How about that Super Bowl eh? What a thriller, such tremendous drama. I'm not talking about the snoozefest of a game. I'm taking about which lame commercial was going to come up next. I wasn't even hoping to see the ads, the game was just that much anti-climatic after the bad snap that led to a safety on the first play from scrimmage that the commercials quickly became the only thing to look forward to. Over 100 million people around the world probably watched just part of the game as I did, before they decided not to waste anymore time watching the Broncos' struggle to complete 4-yard passes time after time. The boring, drawn out affair that is the Super Bowl only makes me appreciate the multi-game war that is the Stanley Cup Finals where its more about the game than the halftime show.
The Wild had a bad letdown of their own after losing to the Calgary Flames 4-3 in overtime on Saturday night on Canada's big media stage that is Hockey Night in Canada. It certainly is not as big as the Super Bowl nor was the failure as epically profound as it was for Denver, but they were points the Wild not only needed, but should've had. The Wild can't afford to spend time dwelling on the past and they will have to try to beat a very tough Tampa Bay Lightning team tonight. So can the Wild rebound from Saturday's disappointment or will lightning strike twice?
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1st Period Thoughts: This was a period that had me a little worried. Especially after watching Marco Scandella fall and then stay on the ice clearly in a lot of pain after having his skate kicked out inadvertently by Tyler Johnson. Scandella just sort of fell over like a house of cards and Dany Heatley and Jason Zucker tried to help the defenseman as Wild Athletic Trainer Don Fuller made it out to the ice to talk to Minnesota blueliner. Minnesota had some great opportunities early but failed to bury their chances. The first came off a nice little backhander by Nino Niederreiter that got over the shoulder of the Lightning's giant goaltender Ben Bishop but it would strike the crossbar and stay out. Bishop was very suspect throughout the period; fighting pucks and his rebound control was a bit sketchy. The Lightning were not doing all that much offensively, but they too had a few chances they missed of their own. The best two being taken from the slot, by Martin St. Louis and Tyler Johnson respectively. Minnesota then had another golden opportunity as Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise found a little space behind the Lightning defense to work a tic-tac-toe play that just failed to connect as Parise pushed a shot wide of the mark. It was a great example of the tremendous chemistry of this line, but the net had a big opening you had to wonder if the team was going to be haunted by that missed chance. For the next 10 minutes, shots were almost non-existent for either club as the middle of the ice was clogged with defenders. The Wild finally got a scoring chance off a turnover in the neutral zone as Zach Parise intercepted a pass and then turned on the jets to outleg Victor Hedman as he tried to hook the speedy Wild forward before Parise lifted a shot up and over the goal. Parise wanted a penalty on Hedman who clearly was hooking a little but to no avail. The Wild would earn the first power play of the game as Radko Gudas checked Pominville from behind sending him face first into the boards. Minnesota would start the power play with its 2nd unit and they wasted little time, as a faceoff win led to a nice crisp cross-ice pass by Jason Zucker to Jared Spurgeon who hammered a one-timer that was stopped by Bishop but Nino Niederreiter was there to chip home the rebound to make it 1-0. The Wild would give the Lightning their first power play of the game as Stephane Veilleux demonstrated a lack of discipline after getting upset over a Gudas hit near the blueline he went after the agitating defenseman and cross checked him in the side of the neck right in front of the official for an easy call. Minnesota's penalty killers were solid, never allowing the Lightning to get comfortable in the offensive zone and they'd escape the period leading by one. The Wild were outshot 11-8 in the period. Its a little tough to see Tyler Johnson and former Rosemount Irish star J.T. Brown playing for the Lightning when you consider they both attended the Wild Summer Prospect Camp for two years before signing as free agents with Tampa Bay. I thought Niederreiter had an excellent period, great hustle all over the ice.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild had some great opportunites to start the 2nd, as Jason Zucker took a long pass, made a little turn to race in on the break away but he'd lift the puck a little too high but he tracked down the puck and centered it towards the slot but no one was home. Moments later Zucker's wraparound attempt was stoned by Bishop. Another player really buzzing early was Mikael Granlund who was forechecking well, taking hits to make plays to set up teammates as the Wild tried to add to their lead. The Lightning would start to press for the equalizer as Valterri Filppula as he fired a shot that was absorbed by Darcy Kuemper. Tampa kept applying pressure as J.T. Brown crashed the net but Kuemper was able to cover the loose puck. Minnesota was certainly trying to lift the puck as Zach Parise as he blistered a rising slap shot that struck Bishop in the face that stunned the 6'7" netminder but the Wild were unable to take advantage as the officials gave a quick whistle. Minnesota continued to create quality scoring chances but Bishop was solid. Even on the power play where the Wild held the puck in the Tampa end almost the full 2-minutes all they were able to manage was a few shots from the perimeter. Zucker would try to shovel home a rebound that drew the ire of B.J. Crombeen shoved Zucker who immediately tackled the Lightning agitator. Both would sit in the box for roughing. I know Zucker is not some heavyweight enforcer but I would like to see him drop the gloves, because he trains with an MMA fighter back in Las Vegas and I think he could be nasty surprise for Crombeen. See the Zucker vs. Janne Hakanpaa video below and you'll see what I mean. The Wild really tilted the ice in their favor, being aggressive to create offense off the rush as Parise set up a pinching Spurgeon but he was denied by Bishop and Tampa Bay had to have felt they escaped by only trailing by one at this point. Great period for Zucker and Granlund. Wild outshot the Lightning 14-11.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild would strike just 34 seconds into the period as Jared Spurgeon carried the puck deep eluding J.T. Brown in the Tampa Bay zone before dishing a pass out near the top of the crease that was banged home by Dany Heatley to make it 2-0 Minnesota. The goal took a huge weight off the Wild's shoulders and you could tell they played a bit more loose, but still focused on their goal. The Wild continued to dominate the play the next few minutes as they kept working the puck deep into the Lightnining zone, making them really have to battle to get possession. Everyone on the Wild appeared to be hustling well as they defended their lead with some token offensive pressure. After a good first 7 minutes the Wild sort of eased up and predictably the Lightning started pile up the scoring chances. The Wild did a reasonable job of offending but it was only a matter of time before those opportunites started to be of the more dangerous variety. Darcy Kuemper stopped Ondrej Palat on a shot from the slot and Palat jumped on the rebound only to be denied by a savvy goal line save by an alert Ryan Suter who covered up for his goaltender. The Lightning continued to apply pressure and their persistance would pay off as Martin St. Louis flung a wrist shot down the slot that was redirected perfectly by Filppula and by Kuemper to cut the Wild lead to one, 2-1. Tampa Bay could sense momentum in the game had shifted and as they started to pour it on, the Wild did their best just to be a nuisance as they tried to get sticks on passes and shots whenever possible. The Lightning had another great chance as Alex Killorn pounced on a loose puck that forced Kuemper to make a big leg pad save. With about 1:30 left to play, the Lightning pulled Bishop for an extra attacker. Zach Parise would steal the puck in the neutral zone and he'd try to put the nail in the coffin with an empty netter but he'd miss just wide. Tampa Bay kept pressing and a partially deflected shot got Kuemper to sprawl and the puck ended up on the stick of Johnson who ripped a wrist shot off the right post and out and Minnesota would escape with a 2-1 victory.
Kuemper should thank the post for the win as it bailed him out big time, but he still was very good making 34 saves in the victory. Especially in the 3rd period, Kuemper had a number of high quality saves. It was a bit of a rebound-game for Kuemper who was not quite as sharp the last two games. Defensively I thought Nate Prosser and Jonas Brodin had great games in their own end. Ryan Suter (34:31 minutes of ice time) is such an incredible workhorse (not to mention modest) and he appeared to be remarkably comfortable no matter who he is paired with. Up front Jared Spurgeon provided the Wild with a much-needed offensive spark. The penalty kill continues to be solid lately, stopping both of the Lightning's power plays.
Offensively the Wild had moments where they looked dominant and active but I still think too few shots were being directed on goal. I really liked the way Jason Zucker was buzzing around the offensive zone and I think Mike Yeo should consider using the 2nd power play unit more. That's not just because of Niederreiter's goal, but I think their quicker puck movement puts more pressure on the opposing penalty kill plus it gives rest to the top line players. I think the Wild's 1st power play has grown stale and its puck movement is still too slow and predictable.
It wasn't the kind of win that created a lot of confidence, but you can't be too unhappy after earning another two points in the standings. Scandella's injury, which will likely keep him out of Thursday's game against Nashville. With the Predators playing a bit better as of late they will have to dig deep in order to earn two more important points before the Olympic break.
~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Kyle Brodziak, Torrey Mitchell, Erik Haula, Stephane Veilleux, Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella and Keith Ballard. Niklas Backstrom backed up by Darcy Kuemper. Mike Rupp, Justin Fontaine and Clayton Stoner were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Wild.com were: 1st Star Jared Spurgeon, 2nd Star Darcy Kuemper, 3rd Star Jonas Brodin
~ Attendance was 18,454 at Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Recent Score: Iowa 2, Chicago 3 OT
Iowa would get off a early lead as they scored shorthanded, when Carson McMillan swept up the puck after a broken stick by the Wolves' Evan Oberg and passed it up to Warren Peters who ripped a quick shot by Matt Climie to make it 1-0. Peters' goal would stand for all of the second period as shots were hard to come by. The Wolves would find the back of the net early in the 3rd as Dmitri Jaskin batted a puck out of the air to tie the game. Chicago would then take the lead with less than 4-minutes to play as Ty Rattie took a pass from Mark Cundari and he blistered a one timer over the shoulder of Johan Gustafsson. Iowa would tie the game with just 19.6 seconds left as Justin Mercier won a battle for the puck along the boards and he fed a pass towards the crease where Zack Phillips lit the lamp to send the game to overtime. The Wolves' Rattie would give Chicago the game winner on a blast from the point that found the top corner. Gustafsson had 26 saves in the loss. The Wild's next game is Wednesday night against the Utica Comets.
Wild Prospect Report:
Notre Dame's Mario Lucia
G – Alexandre Belanger (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL) ~ The goaltender demonstrated a fiesty side on Saturday night, earning a roughing penalty in the 3rd period. However, he didn't let that distract him from having a solid start as he stopped 15-of-16 to help the Huskies earn a 6-1 win over the Saint John Seadogs. The Sherbrooke, Quebec-native has a 22-13 record, a 3.14 goals against average and an .881% save percentage in 39 games played this season.
LW – Mario Lucia (Notre Dame, H-East) ~ The Fighting Irish have struggled this season, but Lucia has been very consistent, providing scoring night after night. Notre Dame was swept by New Hampshire after losing 5-2 on Saturday but Lucia did what he could to give the Fighting Irish a chance chipping in a goal and an assist in the losing effort. Lucia leads Notre Dame in goals (15) and is 2nd in points with 25 to go along with 10 PIM's in 27 games played this season.
LW – Anthony Hamburg (RIT, Atlantic) ~ Hamburg has been bouncing all over the lineup with the RIT Tigers this weekend; centering the 2nd line on Friday and then playing LW on the 4th line on Saturday. Hamburg finished the weekend with no shots and an even rating. The Phoenix, Arizona-native, who is RIT's lone NHL-drafted player has a goal and 4 PIM's in 19 games played this season.
D – Nick Seeler (Nebraska-Omaha, NCHC) ~ It was a game for fans to love and coaches to hate as the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks outgunned the St. Cloud State Huskies 8-6 on Saturday night. Seeler did his part to chip in offensively by providing a goal for the Mavericks. The Eden Prairie-native has 3 goals, 6 points and 47 PIM's in 24 games played this season.