Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone! Sibling rivalry is a very natural thing as brothers and sisters battle out for percieved favor from parents or those outside the family. No one wants to be known as the "other" sibling. "Other" of course is a euphemism for being disappointing or a lesser version of a more honored and distinguished sibling. Over the years there was the "other" Gretzky (Brent Gretzky), the "other" Pronger (Sean Pronger), and the "other" Primeau (Wayne Primeau) just to name a few. By the way, would Mikko Koivu be considered the "other" Koivu in comparison to his brother Saku Koivu? So are the Columbus Blue Jackets kind of the "other" expansion team? In terms of raw success so far, that would seem to be the case. The Wild have been to the playoffs more frequently, won more playoff games and series than their expansion sister. As any person who has been apart of a sibling rivalry can tell you, the "other" sibling has a chip on their shoulder. Columbus certainly has had that. From their fans to the organization, they are still trying to prove themselves. I think an attempt to gain credibility was a major reason Columbus brought in respected hockey man John Davidson to serve as the team's President and he in turn gave long-time St. Louis Blues' scout Jarmo Kekkalainen the reins as the team's General Manager in contrast to the bumbling ineffectiveness of Scott Howson. So far so good for the Blue Jackets who have enjoyed the weakness of the Metropolitan Division as they currently sit in 4th place behind the Philadelphia Flyers.
The last time the two clubs played, the Wild were in the midst of the deepest depths of their season, losing in pathetic fashion in Columbus. The Blue Jackets are playing very well right now, and Minnesota has been sputtering a bit after the trade deadline. The team is still trying to establish chemistry and finding out what works best with its new faces and it should make for a spirited game. Columbus knocked the Wild around the ice when they last met, will Minnesota answer back with a dominating effort at home or will the red-headed stepchild of the NHL have its day in St. Paul?
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1st Period Thoughts: The game had a good pace to begin with as both clubs were hustling well and taking their chances to shoot the puck. Plays were developing quickly and no shot was too good to pass up on as both clubs were taking chances on sharp angles, without the benefit of screens all hoping that they get two decent goaltenders to make a mistake. I thought the Wild were getting some quality shifts from its 3rd line of Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke and Charlie Coyle who were being assertive and physical which led to a few quality shooting chances as Coyle set up Brodziak for a quick shot that was dismissed by Sergei Bobrovsky. Minnesota started to generate the better scoring chances as the top line found some time and space and and a beauty of a pass by Mikael Granlund ended up on the stick of Jason Pominville who pushed a shot off the right post as Bobrovsky stretched to try to make a save. Moments after that 1st line had another great chance as Granlund patiently waited and then fired a heavy wrist shot that Bobrovsky absorbed to keep the game scoreless. Minnesota continued to swarm in the Columbus zone as the 2nd line of Matt Moulson, Mikko Koivu and Nino Niederreiter caused some havoc. Koivu would set up Matt Moulson on the doorstep that was stonewalled by the outstretched leg of Bobrovsky. The Blue Jackets tried to counter attack a bit as Mark Letestu, got in behind the Wild's defense for a break away that was dismissed rather calmly by Darcy Kuemper. A few minutes later as Brandon Dubinsky shot a puck wide that went off the net that went right back out front and hit Kuemper in the side and then dropped perilously into the blue paint that the Wild goalie was able to cover up before it would've had a chance to cross the goal line. Minnesota would answer back with some pressure from its 4th line as Dany Heatley wound up and blasted a slap shot that Bobrovsky stopped and Erik Haula tried to tap home the rebound but the big Russian was able to shut the door. It was a tremendous 1st period of play, 1 or 2 goals might win this game with the way both goaltenders are playing thus far. I love how Minnesota is keeping it simple and working the puck into the scoring areas insted of trying to set up the perfect shot. Minnesota outshot Columbus 12-11, but I think the Wild had more quality chances than the Blue Jackets. The Wild's lines were working hard and playing assertive hockey.
2nd Period Thoughts: The end-to-end play that typified the 1st period continued early into the 2nd. Shots were being taken from all over and goaltenders were catching pucks and giving up few rebounds. The top line of the Wild would get involved and Bobrovsky would come up with some huge saves for the Blue Jackets as Parise set up Granlund for a quick shot that was stopped and then moments later off the rush Pominville would thread a diagonal pass back to Parise for a one-timed shot that was fought off by the Columbus goalie. The Blue Jackets' top line of Dubinsky, Nathan Horton and Matt Calvert would get Minnesota pinned in its end with a great forechecking effort, but the Wild would break out and Nino Niederreiter would take a pass from Granlund and he'd do a litttle spin-a-rama as he swung a shot on goal that just skittered wide. Minnesota would get the first power play of the game as former Moncton Wildcat, David Savard would check Kyle Brodziak into the boards as he was trying to chase down a loose puck and he'd draw an interference penalty. The Wild would struggle during the first half of the power play as the Blue Jackets were able to win the initial draw and dump it deep. Columbus' penalty killers were very aggressive, denying time and space and shots were hard to come by as Jonas Brodin's bid was knocked down and covered up by Bobrovsky. Minnesota would fail to score on the power play but soon thereafter nearly cash in as a point shot by Clayton Stoner rang off the left post. I really was impressed by the Wild's puck handling and I felt this one of their better puck possession games of the season. The action continued to be back and forth with both clubs generating a shot or two and then the play would move to the other end of the ice. The period appeared to be destined to end with both times knotted at 0-0 but Columbus would strike late as Dalton Prout stepped into a slap shot with 21 seconds left that ramped up the back of Brodin's leg and by Kuemper to make it 1-0 Columbus going into the 2nd intermission. Minnesota tried to answer back in the closing seconds as Zach Parise fed a pass out front off the rush to Granlund but he didn't get much on it and Bobrovsky had little trouble making the stop. Prout's tally was a huge goal in a game where scoring was so hard to come by. The goal really deflated the crowd which was enjoying the end to end action to that point. Minnesota outshot Columbus 12-11 for a second time. Will Prout's goal be what wins this game?
3rd Period Thoughts: Shots were hard to come by at the beginning of the 3rd period but Minnesota was persistent and their patience would be rewarded. Parise would chase down a dump in and then float a pass back out front to Pominville for a quick shot that snuck by Bobrovsky to tie the game at 1-1. The game would then revert back to its end to end collection of tremendous scoring chances. One of the best of those came off a dump in by Brodziak that caromed off the boards right out into the slot to Charlie Coyle who was all alone and Bobrovsky would deny his backhanded bid. Columbus would try to answer back as Prout stepped into another slap shot that skittered just wide of the goal. The pace of play was tremendous and every rush up the ice carried its own sort of anxious momentum, and the goaltenders helped add to that with a few sojourns out of the net that nearly resulted in goals. The first was Kuemper who moved behind his goal to play the puck but his pass would go right to the stick of Letestu who gunned a shot just wide of the mark. Then Bobrovsky tried to clear a puck along the boards but it was intercepted by Pominville who hammered a shot on goal that was redirected by Parise forcing the Columbus goalie to make an impromptu save. Minnesota seemed to have a bit more jump in its skates in the closing minutes as action started to slowly tip into the Blue Jackets' end. The pressure was causing all sort of drama in the Columbus' zone as Zach Parise would fling a puck into the slot that struck the stick of Nathan Horton and the puck slid towards the goal but Bobrovsky was just able to reach back with the leg to keep it out. Yet to no real surprise the game would go to overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: Time and space were tougher to find with the ice more open in 4-on-4 play. Mikael Granlund would have the first real dangerous chance of overtime as he toe dragged around a defender and then ripped a shot that was steered aside by Bobrovsky. Minnesoa was controlling most of the play in overtime and Matt Moulson found a little space and he'd rip a shot that was stopped by Bobrovsky but he wasn't able to pull the trigger on the rebound before losing an edge and falling to the ice. Columbus wasn't able to create much in the way of offense in the extra stanza and the game would go to a shootout.
Shootout Summary: Minnesota would opt to shoot first and their first shooter was Zach Parise. Parise would move wide right and then back to the middle of the ice where he beat Bobrovsky with a wrist shot stick side, 1-0 Wild. Columbus' first shooter was former Boston College star Cam Atkinson, and he'd take a wide right and winding approach as he tried to stick a shot through 5-hole but he was stopped by Kuemper. Minnesota's next shooter was Mikko Koivu, and he'd move wide left and back to the right where he dusted off his forehand to backhand roof that beat Bobrovsky to make it 2-0 Wild. This put the game into the hands of Columbus' who moved fast down the middle of the ice where he made a pretty backhand to forehand deke, 2-1. Jason Pominville was the Wild's next shooter and he'd move right down the middle of the ice and he'd fire a shot just wide to the left. Columbus' next shooter was Mark Letestu, and he'd go way wide right and then move in from the left and Kuemper just couldn't push across fast enough as Letestu tied it up at 2-2. Minnesota's next shoooter was Matt Moulson and he tried a little shoulder fake where he tried to rip a shot stick side that was denied by Bobrovsky. This put the game into the hands of Ryan Johansen and he'd move in a slow way down where he dangled from forehand to backhand before sliding it by Kuemper. Kuemper immediately protested the goal and it would be reviewed. On the replay, Kuemper never touched the puck on his attempted poke check and it was ruled a good goal, which it was.
Kuemper played very well, making 28 saves in the loss. He made a number of great saves with traffic in front of him and did a great job at controling his rebounds all game long. The only goal that was scored on him in regulation was a deflection off a defenseman that would've beaten any goaltender. In the shootout, I am sure Kuemper would've wanted Letestu's goal back as his inability to push off kept Columbus in the game but its pretty tough to place any blame on him for the overall outcome of the game. Defensively, this was one of the Wild's best efforts of the season. I thought all of the Wild's defenseman had good poise with the puck and were making good tape-to-tape passes out of the zone instead of just chipping it off the boards and producing a bunch of pointless turnovers. I thought Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin were particularly good this evening.
Offensively, it might seem odd to praise the Wild in a game where they only had one goal but I was really pleased with the way this team attacked all game long. Minnesota had scoring chances from all of its lines tonight, and I really liked the simple approach the Wild had as they were taking their chances to shoot the puck and I did not feel the Wild were holding themselves back by trying to be too fancy. Bobrovsky was absolutely outstanding and the Wild had a number of high quality chances where he stopped Wild shooters. While some may criticize the team for not burying those opportunities, at this point after games where I felt the team was making it tougher on itself by being too picky on when it chose to shoot the puck is a step in the right direction. Granlund, Parise and Pominville keep producing and I think on most nights the Wild come away to win this one 4-1 with the chances they were able to create this evening.
This was a fantastic, exciting game to watch. Great action at both ends of the ice. The point keeps Minnesota moving forward and while the team had its chances to win the game its still earning points. It was good to see in the post-game interviews that players were not satisfied with only earning a point this evening and hopefully that will focus them for what will be a very important Eastern Conference road trip. If the team played like it did tonight I think it could be very successful. Besides, I am sure there are a few crusty Columbus fans that remember when the Wild won the game on a disputed goal where the puck got caught up in the breezers of Wes Walz and as he fell into the net the puck fell out and went over the goal line. After what was like a 5+ minute review it was ruled a goal. Columbus fans felt they got jobbed, so now we're even. I don't think we got robbed by the way, Kuemper never touched it although I do question whether Johansen's forward progress stopped though. Still, a great effort, it just didn't work out the way you wanted it to. It happens, its hockey afterall.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu, Matt Moulson, Nino Niederreiter, Kyle Brodziak, Charlie Coyle, Matt Cooke, Dany Heatley, Matt Cooke, Cody McCormick, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser. Ilya Bryzgalov backed up Darcy Kuemper. Niklas Backstrom, Keith Ballard, Mike Rupp and Justin Fontaine were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Wild TV were: 1st Star Sergei Bobrovsky, 2nd Star Zach Parise, 3rd Star Darcy Kuemper
~ Attendance was 19,042 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate the Golden Gopher Women's Hockey team on earning another trip to the NCAA Frozen Four tournament after defeating Boston University 5-1 today. Kelly Terry had a hat trick for the Golden Gophers.
Wild Prospect Report:
RW – Kurtis Gabriel (Owen Sound, OHL) ~ The rugged winger did all that he could to get his team back in the game, but in the end it wasn't enough as the Attack fell 4-2 to the powerful London Knights. Gabriel had a goal and an assist in the loss. Yet on the next night Gabriel put the Attack on his back to beat a super loaded Guelph squad 2-1 in the shootout where he buried a goal in regulation as well as the game-winner in the skills competition. The Newmarket, Ontario-native has 16 goals, 51 points and 99 PIM's where he's a +3 in 60 games played.
RW – Zack Mitchell (Guelph, OHL) ~ The Storm buried the Sarnia Sting 13-1 on Friday night. Mitchell did his part in the demolition of the sting, chipping in 2 assists. The Caledon, Ontario-native has 31 goals, 83 points and 40 PIM's along with being a +52 in 67 games played this season.
C – Brady Brassart (Calgary, WHL) ~ It was a crazy roller coaster of a game between the Hitmen and Kootenay as Calgary jumped out to a lead and then held on to earn a 5-4 shootout victory. The Vernon, British Columbia-native had a goal and an assist in the win. The 6'2" center has 36 goals, 87 points and 94 PIM's as he was +13 in 69 games played this season.
LW – Mario Lucia (Notre Dame, H-East) ~ The Fighting Irish pulled off a dramatic upset of Hockey East's top team in 7-2 win over Boston College. Lucia buried the game winning goal in the victory. The former Wayzata star has 16 goals, 30 points and 12 PIM's in 37 games played this season.
C – Adam Gilmour (Boston College, H-East) ~ Boston College has to be in a state of shock as they were thoroughly routed by Notre Dame 7-2. Gilmour had an assist in the loss. The former Nobles-Greenough star has 7 goals, 18 points and 10 PIM's in 36 games played this season.
D – Gustav Olofsson (Colorado College, NCHC) ~ Colorado College dropped game one with a respectable 4-2 loss to North Dakota. The lanky defenseman had an assist in the loss. The Gavle, Sweden-native has 4 goals, 8 points and 14 PIM's in 28 games played this season.
D – Mathew Dumba (Portland, WHL) ~ The Winterhawks continue pushing closer to making another run to the Memorial Cup with a solid 5-2 win Seattle Friday night. Dumba got the Winterhawks going with a goal as they rolled to a victory. The offensive defenseman is starting to heat up offensively as he has 7 goals, 19 points with 37 PIM's and is a +28 in 25 games this season.
D – John Draeger (Michigan State, Big 10) ~ The Spartans got out to an ugly start this afternoon, trailing Wisconsin 4-0 after the first period. Michigan State would regroup and make a game of it, falling 4-3. The former Shattuck-St. Mary's star had an assist in the loss. Draeger has no goals, 8 assists and 14 PIM's in 23 games this season.
G – Alexandre Belanger (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL) ~ Its been a bit of a rough patch for the Huskies as of late as the scoring that has been this team's engine for most of the season has dried up, but they solved those problems on Saturday night as they rolled to a 5-1 victory over Gatineau. Belanger had 35 saves in the game, giving him a 28-21 record, 3.21 goals against average and a .881% save percentage in 52 games played this season.