A weekend ritual during the hockey season has been listening to the radio show Beyond the Pond on KFAN radio every Saturday from 10AM to Noon. Along with the show’s host, Brandon Mileski who is a high school hockey coach at Coon Rapids when he’s not producing “the Common Man” Dan Cole‘s Progrum he’s joined by former college hockey stars Pat Micheletti and Aaron Miller. It is without a doubt the best hockey talk program in Minnesota and perhaps in the nation. Its very savvy, honest and candid about the game at all levels. They normally feature tremendous guests this weekend was no different. They had Golden Gophers’ associate coach Mike Guentzel as guest and being unable to listen to it live I watched it via podcast on Sunday. Guentzel sort of gave a preview of the NCAA Championship between the University of Minnesota and Union College. The best way to describe Guentzel was respectful but a tad bit overconfident, which is what one would expect. Union, as well as the ESPN broadcast of John Buccigross and Barry Melrose fell over themselves characterizing the Dutchman as an underdog. Perhaps fueled by that lack of equal respect, Union; as tenacious as I have seen a college hockey team battled and swarmed and ultimately overwhelmed the Gophers. The Wild could learn from that costly lesson of overconfidence tonight.
This game is not for a National Championship, but its the place where the Wild add a punctuation mark to their season. Will it be a period, an exclamation point, or a question mark? The Wild have finished far stronger this season than they did a season ago; beating some of the best teams in the NHL. The team they are facing tonight reminds me a lot of the Union Dutchman. A bit smaller, gritty and a team that will swarm around the net with an outstanding defenseman that anchors its blueline. Can the Wild take care of business one more time and keep the good feelings going into the post-season?
1st Period Thoughts: The pace of play was kind of lethargic through the first few minutes which was what you’d kind of expect with two clubs with little to play for beyond pride. The Wild were a bit guilty of watching and floating towards the pucks instead of motoring around the ice. The result was the Predators would control the game on the forecheck but Minnesota’s defense did a decent job at challenging shooters and not a lot of pucks were making it to Ilya Bryzgalov. The Wild would finally break out of their rut of complacent hockey when Erik Haula turned on the jets to fly into the Nashville zone and as he swung a pass towards the Predators’ crease it was mishandled by Carter Hutton and Jason Pominville slid a pass back out front to Haula who jammed a shot by the sprawling Nashville goalie to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead. Haula’s speed and creativity will make it tough for the Wild to want to relegate him back to the 3rd line whenever Mikael Granlund returns to action. The Predators would try to counter attack with some speed of its own as Matt Cullen would get held up by Jonas Brodin giving Nashville its first power play of the game. On the power play the Predators got Minnesota’s penalty killers to collapse down low where they tried to swarm the blue paint and get a puck through a maze of bodies but the Wild were able to get sticks on pucks and sweep the puck out of danger. Minnesota would get the big kill and they’d go on the counter attack and it was Haula feeding a perfect pass near the top of the crease that was redirected home by Pominville to give the Wild a 2-0 lead. Shortly after the Wild’s goal, Minnesota would make a major mistake that would put the Predators right back into the game. As a puck slowly made its way into the Wild’s zone, Bryzgalov would leave his crease to play the puck but as he looked to stop and make a pass he’d catch an edge and fall to the ice which resulted in an easy turnover by Nate Gaustad who dished it back to Rich Clune for an even easier goal as he banged it home as Bryzgalov watched in agony. 2-1 Wild. The Predators would try to take advantage of the Wild’s frustration with a quick attack as Shea Weber would step up into the slot for a big shot that was steered aside by Bryzgalov. Minnesota then went back to work and came dangerously close to adding to their lead as Mikko Koivu flung a wrist shot that would hit off a body and then off the left post and out even though it looked as though it might be a goal. The play was reviewed, and the puck clearly did not cross the goal line and it the ‘no goal’ call was confirmed. The top line continued to cause the Predators’ problems as the tremendous puck movement set up a variety of shooting opportunities that had Hutton more than a little busy in his crease. The Wild looked comfortable and confident after one period of play, outshooting Nashville 13-11. Jonas Brodin is still struggling and its that inconsistency that has sort of typified his sophomore season as he was caught off guard by Cullen’s speed and then later couldn’t control Gaustad on Clune’s goal. I am really liking the way the top two lines played that period. Hungry, assertive and they created a number of scoring chances.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild would draw a penalty early as Matt Cullen hooked Koivu. On the power play; the top unit of Pominville, Matt Moulson, Parise, Koivu and Ryan Suter put on a clinic of quick passing and puck possession as the Predators passively tried to chase Minnesota around its own end. The Wild not waiting and waiting as they have done in the past, but continuing to move the puck even as it was waiting for some ice to open up. Ultimately this led to Koivu working a give and go between himself and Parise as Parise dished it to Koivu and then Koivu feinted at a shot and instead passed the puck across to Parise for a quick redirect that beat Hutton cleanly, 3-1 Wild. The Predators would regroup as a few minutes later as a faceoff win was drawn back to Ryan Ellis who bombed a slap shot by Bryzgalov and Wild lead was reduced to one, 3-2. On the ensuing shift after Ellis’ goal, the Wild would find itself going on the penalty kill as Moulson was tagged with a hooking penalty. It would prove to be a costly penalty as the Predators worked the puck around the perimeter before setting up Shea Weber with a slap shot from the point that beat Bryzgalov high stick side to tie the game, 3-3. Bryzgalov may have been partially screened by Nate Prosser inadvertently but the damage had been done. The problems continued as the Predators would strike about 30 seconds later as Nashville drew the Wild’s defense down low and an errant pass was intercepted by Roman Josi who blasted a one-timer by Bryzgalov to make it 4-3 with a serenade of boo’s from the home crowd who had just witnessed their club give up 3 goals in the span of just 2 minutes. Then the game would get a little feisty as Weber cross-checked Matt Cooke deep in the Nashville zone and then cross checked him again and this drew the ire of Clayton Stoner who skated in to defend Cooke and he and Weber would tangle. After the officials were able to clear up the trouble, Weber earned a minor for roughing and another for cross-checking while Stoner just got a single minor for roughing giving Minnesota a power play. On the power play the Wild moved the puck well, but they were a bit more hesitant to pull the trigger and Minnesota would come up empty on the man advantage. A few too many passes instead of simply working pucks on goal against a goaltender who seemed to have been fighting the puck all game up to this point. After the penalty was killed off, Rich Clune would try to go after Matt Cooke near the Wild bench and take a piece out of the Wild’s agitator as Cooke just sort of laughed as Clune was wildly throwing punches before Ryan Suter was able to tie him up. Clune was given two minors for roughing and cross checking and a game misconduct giving the Wild a 4-minute power play. The execution on the extended power play left a lot to be desired as poor passes and disorganization combined to waste nearly half of the power play. Then Nino Niederreiter would try to open up some ice for his teammates by bumping into a defenseman pursuing Moulson for an easy interference penalty. With the ice more open at 4-on-4 the Predators went to work and they’d race into the zone as Craig Smith dropped a pass back to Josi who stepped into another big slap shot that was deflected by Bryzgalov by Smith to give Nashville a 5-3 lead. The Wild would escape the rest of the 4-on-4 unscathed and as Niedierreiter’s penalty expired Minnesota had a brief power play. The Wild were only able to set up Parise for a quick one timer that was steered aside by Hutton. Minnesota had to be very disappointed with how that period unfolded. Defensive breakdowns led to opportunities for the Predators big shooting defenseman and some squandered power play opportunities could very well come back to haunt them. It was good to see the team stand up for itself and try to defend its teammates but it still doesn’t excuse the poor coverage in the defensive zone.
3rd Period Thoughts: John Curry would go between the pipes to start the 3rd period for the Wild. The Predators were content to sit back and defend its lead forcing the Wild to make long, low percentage passes to create space offensively. Zach Parise would race into the Nashville zone and he’d wind up and hammer a shot on goal that was fought off by Hutton and then he was there to help poke away his wrap around attempt. Minnesota would then go on the penalty kill as Justin Fontaine was given a holding penalty. The Predators saw an opportunity to put the nail in the Wild’s coffin and they’d try to swarm near the Minnesota crease but Curry would sprawl and cover up the puck with a host of defenders all around him. The Wild would scramble and eventually kill off the Nashville power play. Minnesota tried to go back on the attack, but Hutton did a good job of corralling rebounds and not giving the Wild much in the way of 2nd chance opportunities. The Wild had some good chances as Jonathon Blum had a chance from the slot only to have his shot stopped by Hutton. The missed chances would haunt the Wild as Craig Smith worked the puck down low and then slid a pass into the slot where Calle Jarnkrok banged home a goal giving the Predators a 6-3 lead. The sloppy play continued as Jared Spurgeon would haul down Nick Spaling as he was making his way towards the Wild crease giving him an interference penalty. Predictably, the equally sloppy Wild penalty kill would give up the goal as the Predators looked very Union-like as they swarmed the Minnesota crease before Craig Smith buried the rebound after Curry had stopped two or three initial chances. 7-3 Nashville. And that was all she wrote.
Ilya Bryzgalov was not quite the same after he fell trying to play the puck that led to the Predators first goal. The sting of that mistake seemed to linger with him and he struggled to refocus and that was evident as he got beat on 4 shots from the point and it seemed as though as any time a Predators player wound up for a slap shot the puck was destined for the back of the net. Bryzgalov would sit for the 3rd period and the goaltending only marginally improved with John Curry between the pipes. Bryzgalov gave up 5 goals on 21 shots and Curry 2 goals on 12 shots. Although in their defense, there wasn’t that great of defense played in front of them. Players were not looking to block shots as they had when the team was desperate for points and were guilty of lapses in their d-zone coverage. The penalty kill was awful, giving up 2 power play goals to Nashville. I thought Jonas Brodin was rather shaky most of the night.
Offensively, the Wild did some good things to start the game. I liked how the 1st and 2nd lines performed in the 1st period. These lines were assertive and shooting often and putting a tremendous amount of pressure on the Predators. Yet after the Predators struck a few times the urgency disappeared and it was all Nashville after that. Erik Haula and Jason Pominville are exhibiting some terrific chemistry and it will be interesting to see what happens when Granlund returns. My guess is Haula will go onto what could be a supercharged 3rd line along with Cooke and Fontaine. The Wild’s power play had some good moments and others that were a real head scratcher. The horrendous execution on the 4-minute power play squandered the Wild’s opportunity to get back into the game. Hopefully they don’t throw away golden chances like that if given to them in the post-season.
Remember my closing statement towards the top of the article? I think tonight’s game leaves more of a question mark than the exclamation point or period the Wild was looking for. Should the Wild be concerned that Bryzgalov’s confidence was shaken after his mistake of playing the puck and then a series of point shots that found the back of the net. With Darcy Kuemper no closer to a return and John Curry as the only possible options that means the team has to hope tonight’s ugly performance from its goaltenders was just a fluke. I don’t really care too much that the team lost tonight to Nashville; the game meant nothing, the team’s playoff opponent had been chosen before the game started this evening. Now the team will get a day off and then prepare itself for the war that is the Stanley Cup playoffs. Time to delete the memory of this game and move forward because the real battle begins on Thursday against Colorado.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise, Erik Haula, Jason Pominville, Matt Moulson, Matt Cooke, Nino Niederreiter, Justin Fontaine, Cody McCormick, Stephane Veilleux, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Clayton Stoner, Jonathon Blum and Nate Prosser. John Curry shared duties between the pipes with Ilya Bryzgalov. Christian Folin, Keith Ballard, Jake Dowell, Dany Heatley, and Mikael Granlund were the scratches. Mike Rupp served the first game of a 4-game suspension for his hit on T.J. Oshie.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Wild.com were: 1st Star Craig Smith, 2nd Star Jason Pominville, 3rd Star Roman Josi
~ Attendance was 18,658 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Jason Pominville’s 30-goal season is makes him just the 3rd player in franchise history to score that many in a season; joining Marian Gaborik and Brian Rolston in that exclusive club.
NCAA College Hockey Report:
Golden Gophers 4, Union 7 ~ In a crazy back and forth game the Union Dutchman prevailed with outstanding tenacity around the net. Union wins its first national title and the ECAC Conference wins its 2nd NCAA championship in a row. Philadelphia Flyers’ prospect Shayne Gostisbehere had an unreal performance by registering a video-game like night with a goal, 2 assists, 5 shots and ridiculous +7. Congratulations to the Union Dutchman on winning the 2014 NCAA Division I NCAA Men’s Hockey Title! Stick tap to the Golden Gophers who gave it a noble effort but came up short.
Iowa Wild Report:
Recent Score: Iowa 2, Rockford 3
The Iowa Wild got out to fast start as Brady Brassart scored his first goal as a professional a little past the 5 minute mark and even though the Wild were being outshot and largely outplayed by the Ice Hogs they carried their lead into 1st intermission. After that, the game started to slip out of Iowa’s control as the Ice Hogs scored 25 seconds into the 2nd period as former Wild winger Pierre-Marc Bouchard ripped a shot by Joel Martin making his Iowa debut, 1-1. The Ice Hogs would take the lead just 50 seconds later as Brandon Mashinter swept up a lively carom off the boards behind the goal and just like that it was 2-1. Rockford would light the lamp again a few minutes later as Mathieu Brisebois beat Martin with a shot from just beneath the left circle. Iowa still had its chances to get back into the game as they had a long 5-on-3 but they couldn’t manage to get a shot behind Jason LaBarbera so they’d still trail by two going into the 3rd period. In the 3rd period Iowa would make things interesting as Jamie MacQueen tapped home a pass by Marc Hagel to cut the Rockford lead to one, 3-2. Unfortunately, that was as close as they’d get as the Ice Hogs were able to limit the Wild’s chances and they’d come up short. Martin had 22 saves in the loss.
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Adam Gilmour (Boston College, H-East) ~ Gilmour’s season came to an end in a roller coaster of a game in the NCAA Frozen Four as Union prevailed 5-4 on Thursday. The former Nobles’ star had an assist and a shot on goal in the loss. Gilmour had 7 goals and 20 points playing on BC’s 4th line for most of the season, not too shabby.
RW – Zack Mitchell (Guelph, OHL) ~ The Storm knocked off the powerful London Knights on Friday night in a 5-4 victory. The Wild prospect played a crucial role, tallying a goal and an assist in the series clinching win. The Caledon, Ontario-native has 5 goals, 15 points and a +10 in 10 playoff games this season.