I remember the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs for a lot of reasons. It was the year in the Western Conference where seeds didn’t matter at all as #7 Minnesota and #8 Anaheim made it to the Conference Finals. The Ducks demonstrated that a hot goaltender in current Colorado backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere and a timely offense can get to within one game of winning the Stanley Cup, and the Wild proved that a team can truly be greater than the sum of its parts and that despite a bargain bin roster it could rally back from two 3-1 series deficits. I will also remember it well because it was my 1st year of teaching and my students sort of rode the wave of emotions with me. The late starts, the nights of being unable to go to sleep because one was so wired after the emotional outcome of it all. It was both a complete rush and a total grind. Its an roller coaster of feelings that range from euphoria to rage. The difference between the two, ever so slight, perhaps even a goalpost or stick in width can change the outcome of a series. I keep thinking about Giguere’s robbery of Gaborik that was the sign of just how it wasn’t meant to be the Wild’s day. It still was a helluva ride.
Wild fans no doubt hope to relive those feelings again in what is set to be another hard fought series. Meanwhile, Colorado wants to prove a surprisingly strong regular season wasn’t a fluke at all, and that they should be considered one of the West’s elite teams. A young, dynamic roster has some thinking Colorado could be on the verge of being another perennial powerhouse, a title it lost towards the late 2000′s. Minnesota wants to be seen as more than an also ran, so which club who feel they have something to prove, will make a statement in game one?
1st Period Thoughts: The game started with a fast and physical pace that one would expect in any playoff tilt as both clubs were trying to set a tone early. The Avs and Wild were finishing their checks with a level of ferocity, as Cody McCormick was taking his opportunities to throw his 6’2″ frame around. McCormick perhaps got too carried away as he delivered a hit to Colorado’s Patrick Bordeleau, but in the process raked Bordeleau’s face with the blade of his stick drawing the first penalty of the game. It was a double-minor for McCormick and the Wild’s penalty kill was going to be tested right away. On the penalty kill, the Wild’s penalty killers did a good job of forcing the Avalanche to settle for shots from the perimeter as Minnesota covered the middle of the ice rather well with good active sticks. The Wild would negate a fair portion of the Colorado power play as Nathan MacKinnon got his stick up into the grill of Zach Parise. Just a single minor for MacKinnon and it was 2 minutes of 4-on-4 hockey. With the ice a bit more open, the Wild tried to attack a bit as Parise set up Matt Moulson for a redirect chance that was steered aside by Semyon Varlamov. Then moments after that, it was a faceoff win by Erik Haula that was directed back to Kyle Brodziak for a quick one-timer that missed just wide of the mark. Minnesota still had a little over a minute of power play time to kill off and they’d get it done with more hustle and good puck support. The physical play continued to ramp up as the Avalanche were taking every opportunity to run Wild forwards; particularly Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin. The hits also kept the home crowd at a fever pitch. Yet, the Wild would give up the first goal of the series as some confusion between Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin would start a sequence that culminated with an easy finish for Gabriel Landeskog. Brodin started the confusion after taking a hit from Landeskog, then decided to switch assignments which had Scandella confused over who was his responsibility and then Brodin would lose Landeskog in the shuffle and he was wide open near the top of the crease when Paul Stastny‘s pass found him. Minnesota would answer back just about 2 minutes later as the Wild dumped the puck deep into the Avalanche zone where it was chased down by Charlie Coyle and both he and Parise battled hard for the puck along the wall. Eventually they’d work it out to the point where Scandella blasted a shot that drew a big rebound from Varlamov and Parise overskated it as it was swept up by Coyle who lifted a forehand over the stretched out goalie to make it a tie hockey game, 1-1. It was a great exhibition of strength by the Wild youngster who battled through a few checks on the shift. The goal took the wind out of the crowd and while Colorado continue to dish out hits, Minnesota stayed calm and tried to keep the Avalanche at a distance. Minnesota had to be fairly pleased to end the first period tied at one goal apiece after being outshot 8-7 by the Avalanche and grossly outhit. Pretty decent road period for the Wild who weathered the storm nicely.
2nd Period Thoughts: The physical play continued into the 2nd period as the Avs kept taking runs at the Wild’s skill players. Minnesota was not able to find much time and space in the offensive zone and shooting lanes were fleeting at best. As the period wore on, the Wild started to make the small little plays along the boards to get the breakout going and the scoring chances started to materialize. The 2nd line of Granlund, Moulson and Jason Pominville would cause some havoc in the Avs zone as Moulson took a pass from Pominville and he fired a blind shot that surprised Varlamov and he batted the puck away. Moments after that it was Moulson finding Pominville on a long pass for a partial break away and he’d skate in and fire a wrist shot that was blocked away by Varlamov. The Avalanche would go on the power play as the Wild were tagged with a delay of game for knocking the net off its moorings. On the replay it did not appear as though it was intentional as Koivu was trying to check Colorado’s Jamie McGinn, and despite a protest by Ryan Suter the Wild would find themselves on the penalty kill. Minnesota’s penalty killers again played aggressively, attacking the puck carrier and forcing turnovers and never allowing the the Avalanche to get comfortable on the power play. The Wild would get the big kill and then they’d draw their first power play of their own as Jan Hejda would sit for interference. Minnesota’s power play looked dangerous early as Parise set up Pominville for a wide-open shot on a back door play but unfortunately he’d fan on the shot, but undaunted the Wild kept control of the zone where they worked it back out to the point where Ryan Suter wound up and let loose a slap shot. His slap should would deflect off the leg of an Avalanche defender and maybe the stick of either Coyle or Koivu and by Varlamov to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead. The goal had Colorado a little disorganized and the Wild would nearly add to its lead as a turnover in the offense zone by Coyle who alertly turned and passed it over to a wide open Parise who got off a quick shot that was stopped by Varlmov who went way out of his crease to challenge the Wild winger and he collided with the Avalanche goalie. Erik Johnson would take offense to the collision and he started to rough up Parise while Coyle rushed in to defend his teammate before he was jumped by two Avalanche players. Ultimately it was Johnson going to the box for roughing and Parise for goaltender interference. Colorado tried to raise the tempo of the game and Minnesota found itself scrambling a bit and this would open up an opportunity for Ryan O’Reilly in the high slot and he’d wind up and blister a slap shot by Ilya Bryzgalov to tie the game at 2-2. Minnesota would not be frazzled and they’d take advantage of a late Avalanche line change and a long pass by Brodin reached speedy Erik Haula who turned on the jets and sped around Josh Holden and he’d beat Varlamov 5-hole to give the Wild a 3-2 lead. With the crowd in a state of shock at the Wild’s quick strike, the Wild would add to its lead just 2 minutes later as Nino Niederreiter would force a turnover on the forecheck and Matt Cooke dug out the puck after Niederreiter’s hard work and dished it to Kyle Brodziak for a quick shot that found the back of the net to make it 4-2 Minnesota. The Wild would keep up the pressure as Marc-Andre Cliche did Minnesota a favor by taking a foolish interference penalty in the offensive zone when he collided with Moulson. The Wild were unable to add anymore, but they had to feel as though they had a solid period. Minnesota outshot Colorado 12-6 in the period. I thought Minnesota’s defense (most notably Scandella) did a great job of winning the battles down low along the wall and not wasting any time skating the puck out of danger. Now its all about finishing what they have started.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild started the period with about 30 seconds of power play time and the Wild used it to put a few more shots on goal as Varlamov was forced to make some fine saves. After the Avalanche killed off the power play, Colorado would go on the attack. The Wild seemed ready to sit back and defend its lead as Colorado started to attack in waves and Nathan MacKinnon nearly cashed in only to be thwarted by an aggressive play by Bryzgalov to gobble up the puck before he could pull the trigger. Minnesota would make its task that much tougher as Stephane Veilleux got tagged with a pretty marginal hooking call. The Avalanche power play again had trouble getting much of anything going with the man advantage as Minnesota kept them to the perimeter and the Wild’s defense did a nice job of supporting Bryzgalov by sweeping away rebounds. Minnesota would get the big kill, but shortly thereafter an absent-minded play by Brodziak to pass the puck from near the right faceoff circle was fanned and turned into an easy turnover to O’Reilly who got off a backhander that was knocked down by Bryzgalov but the rebound he gave up was pounced on by McGinn and suddenly the Wild lead was cut to one, 4-3. With the home crowd amped at the momentum building for their team, the chippiness continued as Josh Holden and Matt Cooke would exchange some pushing and shoving and both would end up in the box. With the ice a bit more open, 4-on-4 the Wild would attack with Granlund and Pominville and the diminutive Finnish center found a little space where he rifled a wrist shot that was gloved by Varlamov. Soon after the 4-on-4 ended, the 2nd line again would put another scare into Colorado as Pominville dangled around a Colorado defender and then back to a wide open Granlund who tried to thread one more pass instead of taking his chance to shoot the biscuit and the pass never made it across and Varlamov was able to cover it up for a whistle. It was the kind of decision that drives fans crazy. The Avalanche looked poised to want to attack, but strong backchecking by the Wild did a good job of preventing Colorado from creating much in the way of scoring chances. Minnesota started using its forecheck to kill valuable time off the clock as well as keep Colorado bottle into its own end. The Wild were patient and playing well positionally, and maybe that’s why Avs Head Coach Patrick Roy would opt to pull Varlamov for an extra attacker with 3 minutes left in the game even though his team just trailed by one. The extra attacker kept Minnesota bottled up in its own zone, but the Wild were content to clear the zone and they came dangerously close to tallying the empty netter as Haula lifted a puck out of the zone and it began to roll and it was just swept out of danger just in time by Erik Johnson before he went crashing into the net. As the official blew the whistle the puck was fired on goal by Matt Cooke which drew the ire of Johnson. No penalties were called, not even delay of game even though no one pushed him into the goal. Yet for whatever reason, the puck was placed in the neutral zone. Patrick Roy would call a timeout to talk things over with his team. In the closing minute, the Wild couldn’t clear the zone to save its life and it was a failed clearing attempt by Jared Spurgeon that would come back to haunt the Wild as Johnson would fire a shot on goal that drew a big rebound that was lifted home by Stastny with just 13.5 seconds left in regulation and we would go to overtime. Spurgeon had more than enough time to clear the zone with ease but his feeble attempt hurt Minnesota big time. Only overtime will tell us if the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s in that period really mattered or not.
Overtime Thoughts: Overtime resembled more of a chess match at first as both teams were testing for weaknesses before the scoring attempts started to pile up. The first quality chance of overtime would come off the stick of Pominville who found a little time and space and he’d rip a shot off the crossbar and out. The Avalanche would have a great chance of their own as Cody McLeod found himself set up near the top of the crease and his redirection was steered aside by an alert Bryzgalov. Through most of the first half of overtime, the Wild were controlling the pace of play but they were unable to get much in the way of shots on goal. The Avalanche’s top line would go out and start cycling the puck against Minnesota’s 3rd line which had a hard time dealing with the line’s speed and Tyson Barrie would pinch and knock down both Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak near the crease before Stastny scored the game winner. Cooke couldn’t account for Stastny and that was all she wrote. 5-4 Colorado takes game 1.
I wasn’t mad at Ilya Bryzgalov for the loss, who stopped 25 shots in the loss. Bryzgalov was betrayed by turnovers in his own zone. I thought he gave Minnesota a chance to win and he deserved one. Although it was interesting to see the FSN broadcast blame him for the loss while completely ignoring the moronic turnovers that led to the Avalanche goals in the 3rd period. He didn’t have to make a lot of great saves, but maybe that’s the one criticism you lob his way in that he didn’t bail his club out with a big stop when it made one of those mistakes. Jared Spurgeon’s failed clearing attempt with less than a minute left is completely unforgiveable as was Kyle Brodziak’s stupid choice to pass the puck when he had nothing but open ice in front of him. The one silver lining was Minnesota’s play on the penalty kill where they went 4-for-4.
Offensively the team got scoring from all over its lineup which is a good sign. It means the team is playing with confidence but you really have to wonder if Mikael Granlund and a few others took their chances to shoot in the 3rd if the game would’ve turned out differently. I liked the relative speed and perseverance Minnesota showed offensively as the Avalanche tried to take the Wild out of their game with strong physical play. The top line of Koivu, Coyle and Parise played pretty well. I thought Erik Haula looked good, but I still think he’s a bit of a waste on the 4th line. The Wild did enough offensively to win this game; 4 goals is a lot for this club. Its good to see they can score like that on Colorado, but they’ll have to do it all over again.
You have to wonder what Mike Yeo was thinking by dressing a small, weak defenseman like Jared Spurgeon in the closing moments where you need players that can tie up opposing forwards and keep them from the puck. Spurgeon has lots of time to clear the zone, he weakly passes the puck where its intercepted and that led to Stastny’s game-tying goal. That can’t happen. I think this loss is very difficult to get over psychologically. The team should’ve been able to make a 2-goal lead going into the 3rd stand. It was their own lack of execution that cost them the game. It wasn’t some herculean effort on Colorado’s part. Now all the Wild can do is learn from their mistakes and do all they can to win game 2 so they can avoid the vaunted 2-0 series lead. They had this one, now they just have to finish those chances, both literally and figuratively.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Matt Moulson, Jason Pominville, Kyle Brodziak, Nino Niederreiter, Matt Cooke, Stephane Veilleux, Erik Haula, Cody McCormick, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser. John Curry backed up Ilya Bryzgalov. Keith Ballard, Dany Heatley, Jonathon Blum, Justin Fontaine were the scratches. Mike Rupp served the 2nd game of his 4-game suspension.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Paul Stastny, 2nd Star Ryan O’Reilly, 3rd Star Nathan MacKinnon
~ Attendance was 18,704 at Pepsi Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Recent Score: Iowa 3, Chicago 4 SO
The game started off on a predictable path as the Wolves jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 50 seconds into the game as Michael Davies found the back of the net behind Johan Gustafsson. The Wild furiously tried to answer back but Matt Climie kept the Wolves in the lead until less than 5 minutes left in the 1st as Kurtis Gabriel scored his first professional goal after following up his own shot. It was 1-1 going into the 1st intermission. Chicago would re-take the lead in the 2nd period as Shane Harper beat Gustafsson with a wicked wrist shot. Iowa would then strike twice in the space of a little over a minute as Jake Dowell tied the game on the power play as he banged home a rebound off a shot from the point by Steven Kampfer. Then just 70 seconds or so later, it was Jamie MacQueen scoring his 4th goal of the season to give the Wild its first lead of the game. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to last as the Wolves would light the lamp a minute later as Pat Cannone scored unassisted off a bad turnover in the neutral zone. The 3rd period had lots of intensity, even a playoff-like atmosphere but neither side could bury the biscuit so the game would go to overtime and eventually reach the shootout. In the shootout, the Wild only managed a single goal as MacQueen again delivered in the clutch but it wasn’t enough as the Wolves got goals from Harper and Alexandre Bolduc and Chicago was able to spoil the last home game of the 2013-14 season for Iowa. Gustafsson had 22 saves in the loss.