal for an easy tap in goal by Pominville.  2-2 game.  The pace was intense, with both club charging hard into the corners and battling as though the game meant everything to both teams.  Shooting lanes were hard to come by and the period would end with both clubs probably feeling happy to still be knotted at two goals apiece.  Minnesota outshot the Bruins 9 to 6.  The Wild must be take advantage of their opportunities to clear the zone otherwise they’re going to find more pucks in the back of their net, especially on the penalty kill.  An odd period where I am sure both teams feel that the goals were very preventable.  The kind of period that fans like and coaches hate.

2nd Period Thoughts:  Predictably, both clubs tightened up defensively after the run & gun 1st period.  Shots were contested, active sticks were denying passing lanes and the shots were coming from the perimeter making for relatively easy saves for Bryzgalov and Rask respectively.  The game would turn into more of a chess match as both clubs tried to stay away from being too aggressive and both teams were content to just dump the puck behind the defense and then chase it down.  The Wild started to slowly tilt the action mostly into the Boston zone as more of their shots started to reach Rask but the Bruins’ defense was able to sweep away loose pucks before Minnesota could pounce on them.  Brodziak was really flying all over the ice but still was unable to cash in on the scoring chances.  Then Boston started to surge and they were able to get Minnesota bottled up in its own zone.  They were able to work the puck don low and then back out to the point for an uncontested chance that would benefit from a host of screens.  The action got more than a little dicey as Matt Cooke broke his stick and this gave the Bruins a pseudo-power play and all the veteran agitator could do was skate around and hit everything he saw, and he did just that.  Minnesota would survive and on the ensuing shift the Wild would draw a penalty as Shawn Thornton was tagged with a holding minor.  Unfortunately, the Wild was not able to do much with the man advantage as Justin Fontaine tripped up Boston’s Gregory Campbell negating the power play.   Once the Bruins went on their shortened power play, a failed potential clearing opportunity by Marco Scandella meant Boston held the zone and the puck made it out to Chara who flung a wrist shot that was deflected up and over the shoulder of Bryzgalov by Loui Eriksson.  3-2 Boston.  Minnesota would try to rally late in the period but Minnesota was unable to answer and they trailed by one going into the 2nd intermission.

3rd Period Thoughts:  I thought this period reminded me a lot of last night’s game against Winnipeg.  The Bruins forced Minnesota to waste valuable time trying to win puck battles along the boards and once the Wild were either a bit slow chasing the puck they’d chip it out of the zone forcing the Wild to retreat and repeat the process all over again.  The aggressiveness of the Wild also made them vulnerable to the counter attack and the Bruins actually had the better scoring chances in the final stanza.  All Minnesota could manage was a few token shots and the Bruins were able to tie up Wild forwards from being able to reach any loose pucks.  The Wild really seemed to be spinning its wheels.  With the anxiety level rising with each expiring minute you could sense Minnesota was getting more desperate.  It also made each set back that much more agonizing as Matt Moulson would get called for hooking with just under 6 minutes left to play.  The Wild’s penalty kill wasn’t messing around as it as aggressive, attacking the puck carrier and forcing turnovers and never allowing Boston to increase its lead.  Minnesota kept applying pressure and they’d finally push all in with 1:40 left in the game as they pulled Bryzgalov for an extra attacker.  The Wild would win the initial draw but as the Bruins cleared the zone the Wild would chase the puck down where the icing was inexplicably waived off, Minnesota would counter attack and Matt Moulson gathered up the puck and dished it to Koivu who passed it back out front to Suter who snapped a shot by Rask to tie the game.  Rask protested the goal as he felt he was interfered with but to no avail and the game would go to overtime.

Overtime Thoughts:  This was not your typical blah overtime where both teams bide their time carefully before trying one big push for a point.  This was firewagon hockey at its finest.  Minnesota was taking every opportunity to puts shots on goal and create scoring chances.  End to end rushes all over, close chances as Jason Pominville nearly cashed in on a shot taken out of the air after a Matt Moulson feed.  The stood almost the whole time with so many close chances but none would find the back of the net and the game would go to a shootout.

Shootout Summary:  Minnesota’s would elect to shoot first as they normally do, and their first shooter was Zach Parise.  Parise would move wide to the left before moving back into the middle where he tried to backhand a shot as Rask seemed to calmly make the save.  Boston’s first shooter was Patrice Bergeron and he’d race into the zone with speed and he’d fire a shot wide left.  The Wild’s next shooter was Mikko Koivu and the Wild captain went to his patented forehand to backhand shelf move and it was money this time as he beat Rask to give Minnesota a 1-0 shootout lead.  The Bruins’ next shooter was Reilly Smith and he tried to deke and then fire a wrist shot stick side but it was dismissed by Bryzgalov.  The Wild’s next shooter was Jason Pominville who could win the game if he’d score and he’d moved in and fired a wrist shot that was steered aside by Rask.  This put the game into the hands of Brad Marchand and the pesky former Cape Breton-star raced in and he fired a wrist shot that Bryzgalov got just enough of with the right leg pad as the puck rolled just wide of the mark and the big Russian celebrated the huge stop.

Ilya Bryzgalov finally had a few pucks get by him, but he went 3-for-3 in the shootout to give Minnesota a huge come-from-behind victory and clinch the top wildcard spot in the process.  I thought Rask made some good saves from in close, but his rebound control wasn’t quite as stellar as it was the last two games and at least one of those pucks ended up in the back of the net because of it. Still, the team has played well in front of him and that’s a sign the club believes in him.  Although I’d put more of the blame on some poor play in the Wild’s zone as the team failed to clear the puck even when it had the opportunity to do so.  Nate Prosser, Kyle Brodziak, Marco Scandella and Ryan Suter were all guilty of this and Minnesota came dangerously close to losing this game because of it.  The penalty kill took a step back tonight.

Offensively, the Wild’s ability to answer what was most impressive.  The team found ways to put some pucks in the back of the net against one of the most stingy teams in the league.  Pominville looked hungry and dangerous and that’s a good sign for the Wild who now finally know they’re going to be in the playoffs for sure.  Moulson is looking more comfortable and finding his way onto the scoresheet makes the team that much more dangerous.  I thought Charlie Coyle had a tremendous game and the strength of this youngster is so impressive as he muscles his way through body checks to track down the puck.

While the Blue Jackets helped give the Wild an early gift by beating Phoenix, I have to say I was impressed how the team wasn’t just satisfied with that and they pressed hard for the victory.  Whether in the 3rd period, or overtime the team played like one who was only going to be satisfied with a victory.  That is what the playoffs are all about and the team willed itself another victory on a night where the fans left with the players’ game-worn sweaters.  This is precisely the sense of urgency that was so lacking and troubling last season as it limped into the playoffs by the slimmest of margins.   That perspective was not lost on the Wild players as Ryan Suter told the Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s Michael Russo, “this year we played ourselves into the playoffs the way you want to.”  Damn right they have!

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise, Matt Moulson, Erik Haula, Jason Pominville, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Justin Fontaine, Stephane Veilleux, Cody McCormick, Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Jonathon Blum and Nate Prosser.  John Curry backed up Ilya Bryzgalov.  Mike Rupp, Dany Heatley, Keith Ballard, Jake DowellClayton Stoner, Mikael Granlund and Christian Folin were the scratches.

~ The 3 Stars of the Game according to Wild.com were: 1st Star Jason Pominville, 2nd Star Ryan Suter, 3rd Star Patrice Bergeron

~ Attendance was 18,893 at Xcel Energy Center.

Wild Prospect Report:

D – Daniel Gunnarsson (Lulea, SHL) ~ The playoffs have begun in the Swedish Eliteserien.  Lulea, unfortunately was an opening round casualty after falling in 5 games to the Vaxjo Lakers.  Gunnarsson had a 1 goal and 2 assists and was an ‘even’ rating in 5 playoff games.

F – Christoph Bertschy (SC Bern, NLA) ~ Like Gunnarsson, Bertschy’s season is also over after his team was knocked out of the playoffs in 6 games after a hard fought series with EV Zug.  Bertschy had 2 assists and 4 PIM’s as well as being a -1 in 6 playoff games.

About Derek Felska

I am a lifelong hockey fan from Minnesota who loves and appreciates the game at all levels. I have been blogging about the Minnesota Wild since 2005. I cover just about every aspect of the organization from the team itself, its coaches, its management, its broadcast as well as its AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild and the club's pool of prospects. In addition to the NHL I occasionally take the time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!

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