Maybe this ages me a bit but I remember my first and last Minnesota North Stars game. My first was back in 1982 in a game against the Los Angeles Kings and my last was ten years later when the North Stars played the Ottawa Senators. In both games the North Stars won, but with dramatically different rosters. Steve Payne, Neal Broten, Dino Ciccarelli and Bryan Bellows back in 1982; Mike Modano, Dave Gagner and Russ Courtnall in 1992. We all know what happened in 1993. The team moved and did its best to forget about its past. Fans like myself have not forgotten. Wild fans have not forgotten how good it felt back on 2000, when their new team stomped Minnesota's former team 6-0. I still relish every Dallas defeat, especially at the hands of the Wild. With the Wild and Stars now in the same division, they are fighting for a spot in the playoffs and its very likely they'll be the ones battling for that last spot. Niether wants to be the one without a spot when the music stops.
I guess its only appropriate that Dallas comes to town on Hockey Day Minnesota, as the State of Hockey celebrates its hockey heritage. The Wild had a rude awakening the last time the Stars came to town, and I'm sure Wild fans would like to see more misery inflicted upon Dallas. Can the Wild cap off Hockey Day Minnesota with a victory or will the Stars sour the good feelings on a day of celevration? Oh, and one more thing, Norm Green sucks!
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1st Period Thoughts: Yikes. This was an ugly period for the Wild. Minnesota wasn't at its worst, but it was far from its best and I'm not talking about the injuries to its roster either. The team just lacked jump, the sense of urgency and was playing a little lethargic which led to turnovers and time spent scrambling around its own zone. The team wasn't sharp with its passes and usually when that happens along with something less than a best effort that usually results in the Wild finding itself in a hole early. Fortunately for the Wild, one player who was still sharp was Darcy Kuemper. Kuemper was looking poised and efficient in the crease and I think this gave some people the illusion that the Wild were better off than they actually were. The Stars were working their forecheck and keeping the Wild bottled up in their own end on a bunch of different shifts. The other reason Wild fans may have had that illusion that they were playing better than they were was on the scoreboard as the 4th line; the only line that I felt showed hustle all game long managed to give Minnesota a lead. It all started with one individuals' effort, that being Erik Haula. Haula saw that he had Erik Cole manning the point and as he swept up the puck along the boards he opted for a simple chip off the wall and then turned on the jets to fly right past the former Carolina Hurricanes' stud to race in on Kari Lehtonen all alone before ripping a wrist shot underneath his stick side arm to make it 1-0 Minnesota. It was a pretty finish by a player who had been the Golden Gophers' leading scorer the last two seasons. That's right fans, the Golden Gophers' leading scorer the last two seasons is playing on the Wild's 4th line and now he just netted his first NHL goal. You could say his goal was almost Jason Zucker-like in its execution and style. A simple play to gain some space, turn on the jets, and rip a shot by the goalie. However, the goal did not spark any real increased effort in his teammates and as the Stars attacked even more vigorously to respond to Haula's goal, Kuemper was forced to come up with some big saves to keep Minnesota's lead intact going into the 1st intermission. The Wild were outshot 9-3 in the period.
2nd Period Thoughts: In the 2nd period it wouldn't get much better. The Stars continued to outhustle, outwork and most definitely outmuscle the Wild in most facets of the game. Dallas just seemed to have that half to full step edge on the Wild in all the races to the loose pucks. That meant more possession and it meant the Wild were spending lots of time in its own end trying to poke check pucks away from the Stars' forwards who appeared to have the strength on their skates to go just about anywhere they wanted to. The Stars persistence would be rewarded about midway through the period when Erik Cole drove to the net where he got off a backhand that drew a big rebound from Kuemper which was pounced on and drove home by Ryan Garbutt. Garbutt was a thorn in the Wild's side all game long. He caused the Wild all kinds of problems on the forecheck and Minnesota just couldn't seem to muscle him off the puck no matter how hard it tried. Yet, the team still found a way to answer Garbutt's goal. A few minutes later the Wild would go on a rare excursion into the Dallas' zone where Torrey Mitchell passed it back to Ryan Suter who got off a heavy wrist shot that deflected off the stick of the Stars' Jordie Benn and by Lehtonen to make it 2-1. The Stars would go back on the attack and Minnesota seemed unable to really match the physical intensity Dallas could bring. One player that did his best to equalize things in the physical department was Stephane Veilleux. The fiesty Wild forward was flying all over the ice, dishing out big hits all over the place and it you could see it was really starting to get under the Stars' skin. The Wild would agian have to feel pretty lucky to be holding a one-goal lead despite again being out played and outchanced as they were outshot 11-8 in the period.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period started out kind of scary, as Jonas Brodin ended up taking a stick right to the mouth on Antoine Roussel's follow through of a shot on goal. Brodin was attended to by Wild Athletic Trainer Don Fuller who took the youngster to the locker room for repairs. Luckily for the Wild Brodin would return to action a few minutes later with a few noticeable lacerations to his face. The Wild were attacking a bit more, taking more chances to shoot the puck and even spending a few long shifts in the Dallas zone. However Dallas was still pressing for the equalizer and they'd finally get help as Clayton Stoner was given a holding penalty as he hauled down a charging Ryan Garbutt. On the power play a failed clearing attempt by Matt Cooke was intercepted and knocked down by Jamie Benn who passed it down to Tyler Seguin who tried to sneak a shot by Kuemper who moved out of his crease to challenge it but as he did so he lost the puck and a pinching Alex Goligoski was able to pass it over to a wide open Alex Chiasson who seemed to have a nearly open net to work with as he ripped it in to tie it up at 2-2. Both clubs would try to push for the go-ahead goal but they were also quick to retreat as they tried to at least set themselves up to come away with at least a point in the standings and the game would go to overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: Its funny how things work out. Because after the first minute of overtime, there is no way you think the Wild have any chance to win this game. The Stars seemed to again have more of a sense of urgency and they were taking full advantage of the officials unwillingness to call a penalty. Jamie Benn's blatent lunging elbow to the head of Matt Cooke should be an easy 2-3 game suspension but no penalty was ever called even though it it happened pretty close to center ice right within sight of all of the officials. Cooke, who moved his head out of the way just in time before being helicoptered by Benn's lunging elbow immediately tried to protest the call as Benn skated away with a smirk on his face and knowning full well what he had done. I really hope NHL Safety Department czar Brendan Shanahan does something about it despite having a pretty full workload with the Calgary / Vancouver early brawl to deal with too, Benn's attempt still warrants some kind of league discipline if you really want to curb such behavior. As the Stars continued to pressure the Wild were finally able to get the puck out of their zone and Charlie Coyle would work the puck deep into the corner where Nino Niederreiter wasn't able to control it and the puck seemed to be destined to leave the zone but Nate Prosser stepped up and dumped it back deep. The puck would be swept up by Coyle who worked it out front to Niederreiter who got off a good hard wrist shot that drew a big rebound from Lehtonen and Prosser moved in and snuck a shot through 5-hole to give Minnesota a 3-2 overtime victory and perhaps the storybook ending of the ages in regards to Hockey Day Minnesota history.
Darcy Kuemper really probably deserved the 1st star in this game, and mind you I'm from Elk River so while that may appear to be sacrilege to say such a thing on Hockey Day Minnesota when its hosted from the aforementioned community I still think Kuemper's effort is really what gave the Wild any chance to win this game at all. Kuemper made a number of terrific saves with a fair amount of traffic in and around his crease. His 33 stops out of 35 shots faced tells you all that you need to know. He was a huge pillar of strength for his team and while Kuemper was quick to credit his defenseman and forwards for helping him out by sweeping away loose pucks from time to time he was still making the initial stop and giving his team a chance to come away unscathed more often than not. While I think he may want that 2nd goal back; when he sort of got a little out of control and out of his crease which got him caught up in the wash of opposing forwards that made him unable to stop Alex Chiasson's shot, I still think he has to come away from this game with that much more confidence. I thought Minnesota got a reasonable game from Prosser, Suter and Brodin but I think as a whole the Wild struggled at times because of this group's inability to match the physicality of the Stars. Dallas was able to muscle their way to the crease more often than not and Minnesota needs to find a way to neutralize that either with quicker puck movement or they're going to have to work on being a little more tenacious in their battles for the biscuit.
Offensively, it was another night with new heros as I predicted in the game preview. This time it came from the blueline with Ryan Suter and Nate Prosser delivering big goals late in the game. It was great to see Erik Haula be rewarded with his first NHL goal on a great effort and I think at times we need to be reminded that he is a skilled player trying to play more of a checking role and isn't doing a pretty fair job. At the very least, Haula isn't a liability on the ice like some other players we've had on the 4th line from time to time. I thought the Wild got a decent effort from its 2nd line of Granlund, Pominville and Niederreiter. They were one of the few lines that seemed to be able to beat the Stars just with their finesse and while they did not score a goal this evening I felt they at least found ways to attack Dallas during most of their shifts. The other line that really impressed me was the line of Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine. Cooke was really flying all over the ice, dishing out hits and causing turnovers. Again, this line did not score any goals but they were doing the right things and causing Dallas some trouble. Stephane Veilleux was an absolute hitting machine tonight, he was really the only physical response the Wild had throughout most of the game. Say what you want about his lack of points, polish etc, but he knows his role and works his tail off each and every shift.
Sure, it was the storybook ending that even Fox Sports Net North couldn'tve scripted any better if it tried. The hometown kid, from the host Hockey Day city scores the game winning goal in an overtime game against Minnesota's former NHL club to finish off Hockey Day Minnesota 2014. I can see a Disney screenplay already, just kidding. Yet, what's lost amongst it is the fact the team continues to earn wins in games with a roster where you could argue its mostly made up of unproven youngsters, and glorified 3rd liners. In fact, this Wild roster perhaps minus Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville is really more akin to the early days of the franchise back when Darby Hendrickson was playing for the Wild instead of being an assistant coach. The Stars are not to be confused for a Goliath of the Western Conference but they still have most of their most important players playing while the Wild are making due with its prospect depth a hero by committee approach. The team did not have its best game. Defensively it gave up way too many shots and in the 1st period the Wild were outplayed in a big way but it found a way to counter punch, bury a few opportunities and put themselves in a position to win the game. It may not be the ideal formula for long-term success, but its the wave the team is riding right now. Minnesota will have to try to do so all over again in Dallas on Monday. The Stars will no doubt be that much more ornery after losing in OT to a team they're trying to catch in the standings. The Wild will have to be a lot better if they want to come away with 2 points the way they did this time.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Charlie Coyle, Dany Heatley, Jason Zucker, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Torrey Mitchell, Erik Haula, Stephane Veilleux, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Justin Fontaine, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner. Niklas Backstrom backed up Darcy Kuemper. Mike Rupp was the lone healthy scratch.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Wild.com were: 1st Star Nate Prosser, 2nd Star Darcy Kuemper, 3rd Star Erik Haula
~ Attendance was 19,192 at Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Recent Score: Iowa 6, Lake Erie 1
Iowa is probably celebrating Hockey Day Minnesota in its own way as part of the Minnesota Wild's greater family, but in the meantime the fans in Des Moines were given quite a treat on Friday night. The Wild vented some frustration as they rolled to a big victory. After a back and forth start, Iowa would strike shorthanded as Jake Dowell stole a pass and raced in and fired a shot by Sami Aittokallio to make it 1-0. Iowa would add another a few minutes later as team leader Carson McMillan ripped a wrist shot by the Monsters' goalie on the power play to make it 2-0. With Iowa feeling good, the Lake Erie Monsters would answer back quickly as Cam Reid found the twine behind Johan Gustafsson to make it 2-1 just a little over a minute after McMillan's goal. In the 2nd period, it was more up and down action but Iowa would capitalize on its chances to pull away in this game. Marc Hagel would take a pass from Dowell and he'd light the lamp behind Aittikallio to make it 3-1. Iowa would extend its lead to three on the power play when Warren Peters tapped home a nice pass by Hagel (a professional tryout player who has stepped in with all of the injuries to the big club as bodies have migrated to Minnnesota) who has really been getting his name onto the scoresheet the last few games. Lake Erie Head Coach Dean Chynoweth had seen enough after two periods and he swapped out Aittikallio for Calvin Pickard between the pipes but the results would be the same. Iowa would continue to bury the puck as Tyler Murovich buried his first goal as a member of the Wild just over 5 minutes in and at this point any illusion of a possible Monsters comeback was gone. Bloomington, Minnesota-native Brian Connelly would score his 2nd goal of the season on the Wild's 3rd power play goal of the game as they sealed a 6-1 lead. Gustafsson had 25 saves in the victory. The Wild play the Monsters again tonight.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Mathew Dumba (Portland, WHL) ~ The Wild opted to loan Dumba back to the WHL after he competed in the World Junior Championships. Dumba's rights were traded to Portland by the Red Deer Rebels who have built themselves a pretty loaded blueline of their own. Either way, Red Deer's loss is Portland's gain and the offensively gifted blueliner had a solid debut for the Winterhawks chipping in two assists and was a +1 in their 8-2 demolition of the Moose Jaw Warriors Friday night.
G – Alexandre Belanger (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL) ~ Belanger kept his winning ways rolling along as he stopped 28 shots to give the Huskies a 4-3 overtime victory over the Sherbrooke Phoenix. The Sherbrooke-native improves his record to 22-10, with a 3.21 goals against average and a .880% save percentage.
LW – Mario Lucia (Notre Dame, H-East) ~ It was a big night for the offensively gifted winger who is playing on the Fighting Irish's 3rd line along side Vince Hinostroza and Austin Wuthrich. Lucia had a goal and an assist and was a +2 in Notre Dame's 6-3 win over Lake Superior State Friday evening.
C – Adam Gilmour (Boston College, H-East) ~ The big center had a night to remember as he chipped in 2 goals and a helper in Boston College's big 6-4 win over its arch rival Boston University. Gilmour is still anchoring the Eagles' 4th line and was a +1 with 4 shots on goal.