You can certainly tell when you feel sickness coming on, from the constant level of congestion, the inability to breath normally without sniffling, or the nasty green phlegm you cough up. Its disgusting and miserable. From coughing with a nasty hacking sound that makes you sound as though you're coughing up a lung to a near constant state of fatigue. These are what are of course known as flu-like symptoms. I received exposure to this contagion from my students, who are often bacteria and virus-filled magnets. I know that sounds very mean, but it's true. They exhibit all the symptoms I just explained to you, and then they wipe their hands on the desks, tables, chairs and books and pretty soon your body just can't take it. I think teachers have terrific immune systems and a high tolerance but its tough staying healthy when you're on the front lines that are normally reserved for doctors and nurses. The Minnesota Wild certainly know how this feels as the flu has begun to ravage the team. Making matters a little more excruciating, a horrendous effort on Saturday necessitated Wild Head Coach Todd Richards to run his team through an intense practice to let his team know that sort of play is unacceptable. Will hard work be the cure, while the players do their best to keep their strength while battling the flu? We may even have a Colton Gillies sighting as he was called up from Houston, which is a sign of how his hard work is being recognized.
It is almost fitting that a new disease makes its way into Xcel Energy Center, in the much-hated arch rival Vancouver Canucks coming to town. The Canucks are a lot like a bad rash. Tough to shake, irritable and highly contagious. Vancouver, a team who many experts picked to be the class of the NHL this season; even with the Hockey News going so far to call them their favorite to win the Stanley Cup has stumbled out of the gate. Teams have not just rolled over at the strength of this prediction, what a surprise?!?! Its hockey, of course it isn't. It makes me think about how in the cult classic film Slap Shot where Charlestown Chiefs broadcaster Jim Carr seems pretty disinterested at hearing Dave "Killer" Carlson's battle with the cold. Its hockey, toughen up! So will the Wild toughen up and show some heart or will the play sick and look ready to die?
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I have to admit I let out a huge sigh of disgust when I watched the Canucks jump out to a 1-0 lead just 58 seconds into the game on a nice little spinning pass play from last year's MVP Henrik Sedin to his brother Daniel Sedin who tapped it by a sprawling Niklas Backstrom. The goal seemed to awaken the Wild who started to move their feet, but Minnesota would find itself in a little more trouble as Cal Clutterbuck was tagged for interference. Minnesota's penalty killers were superb, preventing the Canucks from working the cycle like the Sedin twins wanted to do and then providing decent puck pressure at the points to prevent them from just unloading slappers from the point. The Wild would earn the big kill, where it could try to carry the play by working the forecheck. Minnesota's effort would pay off with a lazy slashing call on Christian Ehrhoff and the Wild would make them pay for the mistake in judgement. On the power play the Wild moved the puck around the perimeter and the Canucks were a little late in moving over to face Marek Zidlicky and the Czech blueliner moved towards the left faceoff dot where he wound up and blistered a slap shot that found a very small window over the right shoulder of Roberto Luongo. A little over a minute later the Wild would take the lead, on a point shot by Justin Falk that missed wide and the puck would carom off the boards behind the goal and move right out to a waiting Guillaume Latendresse who smacked a quick shot that snuck past Luongo who had gotten to the right post a little late, 2-1 Minnesota. Minnesota was carrying the play, taking the body with a fair amount of frequency and you could sense the confidence the lead had given the team as John Madden made a pretty move to poke a puck by Aaron Rome who was caught flatfooted near his bench and Madden would skate into the Canucks' zone where he blasted a slap shot that would ring off the crossbar and out. Perhaps feeling his team needed a boost, Vancouver's resident tough guy Rick Rypien dropped the gloves with Minnesota's Brad Staubitz. Rypien would fire a few quick jabs and Staubitz responded with a few big lefthanded hooks as both fighters would trade punches until the Canuck forward lost his balance before falling to the ice. A partial victory for Staubitz, and for all the Canuck fans who used to tell me that Derek Boogaard had something to fear from Rypien? Yea right, Staubitz isn't even half the fighter Boogaard is and Rypien struggled against a lesser fighter. More on Rypien later. The Canucks tried to answer back and small wrist shot by Mikael Samuelsson was gloved and held onto by Backstrom. A few minutes later Samuelsson would show a lack of discipline when he cross-checked Greg Zanon to the ice well behind the play earning him a trip to the sin bin. Minnesota would take advantage of this lapse of judgement. With just 18 seconds left to play in the late-period power play, the Wild would add to its lead in transition as Martin Havlat fed a nice diagonal pass to Guillaume Latendresse who moved towards the goal before dishing a pass out to the top of the crease where a charging Cal Clutterbuck slammed home a shot 5-hole to give the Wild a 3-1 lead going into the 2nd.
Minnesota would have another strong start, moving its feet well to start the 2nd period. The Canucks looked to still be in a haze from the first period. The Canucks tried to ramp up the physicality with some of its lower lines as Tanner Glass and Ryan Kesler tried to throw their weight around. Minnesota would counter punch well and take advantage of the Canucks aggressiveness as John Madden would take a long pass from Brent Burns who made a pretty move to step around Ryan Parent before ripping a wicked wrister that beat Luongo to give the Wild a 4-1 lead. It was a crucial momentum squelching goal that really took the wind out of the Canucks' sails as they slowly were climbing back into the game. The Wild continued their assault and Marek Zidlicky would carry the puck down low where he'd take the puck behind the Canucks goal drawing the attention of the Vancouver defense where he then made a nifty between the legs pass back to a waiting Andrew Brunette who was camped out near the right post where he shoveled a shot by a surprised Luongo to extend Minnesota's lead to 5-1. About a minute later, Brad Staubitz would put a shoulder into Vancouver's Alexander Edler knocking him to the ice that Rick Rypien did not like and the two would come together once again. The officials would move in and immediately try to separate the two fighters as they stood near the Wild bench. Rypien was not satsified and he took one last punch that struck Staubitz in the back of the head. This would draw in a few other players that tied up one another and Rypien would say a bunch of choice words towards Staubitz who dismissed his challenge. Staubitz would earn a roughing penalty as would Rypien earned a double minor as well as a game misconduct which put Minnesota on the power play. However, what happened next was bizarre. Rypien made his way towards the Canucks lockerroom and just as he was about to enter the tunnel to do so he went after a Wild fan who was clapping at his poor choices. The Canucks tough guy would quickly be pulled away from the fan and the fans were suddenly in an argument with the arena and Vancouver coaching staff who wanted them gone. More on that a little later. Minnesota would not waste much time in striking back in revenge for its assaulted fans, as just 8 seconds into the power play the Wild would light the lamp as a quick cross-ice pass from Mikko Koivu turned into a 6-1 lead as Matt Cullen pulled the trigger on the one-timer.
With Minnesota carrying a commanding 5-goal lead, the Wild continued to apply limited pressure on the Canucks and preventing them from simply being able to rally back and turn it into a game. The Wild would give up some power plays late and unfortunately would give up one last goal on the power play to keep Minnesota's bid to keep the Canucks power play scoreless failed. Some very aggressive passing led to a one-timer by Daniel Sedin off a feed from his brother to make it a 6-2 Canucks loss.
Niklas Backstrom was very solid tonight, making 25 saves in the victory. He was seeing the puck very well and kept Minnesota in the game after Vancouver jumped out to a quick 1st period lead, and then prevented the Canucks from building momentum by making some terrific saves while they were on the power play. Defensively the Wild were pretty good throughout most of the game, preventing the Sedins from cycling them into submission. The Wild ended up killing 5 of 6 Canucks' power plays and Minnesota managed to again find a little offense from its blueline as Zidlicky led the team with a 3-point night and Schultz, Falk, and Burns all ended up chipping in an assist each.
Offensively the Wild managed to do some damage both at even strength but also on the power play where they were a perfect 3-for-3. The power play has been a tremendous source of strength and continues to showcase great execution and nice variety. Minnesota also showed the ability to strike in transition as Havlat, Latendresse and Clutterbuck connected on a very pretty tic-tac-toe play. Lots of credit also needs to be given to Matt Cullen who has been a tremendous catalyst as his speed and creativity with the puck continues to give the Wild a nice secondary threat outside of the top line. Even John Madden seemed to show some offensive pinache as he dangled around a few players and was showing some initiative to take his chances to score goals.
Now I'd be remiss if I didn't chime in on the Rick Rypien incident as it has quickly become known. There is zero excuse for a player to physically accost a fan. Its one thing to squirt a water bottle at them, but to go after a guy who is standing their clapping his hands? Pathetic on Rypien's part. The replay clearly showed that the Wild fan did absolutely nothing wrong. He didn't reach over towards Rypien, he didn't throw anything at him and even if he was saying something about Rypien it shouldn't matter. This isn't the 1970's when you'd climb into the crowd ala Slap Shot or Mike Milbury and attempt to beat a fan down with a pennyloafer. I would imagine that Rypien will recieve a considerable suspension for this, and unfortunately this will likely overshadow what was a fairly decent game. Without question it will earn some "play time" on ESPN and may even warrant itself worthy of a topic on Outside the Lines. Either way its bad media for the league and Rypien should be punished harshly. Arena security moved in and removed the fans, but fortunately they would recognize their mistake was not with the fan but rather the Vancouver player and the fans were relocated to other seats along the glass.
It was a quality win, where the Wild put together a 57-minute effort against an opponent who looked a little sluggish, but at this point you have to take victories anyway you can collect them. I am sure Vancouver Head Coach Alain Vigneault will have his troops ready to play when the team face each other again on Saturday night. Minnesota better be ready to play its "A" game in the always hostile crowd at Rogers Arena.
~ Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, Martin Havlat, Matt Cullen, Guillaume Latendresse, Eric Nystrom, Chuck Kobasew, Cal Clutterbuck, Brad Staubitz, John Madden, Marek Zidlicky, Brent Burns, Greg Zanon, Justin Falk, Nick Schultz and Cam Barker. Jose Theodore backed up Niklas Backstrom behind the pipes. Clayton Stoner and Colton Gillies were the healthy scratches while Pierre-Marc Bouchard is still attempting a comeback from the concussion he recieved a season ago.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let's Play Hockey were: 1st Star Marek Zidlicky, 2nd Star Matt Cullen, 3rd Star John Madden
~ The attendance at tonight's game is 16,806, the lowest total for a regular season Wild game in franchise history.