Kuemper and the Wild shut down the Blackhawks in 2-1 home victory

Nino Niederreiter

Even when the Wild are healthy, you'd have to consider Minnesota an underdog against the Chicago Blackhawks.  With the current roster the Wild are using, you'd have to say Wild would be huge underdogs against the defending Stanley Cup Champions.  Minnesota has managed to keep pace with the West, but admittedly in games against opponents that are not exactly what you call elite.  No one is going to feel sorry for the Wild and its injury woes but there are signs some players are getting closer to being back.  The question is, can the team keep playing better than the sum of its parts until the wounded start to return to the lineup?  Is it time for MIke Yeo and the Wild to send a message the way John Tortorella and Bob Hartley did this weekend?  Nah, just kidding.  To be honest Minnesota would be perhaps an even bigger underdog if it choose to even try to send such a message.  

Marco Scandella

What message could the Wild send after its debacle in Dallas on Tuesday?  Perhaps a scribbled note placed on the bench that says "replace with NHL team" or maybe a they could go through warm ups with paper bags over their head.  Maybe that's a tad bit harsh but the team should feel "shame" over the way it played on Tuesday.  So will they rebound against the juggernaut Chicago Blackhawks or will they slink out of the arena in embarrassment once again?    

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Justin Fontaine

1st Period Thoughts:  Good energy for the Wild to start the game.  Minnesota was hustling well and hounding the Blackhawks all over the ice.  The Wild were not registering much in the way of shots, but they were not just sitting back and trying to defend their end of the ice as they had against Dallas on Tuesday.  Minnesota was not letting the Blackhawks have free reign through the neutral zone.  The Wild were forechecking and stepping up to jump on turnovers.  Time was flying off the clock as the game went nearly 6 full minutes before the first whistle.  Darcy Kuemper would make Wild fans' heart skip a beat as he left his crease to play the puck where it was nearly gathered up by the forecking Blackhawks but luckily he was Shortly after that the Wild would light the lamp as the line of Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville and Dany Heatley would combine for the first goal as they found a little space behind the Blackhawks defense where Heatley saucered a pass over to Mikael Granlund who drove in deep, drawing Antti Raanta to commit to him as he dropped the pass back to Pominville who ripped it home for his 20th goal of the season.  1-0 Wild.  Minnesota would continue to apply pressure as they'd swarm in the Chicago end, and they'd draw two different cross checking penalties to Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp giving the Wild a full 2-minute 5-on-3 power play.  A great opportunity indeed.  Unfortunately the Wild didn't take advantage of of it.  Lots of passing from the point to the halfwall, back out to the point, repeat.  Not fooled you say?  Neither were the Blackhawks penalty killers who didn't even have to get tired out from chasing us around the zone.  The Wild were only able to manage a few weak shots on goal and the Hawks would escape.  I thought at this point the Blackhawks would flip the Wild's pathetic 5-on-3 effort on its end with a quick goal but instead it was Minnesota who would light the lamp next.  Justin Fontaine would chip a pass up over a stick check by Michael Rozsival to Matt Cooke who got off a quick shot that snuck by Raanta to make it 2-0 Wild.  It was a huge goal after its failed power play.  The Wild were still buzzing from its lead, and Minnesota continued to threaten the Blackhawks who seemed to be mostly uninspired.  The Blackhawks would then start hauling down Wild forwards as Zach Parise was tackled and then moments after that Jason Zucker was tripped up both to no call.  Then as if on cue, the Wild would get tagged with a penalty as Matt Cooke was given a tripping penalty as he got caught up in the legs of Kris Versteeg.  The Wild were strong on the penalty kill as they forced Chicago to stay to the perimeter and then used good positioning to get some turnovers that led to a few easy clears of the zone.  As the period apparently expired, the officials felt time should still be on the clock.  So even though the Wild had departed for the locker room they called them back onto the ice for a faceoff in their own zone.  The Wild looked clearly annoyed as they went back to their bench and the ice.  Minnesota would win the draw and the period would end.  Minnesota out shot the Blackhawks 10-6 and should've had more than a 2-0 lead.  

2nd Period Thoughts:  The Wild had another solid effort in the 2nd period.  Minnesota was hustling well and not giving Chicago much in the way of time and space.  Chicago still had almost 30 seconds of power play time to start the 2nd period but Minnesota's penalty killers shut them down.  The Wild would demonstrate an ability to counter punch in the period as the Blackhawks tried to step up their physical play and Minnesota would chip and then track down the loose pucks where the created a number of quality scoring chances.  Minnesota's hustle drew a hooking penalty on Marian Hossa, and on the man advantage the Wild again were painfully uncreative on the power play.  Predictable puck movement and not enough movement from low to high yielded just a few long range shots that were easily dismissed by Raanta.  The Wild would come up empty on the power play, but Minnesota was playing well at both ends of the ice.  One player who I felt had a great period was Justin Fontaine who demonstrated great anticipation as he intercepted a few passes in the neutral zone and he'd take off into the Chicago end where he did not hesitate to fire the puck as he rang a shot off the side of the goal.  Minnesota was also collapsing well around Kuemper, blocking shots and then working the puck out of the zone and relieving pressure.  Yet they did have one real bad shift, as a Dany Heatley turnover turned into nearly a minute of time spent chasing around the Blackahawks in their own end.  Bryan Bickell would rip a shot off the mask of Kuemper and as the Wild cleared the zone for an icing the Wild would cause a bit of an uproar for the Chicago bench as Kuemper skated to the Wild side for some repairs.  Joel Quenneville, sporting his trademarked perma-scowl was ranting and raving that this was an inentional delay on the part of Kuemper.  Rick Bronwell and Matt Benz scrambled to the lockerroom to fetch Kuemper a new mask and what they gave him was Niklas Backstrom's mask.  For the next few minutes Kuemper played with Backstrom's mask and but he stayed solid.  Minnesota would earn a power play late as Brandon Bolig got his stick into the face of Jonas Brodin.  The man advantage did not start out well for the Wild as Jason Pominville, who was playing the point stumbled and fell giving Marian Hossa a near breakaway that was thwarted by some outstanding hustle by Ryan Suter so all Hossa was able to do was get off a very weak shot that was stopped by Kuemper.  Minnesota's power play would have great trouble entering the Chicago zone, not really because of any extreme amount of puck pressure, but rather because they overhandled the puck and were in general rather disorganized.  The Wild would carry its 2-0 lead into the 2nd intermission but you had to feel as though Minnesota missed out on some great opportunities to extend its lead.  

3rd Period Thoughts:  Darcy Kuemper had to make some big saves early in the period as the Wild regrouped against a real forceful push by the Blackhawks.  The Wild still had that same tenacious effort at both ends of the ice as they did their best to defend their lead with a passive 1-2-2 trap.  Minnesota was trapping well through the neutral zone,causing turnovers and then dumping it deep or skating it in to keep Chicago defending and forcing them to attack the full lenght of the ice.  The Wild were giving lots of quality minutes to its speedy 4th line of Jason Zucker, Erik Haula and Torrey Mitchell who gave the Blackhawks' fits.  The line was not only harassing Chicago through the neutral zone but they were quickly transitioning to offense and even creating some quality offensive pressure.  The 4th line would get some nice hustle from Jason Zucker which ultimately led to a Marco Scandella point shot that rang off the crossbar and out.  Chicago steadily ramped up the pressure, but Kuemper was calm and collected as he stonewalled Chacago again and again deonstrating great agility between the pipes.  Chacago would pull Raanta with about two minutes left in the game.  Minnesota had a few chances with the empty net that ended up just wide of the mark.  The Blackhawks kept pressing and they'd finally get a puck behind Kuemper as Kane took a back door pass for a wicked one timer that the big bodied goalie just couldn't quite get across on.  Chicago would take their timeout to discuss how they were going to get the equalizer, and you could feel the tension in the crowd in the final seconds.  But it wasn't meant to be for Chicago as the Wild shut the door and they'd skate away with a huge 2-1 victory.  

Darcy Kuemper had another excellent game, making 33 saves in the victory.  He deserved the shutout, but still came up with some big saves to keep Chicago's emotions tempered throughout most of the game.  Kuemper is playing loose and with confidence and right now he's a huge x-factor in the Wild's recent spate of success (knock on wood).  I liked the way Nate Prosser, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella played tonight.  They were physical when they had to be and they made nice little plays to move the puck up the ice to the Wild's forwards and prevent Chicago from simply keeping Minnesota bottled up in its own end of the ice.  

Offensively the Wild had some timely scores, but the Wild had lots of missed opportunities too.  The failed 5-on-3 and some of the other power plays failed to generate much of anything.  The puck movement is way too predictable and there is very little movement from players without the puck that more or less keeps the opposing penalty kill into a tight triangle giving the Wild's point man Ryan Suter no shooting lane to utilize.  Keep in mind, the Blackhawks have the 2nd WORST penalty kill in the NHL and Minnesota is very fortunate those missed opportunities didn't come back to haunt them.  Zach Parise certainly was rusty tonight, missing the net a few times but I liked his speed and general quickness which gave the Wild two fairly dangerous lines.  The Wild was able to provide offensive pressure from all of its lines, and that helped the team keep the pressure on regardless of who was out on the ice.  

This was a huge win for the Wild who have won 3 out of 4 games against Chicago which is no small feat.  The Blackhawks have just 16 losses in regulation since the lockout, so the Wild should pat themselves on the back for adding to that total.  The Wild are going into a very tough road trip, but earning two points against the Central's best team certainly helps buoy the confidence a bit.  Let's hope they can build on it!  Oh, and I have to admit a Wild win tonight was a pretty sweet birthday gift!  

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster tonight is as follows: Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Dany Heatley, Nino Niederreiter, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Justin Fontaine, Torrey Mitchell, Erik Haula, Jason Zucker, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner.  Niklas Backstrom backed up Darcy Kuemper.  Stephane Veilleux and Mike Rupp were the healthy scratches.  

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Wild Radio were: 1st Star Darcy Kuemper, 2nd Star Matt Cooke, 3rd Star Mikael Granlund

~ Attendence was 19,226 at the Xcel Energy Center.

Iowa Wild Report:

Recent Score: Iowa 3, Texas 4 SO

It was a crazy night between the upstart Wild and one of the best teams in the AHL, the Texas Stars.  Iowa got out to an early lead thanks to a power play goal as Brian Connelly floated a shot that hit a Stars' defenseman and by Cristopher Nilstorp to make it 1-0.  The Stars then controlled much of the rest of the period but Johan Gustafsson was rock solid making 13 saves to allow the Wild to hold onto its 1-goal lead.  In the 2nd period, it was much the same with the Stars spending most of the period in the Iowa zone but Gustafsson was solid stopping 13 more shots in the 2nd.  Texas would finally get a puck by Gustafsson just 46 seconds into the 3rd on the power play (off a foolish frustration penalty by Tyler Cuma) as Curtis McKenzie jammed a shot through even though the net seemed to be off its moorings.  The goal was reviewed and ruled a good goal.  Soon after this goal some chippiness began to show itself as Cristopher Nilstorp sort of got inadvertently tripped by Warren Peters.  Nilstorp was writhing in pain and had to be helped off the ice so the Stars put Josh Robinson between the pipes.  The Wild would then re-take the lead a few minutes later as Raphael Bussieres motored around a defender and beat Robinson on a wicked shot to make it 2-1.  Soon after Bussieres' goal, Kyle Medvec would take a lazy hooking penalty to put the AHL's best power play back on the ice and the Stars took full advantage of their opportunity.  Chris Mueller would take a pretty backdoor feed and rifle a one-timer by Gustafsson to make it 2-2.  With the game tied at 2-2, both clubs were pushing hard for the go-ahead goal.  Texas would strike with just over a minute left in the game as Colton Scevior blistered a slap shot by Gustafsson to make it 3-2.  The Wild are toast right?  Nope.  Iowa would catch the Stars in a bit of a line change and Steven Kampfer would race into the Texas zone where he directed a shot towards the crease that was redirected perfectly by Zack Phillips with just 30 seconds left and the game would go to overtime.  Overtime was both exciting, with both clubs trading offensive chances but also inconclusive so the game went to a shootout.  Carson McMillan scored early in the shootout to give the Wild an edge, but no one else would score while the Stars got goals from Colton Scevior and Chris Mueller to seal a 4-3 victory.  The loss stings a bit more when you consider it squandered a pretty good start by Johan Gustafsson who had 41 saves in the loss.  Iowa's next game is Friday against San Antonio.       

WIld Prospect Report:

C – Adam Gilmour (Boston College, H-East) ~ Gilmour has been a hot hand lately for the Eagles.  He buried the game winner in Tuesday night's 4-1 victory over Merrimack.  The freshman has 5 goals, 13 points and 6 PIM's in 24 games played this season while anchoring BC's 4th line.

D – Daniel Gunnarsson (Lulea, SHL) ~ The lanky defenseman is a little off his pace from a season ago where he had 6 goals and 17 points in 53 games.  Right now, 41 games into the season Gunnarsson has 2 goals, 12 points and 10 PIM's.

Minnesota High School Hockey Report:  These are the rankings as of Jan. 19th by FollowthePuck.com.  

Class A (Boys):

1. Hermantown

2. East Grand Forks

3. Warroad

4. Breck

5. New Prague

6. Mankato West

7. Orono

8. Duluth Marshall

9. Mahtomedi

10. Totino-Grace

11. St. Cloud Cathedral

12. Alexandria 

13. Thief River Falls

14. Luverne

15. St. Paul Academy

Class AA (Boys):

1. Hill-Murray

2. Lakeville North

3. Wayzata

4. Burnsville

5. Edina

6. Elk River / Zimmerman

7. Blaine

8. Duluth East

9. Holy Family Catholic

10. Eden Prairie

11. Benilde-St. Margaret's

12. St. Thomas Academy

13. Eastview

14. Grand Rapids

15. Cretin-Durham Hall 

Jack Jablonski & Jenna Privette

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 time 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!

Backstrom and timely scoring help Wild pull off huge 5-3 win over Chicago

Zach Parise

The old sports saying goes, "If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best."  This will be the Wild's challenge in its next two games against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, the team that knocked them out of the 1st round of the playoffs.  The Blackhawks are again playing pretty good hockey right now even if statistically they may not be at the top of all the important cateogories as they seemed to be a season ago.  Chicago perhaps is feeling a little pressure from Central division upstart Colorado and their red-hot start to the season that has them sitting in 1st place while Chicago sits in 2nd.  The Wild are doing what they can to scratch and claw their way to the top, but Chicago is in its way.  In many ways this two-game home at home series will likely be a tone setter for Wild fans who have had high hopes on the 2013-14 edition of the team.  If the team gets crushed, they may have to re-adjust their expectations.  Holding their own or even (gasp) defeating the Blackhawks may cause the league to take more notice of the Wild.  

Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise & Ryan Suter

The Blackhawks still have a plethora of weapons and oodles of big-game experience to draw from.  The Wild are a team still carving out an identity for itself but at times this season has played very well.  They'll need perhaps their best performance of the season if they expect to walk away with 2 points this evening.  Tonight marks the first time the Wild faces Chicago as a division foe and many are hoping it creates the same sort of intensity as it had back when the Blackhawks were the arch-rival of the Minnesota North Stars.  Blackhawks fans may not be burning "Dino, the Dinosaur" this time around but I would fully expect some chippiness out there.  Can the Wild dig deep and earn a victory in the Windy City?  

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Jared Spurgeon & Ryan Suter

1st Period Thoughts:  Minnesota started off a bit flat, as Niklas Backstrom had to bail out the team early with a save on a shot by Patrick Sharp.  An early penalty kill effort actually helped ignite the Wild's legs and sort of take over the game.  An early hooking penalty on Mikael Granlund, gave Chicago the first man advantage of the game.  Minnesota's penalty killers did an outstanding job at moving their feet, denying the Blackhawks on time and space the Wild kept Chicago from registering a single shot on goal.  The big kill gave the Wild some momentum and suddenly the team was flying all over the ice.  Minnesota would earn a power play of their own as Marian Hossa was given an interference penalty and the Wild would strike on the man advantage.  Just 5 seconds into the power play swept up the puck and he'd fire a wrist shot that sort of got caught in the traffic in front of Corey Crawford and then Zach Parise turned and directed it on goal that found the back of the net to give the Wild a 1-0 lead.  Chicago seemed a bit stunned by the Wild's quick strike, and they'd try to answer back but Patrick Sharp was stonewalled by an amazing glove save by Backstrom.   Minnesota scrambled a bit, but after Backstrom's big stop the Wild closed down the offensive zone very effectively and then counter attacked.  The Wild's puck possession style would go to work at establishing offensive pressure and Minnesota began to funnel the puck on goal.  I thought Wild had a great 1st period where they did not allow Chicago to create much in the way of momentum to get the sellout crowd going.   

2nd Period Thoughts:  The 2nd period was a complete roller coaster of emotions and momentum.  The Wild would strike early in the 2nd period as some hustle by Matt Cooke turned into a pass out to the point that Marco Scandella stepped into on a low lying slap shot that was deflected perfeclty by a roving Kyle Brodziak that beat Crawford to make it 2-0 Wild.  The goal seemed to infuriate the Blackhawks and they would tilt the ice in the Wild zone.  Minnesota was scrambling all over its end and Niklas Backstrom was doing his best Denis Lemieux impression as he moved from post to post while Wild defenseman tried to drop in front of him to deny passes and shots on goal.  The Blackhawks had numerous prime chances but Wild goal looked as though it was protected by a force field as pucks just stayed out of the net.  A great example was a  prime opportunity for Patrick Sharp that was just paddled away by a diving Backstrom.  Chicago's persistance finally appeared to pay off as a shot was deflected up into the air by Clayton Stoner where it was knocked down by he stick of Andrew Shaw as Stoner fell back into the crease where the puck hit the post and then rested near the goal line before the bodies crashed the blue paint.  The official waited patiently as the puck emerged from underneath the Wild defenseman and they called it a 'good goal on the ice'.  The play would be reviewed and after a lengthy viewing it was ulitimately determined not to be a goal because Shaw clearly played the puck with a high stick that was above the cross bar and since Clayton Stoner did not play the puck it could not cross the line and be a good goal.  So much to the ire of the home crowd it was ruled a 'no goal' and Minnesota caught a bit of a break although the call that was made was correct.  You could sense Chicago was a bit irritated at this call, so they renewed their assault on the Wild end with that much more vigor as they kept swarming in search of a goal.  They would get that just a few minutes after the the 'no goal' call as Bryan Bickell moved through the slot where Niklas Backstrom briefly left the right post giving Bickell a chance to find the twine, 2-1.  Minnesota tried to counter punch again and they would score a crucial late-period goal as Ryan Suter made a pretty diagonal pass to Mikael Granlund who dished it into the slot where Jason Pominville unleashed a laser of a shot by Crawford to extend the Wild's lead back to two, 3-1.  A frustrated Chicago team would then take two foolish penalties late in the 2nd period.  The first on a tripping call by Marian Hossa as he got his stick into the skates of Dany Heatley.  Then just moments into the Wild power play, Marcus Kruger got into it with Mathew Dumba after a high stick whistle where he gave the youngster a fashwash at center ice and giving Minnesota a long 5-on-3 power play.  The Wild would inexplicably put the slow and plodding Dany Heatley on the power play.  Minnesota's 5-on-3 strategy was maddeningly predictable as Suter and Pominville worked the points and all the Wild could do was try to blast slap shots through but missed wide when the shots were not blocked outright.  The Wild had to feel fortunate that they were leading by two after a period where they spent a lot of time in their own end of the ice.  Sometimes its better to be lucky than good.  

3rd Period Thoughts:  The Wild still had some power play time to start the 3rd period, but Minnesota was unable to capitalize on its chances.  The Blackhawks would go back on the attack and Minnesota would play a little rope a dope around Niklas Backstrom who came up with clutch save after clutch save.  One Chicago player who probably felt cursed tonight was Patrick Sharp, who has had a slow start to the season was denied on multiple prime chances by brilliant stops by the Wild goalie.  The Wild seemed to enjoy flirting with disaster as they continued to take penalties that would give a very hungry Blackhawks teams opportunities on the man advantage.  This time it was Zenon Konopka earning 2 minutes for tripping up Andrew Shaw.  However on the penalty kill, the Wild's penalty killers were tremendous by making savvy plays to knock passes down and clearing the zone consistently.  Soon after killing off the penalty a poor decision by former Wild 1st rounder Nick Leddy to attempt a diagonal pass from deep in his zone was intercepted by Mikael Granlund who made a small pass to Jason Pominville who lifted a puck up and over Crawford to make it 4-1.  The goal stymied any momentum the Blackhawks had going for them.  Chicago would try to renew their assault and they'd cut the Wild lead to two, when Marco Scandella would get a minor for slashing.  On the power play Chicago was finally able to free up Patrick Kane for a quick shot about 20 feet in front of the blue paint and he beat Backstrom to make it 4-2.  Blackhawks back in the game right?  The Wild would try to withstand another Chicago siege, but Backstrom again delivered a huge save as he stonewalled Sharp once again on a point-blank range chance.  Minnesota would deliver the true dagger just past the 5-minute mark as Michael Roszival was unable to clear the zone as Mikko Koivu pushed the puck deep as he gathered it up near the goal line and he moved in and passed it towards the crease where Justin Fontaine fired it by Crawford to make it 5-2.  This goal sent the sellout crowd for the exits and while Chicago's Marcus Kruger would bury a late goal to make it 5-3 as Minnesota rolled to a huge road victory.  

Niklas Backstrom was tremendous (as well as lucky) as he stopped 33 shots in the victory.  Backstrom certainly did have some fortunate blocks and bounces of the puck, but he also came up with some truly outstanding saves to frustrate Chicago and preserve Minnesota's lead.  Defensively, I felt Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon both had outstanding games.  Both defenseman did a fantastic job at blocking shots and denying passes and they made a number of great defensive plays to strip Chicago forwards of the puck and carry the puck quickly out of danger.  Minnesota's penalty kill was a source of strength tonight even if the Wild did give up a power play goal.  Sometimes its not about killing every penalty as it is killing penalties at the right time to deprive Chicago of momentum and making its big and normally noisy crowd a factor.  

Offensively the Wild had a game where they were able to answer back consistently to keep Chicago at a distance.  Everytime Chicago would find the back of the net the Wild were capitalizing on its opportunities made from the Blackhawks' mistakes.  Just as I said before about the penalty kill, it was the timing of Minnesota's goals that sapped Chicago of momentum and further served to demoralize and frustrate the Blackhawks who were spending lots of time in the Wild zone but coming up empty.  Jason Pominville was probably the happiest Wild player on the ice as he seemed to get his killer touch back.  Helping him get that touch were some sublime setups by Mikael Granlund who had a terrific game.  The Wild's 2nd line helped carry the mail tonight and Minnesota also got a goal from its 3rd line too giving the team the secondary scoring which has been missing in action in too many games this season.  

I started this article with a sports cliche so I'll end with another.  Sometimes its better to be lucky than good.  Yet in sports, doing the right things sometimes create the luck that seems to take place.  Minnesota did have its share of fortunate happenings in its own zone, but to its credit it took advantage of its opportunities and earned a huge 2 points in Chicago which is no small feat.  In fact, that was the first time Chicago had lost in regulation in 15 games.  Minnesota now has to re-focus and try to do it all over again when Chicago comes to St. Paul on Monday.  The Wild should expect Chicago to be determined and its the Wild have a chance to prove Saturday's win wasn't a fluke.  

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster tonight was as follows:  Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Justin Fontane, Dany Heatley, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Jason Pominville, Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell, Stephane Veilleux, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, Mathew Dumba and Clayton Stoner.  Johan Gustafsson backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Jonas Brodin (broken cheekbone), Charlie Coyle (knee), Mike Rupp (knee) and Keith Ballard (concussion) were out with injuries.  

~ The 3 Stars of the Game by Tim Sassone were: 1st Star Jason Pominville, 2nd Star Niklas Backstrom, 3rd Star Ryan Suter

~ Attendance was 21,521 at United Center.

Minnesota Golden Gophers Report:

All they do is win games, which is the best way to describe the machine that is the Golden Gopher women's hockey team after a hard-fought series sweep over Bemidji State this weekend.  In Friday's tilt, Megan Lorence scored twice while Rachel Ramsey and Kate Schipper added a goal apiece to give Minnesota a 4-0 victory.  Saturday's victory was a bit of a nailbiter as they rallied late in the 3rd period to earn a 4-3 victory on the strength of two goals from Hannah Brandt.  Amanda Leveille had 18 saves in the win.  The #1 ranked Golden Gopher women are a perfect 8-0 this season and this win makes for their 57th consecutive victory.  

Wild Prospect Report:

D – Carson Soucy (Minnesota-Duluth, NCHC) – The freshman found his way onto the scoreboard on Friday night in the Bulldogs' 3-2 loss to Notre Dame in a non-conference game.  Soucy chipped in with an assist, his 2nd of the 2013-14 season.  Currently, Soucy is playing left defense on the Bulldogs' 2nd pairing along with Andy Welinski.  

LW – Mario Lucia (Notre Dame, H-East) – The lanky left winger lit the lamp again in the Fighting Irish's 3-2 victory over UMD on Friday night.  Lucia scored his 2nd goal of the season to go along with 4 shots on goal and finishing the night with an 'even' rating.  Currently, the Wayzata-native is playing on Notre Dame's 2nd line centered by T.J. Tynan and right winger Austin Wuthrich.  

RW – Kurtis Gabriel (Owen Sound, OHL) – To say Kurtis Gabriel was involved on Friday is a huge understatement as the budding power forward had a monster of a game.  Gabriel helped the Attack earn a 6-4 win over the Plymouth Whalers, chipping in a goal and 2 assists and earning the Gordie Howe hat trick with not one, but two fights to his credit giving him 14 penalty minutes for the evening.  The 6'4", 218lbs winger has 4 goals, 12 points and 18 PIM's in 10 games this season.  

G – Alexandre Belanger (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL) – The athletic goaltender is really starting to find his groove for the Huskies this season as he made 35 saves on Friday night in Rouyn-Noranda's 4-2 win over a potent Val 'd Or squad.  Belanger has a 6-2 record, and 3.63GAA and an. 869%SP all the while facing an average of around 27 shots per game.  

Jack Jablonski & Jenna Privette

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 time 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!

Cullen, Wild hand Chicago its first loss with 3-2 shootout victory


Kyle Brodziak

Some players describe it as pins and needles, or the sensation of electricity running through the body when they think about that moment when they are totally amped.  It can sometimes feel as though time slows down, or how you become sensitive to the smallest things.  Your body becomes so charged that you feel like you could run through a wall and not even feel it.  I have a feeling that is what Minnesota North Stars players felt each game played against the Chicago Blackhawks during the height of that incredible rivalry.  I know the fans in the stands certainly felt that way, and skirmishes between fans of both clubs was common.   Just to give you a taste of the rivalry, here is video of an old North Stars game that has Basil McRae ultimately dropping the gloves against Chicago's Mike Peluso as commentated by Doug McLeod and Tom Reid

http://youtube.com/watch?v=_Qa6dRbxxO0

For fans like myself, who remember those halcyon days where Chicago fans burned Dino the Dinosaurs in effigy many of us were hoping to see that rivalry rekindled with NHL realignment this season, only to have it thwarted as a cheap negotiation tactic by Donald Fehr and the NHLPA.  NHL realignment is going to happen soon, so will we see the rivalry crank back up to the way it was in the 1980's?  The season is still early but the Blackhawks are again atop the league standings and the Wild are trying to build themselves into a contender, is this the perfect storm that will feed a rivalry for years to come?  Will we see some of that added intensity tonight? 

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Dany Heatley and Brandon Bollig  Dany Heatley & Brandon Bollig

1st Period Thoughts:  Both teams started the game with their top lines, but nothing came of it as the game had a cautious beginning.  The Wild would strike early, as Mikael Granlund won the faceoff in the Blackhawks' zone and the Finn would take a quick shot that struck the shoulder of Corey Crawford and Devin Setoguchi got a quick shot off the rebound that was also denied by Crawford but Matt Cullen was there to jam home the 2nd rebound to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead.  The Blackhawks tried to answer back with their 3rd line as they worked the puck down low, but Minnesota's defense would drop down near Josh Harding and the WIld were able to alleviate pressure.  Minnesota would respond with its top line and Dany Heatley found a little space for a close-range chance that was stopped by Crawford.  Chicago would seem to answer back as Patrick Sharp ripped a shot that deflected off the stick of Pierre-Marc Bouchard and struck the crossbar.  However the Blackhawks would not wait around for it to be reviewed and their energy line would tie the game as a failed clearing attempt by Granlund was knocked down and pushed deep to Bryan Bickell who took the puck right to the net that Harding stopped but he was unable to stop Andrew Shaw's rebound chance and now it was 1-1.  The Blackhawks would add to that a minute later as Jonathan Toews motored up the ice as he rifled a hard snap shot that beat Harding cleanly and without the benefit of a screen.  Not a great goal and Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was not going to hesitate and he pulled Josh Harding in favor of Niklas Backstrom.  Harding had to wait for Backstrom to get his glove and you could see the anxiety and anger building on his face and as the Regina-native walked down to the Wild locker room he slammed his stick against the wall in a fit of rage.  The Wild seemed to be a little stunned by the early move and te Blackhawks continued to carry the play as Shaw set up a quick shot off the rush as Bickell pushed a shot just wide.  The game would slow down a bit through the middle part of the period, but Minnesota had the next great scoring chance as soft shot by Ryan Suter was deflected to the stick of Koivu who let loose a quick shot that was stoppped by the leg pad of Crawford.  Minnesota's top line would have another great chane on a nice little saucer pass by Koivu to Parise who turned on the jets to fly by Brent Seabrook but he couldn't quite direct his backhander on goal before he slid into the goal.  The home crowd boo'd the officials as they felt Parise was tripped, but I didn't see it.  A few minutes later, Zenon Konopka would try to goad Brandon Bollig into a fight but as he went out of his way to deliver a body check the officials felt he held up the Blackhawks tough guy from reaching the puck so instead it was an interference call instead of a fight.  A stupid penalty.  Minnesota's penalty kill was solid, and even created some momentum shorthanded as Cal Clutterbuck intercepted a pass near Chicago's blueline and he got off a quick shot on goal that kept the Blackhawks in their own zone.  The Blackhawks would help kill of the power play as Backstrom was taken down inadvertently by Viktor Stalberg.  As the Wild started their power play Mikael Granlund would skate in deep and he was cross checked into the dasher by Michal Frolik for a boarding call to give Minnesota a two-man advantage.  Bouchard would set up the first chance as he moved towards the goal before sliding a sneaky backhand pass to Heatley who hammered a shot wide.  Minnesota's puck movement was quick as the Wild had a few terrific scoring chances as Bouchard was set up on the back door off a great pass by Koivu but was foiled by a diving stop by Crawford.  The Wild kept working the play setting up Heatley right in front of the crease but Crawford was again up to the task.  Minnesota would come up empty on the power play but they continued to work for the equalizer as Heatley made a pretty saucer pass to Granlund who directed it on goal but Crawford was able to hold on, allowing Chicago to hold a 2-1 lead going into the 1st intermission.  Not bad effor by the Wild, but they need to get a right handed shot on their power play.  It was good to see Matt Cullen to finally bury one, just for his own sanity let alone Wild fans who have been almost as frustrated by his inability to finish.  Still, the missed opportunity on the 5-on-3 could come back to haunt the Wild who seem to be very much in the game momentum-wise.  

2nd Period Thoughts:  The Wild would carry their momentum from the 1st period right into the 2nd as they'd waste little time tying the game.  A point shot by Tom Gilbert was deflected perfectly by Cal Clutterbuck that eluded Crawford to make it 2-2.  The goal just simply added that much more fire for the Wild who were really flying all over the ice.  The Wild were winning the races for the loose pucks and the scoring chances started to pile up as Kyle Brodziak outmuscled a Blackhawks player for the puck and he set up Bouchard for a quick shot that was fought off by Crawford.  Moments after that Granlund would dish a pass back to Justin Falk who stepped into a slapper that missed just wide of the Chicago goal.  The Blackhawks tried to claw back by trying to create speed through the neutral zone but Minnesota's defense did a fine job of shutting them down.  A great example was Patrick Sharp who tried to move around Jonas Brodin who used his stick perfectly to prevent the Chicago sniper from letting loose a shot.  Chicago was able to create a few shots from the perimiter but Backstrom was composed in the crease and able to come up with the big saves.  The Blackhawks best line was the Bickell, Shaw and Stalberg line that seemed to cause the Wild trouble on the forecheck and they came the closest to finding the back of the net in the period.  Minnesota would earn another power play as the 4th line provided quality minutes and it was Torrey Mitchell who was held up by Marcus Kruger.  The Wild did not do anything with the power play and seemed to be satisfied by just not having to worry about Chicago mounting much of an attack and that drew the boo's from the sellout crowd.  A nice period for the Wild who really sort of set the tone in the period early with good hustle.  However, the weak effort on the power play was disturbing and seemed to smack of a team playing not to lose rather than playing to win.  Now the 3rd line has a goal, another good sign for the Wild and Clutterbuck as well.  The Wild were outshooting Chicago 19-15 at this point in the game.  Right now its anyone's game, it will just come down to who wants it more.  

3rd Period Thoughts:  The Blackhawks looked determined to start the period as David Bolland took a sharp angle shot that was gloved by Backtrom.  Chicago was dictating the pace of play, moving the puck deep and trying to work their forecheck and then find a defenseman sneaking down towards the slot but good active sticks kept that play from connecting.  Tempers would flare a bit as Konopka would get into a war of words with Bolland.  A few minutes later Clayton Stoner would earn an interference penalty as he stepped in front of rookie Brandon Saad from chasing down his own dump in.  On the power play the Blackhawks had lots of possession time but Minnesota's penalty killers did a nice job of keeping their sticks active and moving their feet well to get bodies and sticks in Chicago's potential shooting lanes.  Ryan Suter was particularly good at poking pucks keeping pucks from reaching Backstrom and the Wild were able to get the big kill.  Both clubs top lines would make their presence be known with a pair of quality scoring chances.  The first was for Chicago who worked the puck down low and it was Patrick Kane setting up Duncan Keith for a blast from the high slot that was gloved by Backstrom.  Minnesota's top line answered back with a good chance of their own that all started on a shot block by Stoner and the puck was swept up by Parise who skated into the Chicago zone before dropping a pass back to Koivu who tried to saucer a pass back to Parise who chipped it wide but he'd gather up the puck again and pass it back to Gilbert who fired a hard shot that was blocked away by Niklas Hjalmarsson.  Chicago would go back on the attack with its 3rd line as Kruger tried to wrap a puck near the left post but Backstrom was there to shut the door before Kruger finally shot a puck that skittered through the crease and was escorted out of the zone by Mitchell.  The Blackhawks continued to pour it on offensively as Toews set up Sharp for a shot from the high slot that missed by inches.  Minnesota would counter attack with its 2nd line and after some good hustle by Cullen, Setoguchi and Granlund it would culminate in a heavy shot from the point by Gilbert that was redirected by Setoguchi that Crawford just managed to kick away at the last moment.  The Wild seemed to be finding their legs towards the latter half of the period as Pierre-Marc Bouchard gave a little pass to Koivu who dangled around  Sharp who hauled down the Wild's captain as he moved to the slot for a potential shot giving Minnesota a crucial late-game power play.  With just over two minutes to play this was a great opportunity for Minnesota.  The Wild's top unit was patient, but Chicago forced Minnesota to settle for shots from the perimeter and the two clubs would go to overtime.  

Overtime Thoughts:  The Blackhawks would have the first chance of overtime as Towes worked a little play with Kane who fired a shot on goal that was absorbed by Backstrom.  The Wild would answer back with a good break out started by a pass by Suter to Parise for a 3-on-1 and Parise dropped it back to Suter who stepped into a slap shot that just missed wide and the Blackhawks countered with a rush of their own as Sharp stepped into a big shot that was snared by Backstrom.  Pierre-Marc Bouchard would steal a puck in the neutral zone and he'd lead a rush where he dished it to Setoguchi who gunned a shot on goal that stopped by Crawford.  The Blackhawks would go back on the attack and Patrick Kane made a nice spin-a-rama pass that just failed to click with Marian Hossa and the game would go to a shootout.  

Shootout Overview:  The Wild would opt to shoot first, and they'd send out Zach Parise.  Parise's first attempt he'd move in slow and with a simple little deke got Crawford to drop and then slide it in on an easy forehand to make it 1-0 Wild.  Chicago's first shooter was Jonathan Toews who moved in with a little more speed and beat Backstrom on a sneaky little backhander to tie it up.  Minnesota's next shooter was Mikko Koivu; and the captain would move in with a fair amount of speed and he'd try to work his forehand to backhand deke shelf but Crawford got just a little to knock the puck up and over the goal.  Chicago's next shooter was Patrick Kane who tried to move in slow and attempt a move similar to that of Parise's but Backstrom stonewalled him.  Minnesota's next shooter was Matt Cullen who moved in and then slowed down and then sped up before threading a nasty wrist shot that beat Crawford 5-hole to give the Wild a 2-1 shootout lead.  This put all of the pressure on the shoulders of Patrick Sharp who moved up the ice and he fired a heavy wrist shot that he rang off the crossbar and out to give Minnesota a 3-2 shootout victory.  

Niklas Backstrom was stellar in relief of Josh Harding who was pulled after giving up 2 goals on just 4 shots.  Backstrom had 27 saves and from a technical standpoint looked much calmer in his crease and was not flopping around and guessing as he had in the previous games.  He was back to his technically sound self, with  an economy of movement and was controlling his rebounds very well to deny 2nd chances.  Defensively I thought Jonas Brodin was great and Ryan Suter had a solid game.  The fact the Wild's penalty kill was again perfect is another good sign after stonewalling two good teams on the man advantage in the Blues and now Chicago (knock on wood).  It was a bold move by Mike Yeo to pull Harding so soon in the game, but its impossible to argue with the result.  I know Josh didn't appreciate it, as demonstrated by his outburst but it just wasn't his night tonight.  

Offensively the 2nd and 3rd line finally carried the load.  Cullen getting his first was huge considering how many close ones he's had so far this season.  The Wild were able to get more offensive pressure from its 2nd and 3rd lines and that helped the Wild who didn't have to lean so much on its top line to get shots on goal.  Want some more proof.  Look at personal shot totals the post-game event summary.  

Cullen – 3 shots

Setoguchi – 2 shots

Granlund – 3 shots

Brodziak – 3 shots

Bouchard – 1 shot

Clutterbuck – 2 shots

All on a night where the leading shooter in the NHL, Zach Parise had just one shot on goal.  It was crucial for the Wild for these supporting lines to step up.  If the 2nd and 3rd lines can at least take their opportunities like this the better off this team will be as a whole.  

This was a good team effort and while at times Chicago really dominated the play the Wild's defense bent but didn't break and Backstrom was the x-factor in coming up with some huge saves.  Hopefully the boys can get rested up a bit before their game against Anaheim on Friday.  

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows:  Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Kyle Brodziak, Pierre-Marc Boucahrd, Cal Clutterbuck, Darroll Powe, Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell, Ryan Suter, Tom Gilbert, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Justin Falk and Clayton Stoner.  Josh Harding shared the duties between the pipes along with Niklas Backstrom.  Nate Prosser and Matt Kassian were the healthy scratches.  

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Niklas Backstrom, 2nd Star Cal Clutterbuck, 3rd Star Matt Cullen

~ Attendance was 18,550 at Xcel Energy Center.

Jack Jablonski & Jenna Privette

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 time 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!

Defensive lapses cost Wild in 5-2 loss to Chicago

Brad Staubitz & Dan Carcillo

“The ancient Romans had a tradition: whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: he stood under the arch” was a quote by Michael Armstrong.  I think Minnesota forward Devin Setoguchi found that out Tuesday night when he found himself benched for missing a team meeting.  The Wild were in the midst (and still are) of a 3 game losing streak; having won just once in their last 12 games going into their game against San Jose Tuesday night.  Injuries had helped turn the Wild’s fortunes after a torrid start to where Minnesota sat in 8th place in the Western Conference.  The injury woes appeared to continue when it was announced that Pierre-Marc Bouchard was out indefinitely with concussion symptoms; the same condition that kept Bouchard out of the Wild’s lineup for nearly a season and half.  So with all of those outside factors in place, the Wild still chose to hold Setoguchi accountable and make him a healthy scratch.  Some would say that was bold and risky.  However, it seems to fit with the strong character of the Wild’s coach, Mike Yeo who ultimately made the decision.  Setoguchi was apologetic; going as far as apologizing to the team, coaching staff and management telling Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “I talked with Mike (Yeo) and Chuck (Fletcher) about what happened, but there’s no excuse for that, I have one job and that’s to show up to the rink.”  So in Armstrong’s quote, Setoguchi would’ve stood under that arch as it fell right on top of him but it was good to hear him own up to it. 

Devin Setoguchi  Mike Yeo  Can Setoguchi restore Mike Yeo’s trust?

After Minnesota’s thrilling 5-4 shootout win over San Jose, Mike Yeo insisted that Setoguchi would have a clean slate after having sat out and so far he seems to be living up to his word as he will be returning to play on the team’s top line with Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley.  Ultimately it will be up to Setoguchi as to what he does with this ‘clean slate’ but to use a classic Yeo-ism we’ll see how he responds.  Minnesota travels to Chicago to play a very tough, high scoring Blackhawks squad so any extra offensive boost he can provide would help make the Wild’s margin for error a bit more favorable.  So will Setoguchi respond with a strong game tonight or will he play humble and sheepish? 

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Wild vs. Blackhawks

1st Period Thoughts:  Minnesota had good pace and hustle to start the game, winning many early races to the loose pucks.  After a not bad shift by the top line, the 2nd line had an even better one as Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen, and Casey Wellman worked well with the puck down behind the Blackhawks goal for a good scoring chance by Cullen that was stonewalled by Ray Emery.  The Wild’s 4th line was even showing some good effort as a nice little play by David McIntyre got a rush going and Brad Staubitz hammered a slap shot that was steered wide by Emery.  The 3rd line built on that momentum with some great little plays by Darroll Powe that resulted in a few quality shots for Kyle Brodziak that were dangerously close to converting.  The Blackhawks tried to answer back with some pressure of their own, and a familiar face in Andrew Brunette caused some of the trouble as he helped set up a shot from the point by Steve Montador that was knocked down by Harding and covered up by Josh Harding.  Minnesota would go back on the attack, and the Wild would strike off the rush as a pass was dropped back to Marek Zidlicky into the high slot and he ripped a wrist shot that Emery stopped but Devin Setoguchi was there to bang home the rebound to give the State of Hockey a 1-0 lead.  Chicago would try to respond soon after the goal as former Vermont Catamount Viktor Stalberg hammered a slap shot that was directed aside by the leg pad of Harding, and then made another save on a shot by David Bolland.  The Wild seemed to have relaxed a bit after the goal, but Minnesota’s top line would create some havoc in the Chicago zone as Setoguchi was pulling the trigger with reckless abandon.  Chicago would tie the game a minute later as Harding found himself fooled by a wrist shot from Andrew Shaw that took advantage of a screen made by Bryan Bickell and Greg Zanon who had fallen down about 15 feet from the Wild crease.  It was not a good goal for Harding.  Chicago wasted little time trying to set up the go-ahead goal as Jonathan Toews set up Patrick Kane in the slot and he snapped a shot which was blocked up into the netting by Nick Schultz.  The Blackhawks were looking to blast the puck by Harding again as Niklas Hjalmarsson stepped into a slapper that just missed wide.  A few moments later, the Wild would get caught on a rush that would result in a 2-on-1 for Chicago between Bolland and Marian Hossa and Bolland would dish to Hossa who was robbed by a diving save by Harding.  Minnesota would start to get physical and Clutterbuck delivered a thundering hit on Patrick Kane, and the Wild were able to get the puck out of their zone.  The Blackhawks had a great opportunity on little play through the neutral zone where Michael Frolik caught the Wild flatfooted and he’d race in on a break away but his wrist shot was denied by a fine save by Harding.  Seconds after that, Brunette drew a tripping call on Nick Johnson and the Blackhawks went on the power play.  Chicago worked the puck near the crease where there was a flurry of activity but no pucks were reaching Harding and Minnesota’s penalty kill managed to keep the Blackhawks at bey.  The Blackhawks were patient, looking to set up the perfect shot and Minnesota was able to escape unscathed.  Minnesota had to feel pretty good about the way they were able to create some offensive pressure, but some of the defensive lapses had to be a little disconcerting as well.  The clutch play of the penalty kill late in the period was huge.  The Wild were being outshot 13-8.     

2nd Period Thoughts:  The Blackhawks came out to start the period a bit more committed defensively, using their sticks to clog up the offensive zone making it tough for Minnesota to execute its plays.  Chicago meanwhile, wanted to work the puck down low and then pass it out front into the slot area, but the Wild were collapsing well defensively.  Minnesota finally was able to create a little pressure offensiely with its 2nd line as Cullen would dangle to gain some space before firing a wrist shot that was stopped by Emery.  Minnesota’s top line would cause the Blackhawks some problems after Dany Heatley was able to power his way around a defender through the neutral zone where Mikko Koivu set up Nick Schultz for a shot that was blocked away by Emery, but the Wild were earning these opportunities through good effort.  Chicago would draw another penalty with some hustle of their own as Justin Falk held up Stalberg with his stick giving the Blackhawks their 2nd power play of the game.  The Blackhawks power play was a little lethargic, slowly moving the puck from half wall out to the point and Minnesota would keep Chicago off the scoreboard for a little while.  In the 2nd half of the man advantage, the Blackhawks worked the puck down behind the net and Bolland set up Jimmy Hayes in the slot for a bang-bang goal that Harding had no chance on.  Chicago would pile on another just about 20 seconds later as Jonathan Toews found Stalberg sneaking behind the lazy defene of Greg Zanon for a quick shot that beat Harding 5-hole to put the Blackhawks up 3-1.  Casey Wellman was showing a little more physical edge as he delivered a nice hit to Benn Smith that nearly sent him all the way into his bench.  Minnesota seemed a little fatigued at this point in the game, just lacking the jump to win those races to the loose puck that made them so successful early in the game.  The Wild’s 2nd line tried to get things going and Cal Clutterbuck was flying around the ice as he toe dragged a puck into the slot before flinging a wrist shot that gave Emery a little trouble.  As Clutterbuck continued to swarm in the Blackhawks zone he’d drive the net on a failed play from behind the goal as he barely bumped into Emery for a goaltender interference penalty.  Nevermind the water skiing by the Blackhawks defense before that, what a garbage call.  Chicago would make Minnesota pay for its indiscretion, as a point shot by Steve Montador was partially blocked and the puck dribbled on goal to Harding who pushed it out towards Clayton Stoner who just stared at the biscuit and Bolland pounced on it and tapped it in for an embarassingly easy goal, 4-1 Blackhawks.  Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo would replace Harding with Matt Hackett as well as use the time to chew out his club for their lack of focus.  Minnesota wasn’t able to get much of anything going in the rest of the 2nd as Chicago clearly was in control of this game.  An ugly period where those defensive lapses I mentioned were really killing the Wild.  The bad call on Clutterbuck certainly was annoying, but that wasn’t the whole reason the Wild were trailing by 3 at this point in the game. 

3rd Period Thoughts:  The Blackhawks were content to defend their lead, sitting back and letting Minnesota go on the attack.  Matt Cullen would draw the Wild’s first power play of the game, as he was tripped up by Hjalmarsson.  On the power play Dany Heatley would wind up and unleash his slapper and Emery was just able to deflect it up into the net.  Minnesota’s power play looked jumbled and disorganized and the Blackhawks had little difficulty killing off the man advantage.  The Wild tried to reorganize and go on the attack, as Mikko Koivu tried to dangle around the Chicago defense being hooked by David Bolland the whole way to no call.  A few minutes later, the Wild’s 2nd line tried to get something going as Matt Cullen let go a wrist shot that was gloved by Emery.  Frustration started to build up a little as Michael Frolik would get into a bit of a shoving match with Justin Falk.  Minnesota would get a little life as the 3rd line would light the lamp with some hard work as a faceoff win in their own zone turned into a rush led by Darroll Powe and he would fire a low-lying shot that was stopped by Emery but Brodziak was there to bury the rebound to cut the Chicago lead to two, 4-2.  The Wild would try to build on these good feelings with some good pressure by its 2nd line as Cullen carried the puck to the crease and Minnesota tried to jam it in to no avail.  Moments later, the Wild’s 4th line had a good chance of their own from close range as Brad Staubitz whacked a shot on goal and Warren Peters was just out of reach of the rebound.  Staubitz was trying to give his team a spark and he delivered a devastating check to Brent Seabrook.  Minnesota kept scrapping and looking to cut the Chicago lead to one in the closing minutes.  The Wild’s defense was pinching and Justin Falk had a few opportunities to shoot the puck.  With 2:21 left in the game, Minnesota pulled Hackett for an extra attacker.  The Wild were able to create a little pressure in the Chicago zone, but not enough shots were going on goal and Chicago would seal the game with Bolland’s empty netter to give the Blackhawks a 5-2 victory. 

It simply was not Josh Harding’s night, as he gave up a few goals he normally doesn’t that allowed the game to get away from the Wild in the 2nd period.  The last goal where he tried to push a puck to Stoner was an ok idea, but being a man short the smart play would’ve simply been to cover it up.  Perhaps that was a side effect of some of the risky plays he made with the puck in Tuesday night’s game against San Jose.  Matt Hackett was rock solid in relief and I think you don’t rush Niklas Backstrom’s return to the lineup from illness when you have him available.  With Harding himself a bit under the weather, maybe its the time to give Hackett another start.  Defensively, it was another ugly night for Greg Zanon who looks slower and slower with each game. 

Offensively the Wild had some flashes of offense, but they were too few and far between.  Minnesota was at its best when it was creating time, space off the rush and I was surprised they didn’t try to create more chances that way since Emery did seem to have some rebound issues this evening.  Too often, Wild forwards were unable to get to those rebounds and while that may be a testament to good defense by Chicago it is also example of will power.  Remember all of those goals earlier in the season that the Wild seemed to create through sheer determination?  Where did they go? 

The Blackhawks are a very good team, without question.  They have a lot of weapons and can attack you in a variety of ways but the Wild simply gave Chicago way too many easy chances.  Good teams capitalize on those kinds of opportunities more often than not.  The Calgary Flames made a move by dealing Rene Bourque to Montreal for Mike Cammalleri.  Maybe its time the Wild make a move of their own, ESPN certainly seems to think so.   

Wild Notes:

~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Brad Staubitz, David McIntyre, Warren Peters, Matt Cullen, Casey Wellman, Cal Clutterbuck, Daroll Powe, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Marek Zidlicky, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk and Jared Spurgeon.  Matt Hackett shared the duties between the pipes with Josh Harding.  Mike Lundin, Niklas Backstrom and Colton Gillies were the healthy scratches. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star David Bolland, 2nd Star Jimmy Hayes, 3rd Star Andrew Shaw

~ Attendance was 21,490 at United Center.

~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate Mikko Koivu on the news of his selection into the 2012 All Star game, the first time he has been selected for this honor in his career. 

Wild Prospect Report:

Johan Larsson  Johan Larsson (the player with the captain’s ‘C’) celebrates WJC’s gold!

Now that the drama of the Men’s U-20 World Junior Championships are behind us, Wild fans have a lot of reason to be excited as Minnesota prospects had a strong showing.  Here are how some of our prospects fared.  The number included is the overall rank in scoring the player achieved in the tournament as well as their team rank in parentheses.   

3.  Mikael Granlund (FIN, 1st) ~ 2G 9A = 11pts
14. Jason Zucker (USA, 2nd) ~ 3G 4A = 7pts
31. Johan Larsson (SWE, 5th) ~ 0G 6A = 6pts
63. Charlie Coyle (USA, 6th) ~ 4G 1A = 5pts
102. Jonas Brodin (SWE, 11th) ~ 0G 4A = 4pts

Goaltending:

8. Johan Gustafsson (SWE, 1st) ~ 5-0  2.20GAA  .887%SP 

Other Notables (with the high school they played for in parentheses)

Nick Bjugstad (Blaine, USA) ~ 4G 2A = 6pts
Kyle Rau (Eden Prairie, USA) ~ 3G 2A = 5pts
Josh Archibald (Brainerd, USA) ~ 0G 2A = 2pts
Derek Forbort (Duluth East, USA) ~ 0G 2A = 2pts

High School Boys Hockey Report:

Jake Bischoff  Grand Rapids’ Jake Bischoff

The NHL’s Central Scouting Department released its Mid-Term rankings and there are 13 Minnesota High School players in their listing of the Top 210 North American Skaters.  Here is their respective rank along with their High School.  One could argue it should be 14, since Apple Valley’s A.J. Michaelson (ranked #83 by CSS) left to play for Waterloo in the USHL rather than play through his senior season.  The rankings will no doubt experience some significant changes once the final rankings are finished in the spring, but its a good barometer to see which high school players are on the NHL’s radar nonetheless. 

#44 Zachary Stepan (Shattuck-St. Mary’s) – C – 6’0″, 166lbs
#69 Theodore Blueger (Shattuck-St. Mary’s) – C – 6’0″, 171lbs
#71 John Draeger (Shattuck-St. Mary’s) – D – 6’2″, 186lbs
#111 Samuel Fejes (Shattuck-St. Mary’s) – LW – 6’1″, 190lbs
#132 Jake Bischoff (Grand Rapids) – D – 5’11″, 178lbs
#139 Adam Johnson (Hibbing) – LW – 5’10″, 150lbs
#155 Will Merchant (Eagan) – LW – 6’0″, 172lbs
#159 Eli May (Eagan) – D – 6’1″, 190lbs
#174 Charlie Sampair (Hill-Murray) – C – 6’0″, 180lbs
#178 Trevor Olson (Duluth East) – RW – 6’1″, 180lbs
#189 Jacob Montgomery (Shattuck-St.Mary’s) – LW – 6’1″, 191lbs
#198 Dominic Toninato (Duluth East) – C – 6’0″, 165lbs
#199 Louis Nanne (Edina) – LW – 5’10″, 162lbs

Jack Jablonski

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 time 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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