Perhaps its my own personal hatred of the Vancouver Canucks that the Bloodhound Gang, "Shut Up" where a few verses that lead into the refrain goes kind of like this, "I hate you but you hate yourself too, I hate to be honest but I'd hate to be you, and I don't give a damn if you don't like me, 'cause I don't like you 'cause you're not like me, and I don't give a damn if you don't like me, 'cause I dont' like you 'cause your not like me, and I don't give a damn if you don't like me, 'cause I don't like you 'cause your not like me." That may be the feelings shared by the Wild and its fans about Rick Rypien after his earlier incident where he grabbed a fan. I agree, the attempted lawsuit the fan filed was ridiculous, but so was Rypien for even going after a fan in the first place. There have always been a few extra sparks between these two clubs and now the Canucks fans are up in arms over the league's 4-game suspension of Raffi Torres for a hit on Edmonton's Jordan Eberle. So a few of them are now calling for blood against the Wild because that makes so much sense? Anger can certainly make a person irrational, but this seems ridiculous. Besides, why would they want to do anything like that to the Wild who are a non-playoff team? Yes, its not a representation of all Canucks fans, but still, why wish injury to the team your playing not because of any slight of their own doing but because your mad at the league is defies logic.
(cue the M*A*S*H theme song, Suicide is Painless) The Wild are resembling a small clinic, with a whole host of injuries to veteran players like Guillaume Latendresse, Marek Zidlicky, Cal Clutterbuck, John Madden, Martin Havlat and Cal Clutterbuck all out of action for tonight's tilt. That means many of the Wild's young players will see more NHL action which is a nice treat after a solid season with the Houston Aeros. Maybe when the Vancouver Canucks are given the President's Trophy tonight that will help tame the flames of temper in their fans. Either way, I would love to see the Wild spoil their party. Will the Wild add a dose of cold water to the heated fans in Vancouver or will the Canucks give their fans the bloodletting that they are calling for?
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1st Period Thoughts: When news was reported that the Wild were going to be playing the game a man short with Chuck Kobasew out of the lineup due to personal reasons. Yet the Wild were really battling well to start the game. They were forechecking and finishing their checks nicely, Colton Gillies and Carson McMillan were making their presence felt right away. Minnesota was taking lots of shots as well, taking every chance to just fire the puck on goal and forcing Roberto Luongo to make saves. Yet nothing was getting past Luongo and despite Minnesota's effort it was only a matter of time before this came back to bite the Wild. A failed Minnesota rush gets blown up and the Wild looked a little tired as they couldn't quite get to the puck before Jannik Hansen who threads a cross-ice pass to Mason Raymond who wired a shot by Niklas Backstrom to put Vancouver up 1-0. Minnesota tried to claw its way back into the game as they went back on the forecheck. The Wild's defense was pinching a bit and trying to support the play in the offensive zone, but all the Wild could manage was a few long range shots that were easily absorbed by Luongo. Minnesota had its chances though, 2 power plays and the Wild worked the puck well down low setting up a few scoring chances but at the most crucial times they either were not putting the shots on goal or when they got the set up Luongo was able to make the big save. The best example of this was a great cross-ice feed by Mikko Koivu on a back door feed to Brent Burns who fired a one-timer that Luongo got across on and then also made the stop on Gillies' rebound chance. Missed opportunities again came back to haunt the Wild as Vancouver answered with one more goal late in the period as lame cross-checking penalty on Kyle Brodziak was turned into a goal thanks to some great passing and some ragged looking penalty killing as Ryan Kesler tapped home a Daniel Sedin pass to make it 2-0. Backstrom was caught way out of position as he was expecting Daniel Sedin to pull the trigger instead. Vancouver had all of the momentum and Minnesota seemed like a team that just had almost nothing in the tank. The home crowd was loving it, but it had the feeling of a potential rout.
2nd Period Thougths: The fans certainly were in a jubilant mood as they tossed a fairly good-sized salmon onto the ice. You could sense the Wild were starting to show their nerves a bit more as they just didn't have the same jump they had at the start of the game. Vancouver was pouring it on right from the start as Minnesota was playing rope-a-dope just hoping to survive. Brodziak would go to the penalty box early in the 2nd, but Minnesota's power play scrambled and Niklas Backstrom bailed out the Wild to keep them into the game. The Wild would get another power play thanks to a goaltender interference penalty as Kevin Bieksa ran right through Niklas Backstrom. Of course Roger's Sports Net's John Garrett whined about the call because that is all he ever does. Minnesota again was able to create some great opportunities as Brent Burns was looking hungry as he was unleashing slapper after slapper but he wasn't putting them on goal enough. On one of the caroms, the puck moved back out near the top of the crease where Mikko Koivu pulled the puck back and looked as though he had a whole net to himself but Luongo would reach back with his glove as he was laying on his side to make a huge save. The whole save just told you the Wild were not going to win this game no matter how great the opportunities may be. The Canucks would add to their lead as Ryan Kesler walks around Justin Falk and he rips a wrister right over the shoulder of Backstrom to lift Vancouver to a 3-0 advantage. It would continue to get worse as Mason Raymond added another goal on a quick little shot that beat Backstrom who seemed to want to be anywhere but in Vancouver. With Vancouver now leading 4-0, the Wild tried again to work for a goal, and its best chance came off the stick of Carson McMillan who tried to jam a shot through the pads of Luongo. I like how some of Minnesota's youngsters were still working hard, but at times the Wild looked like a team in pre-season where you have your own guys almost running into each other as players didn't know where to be on the ice. (sigh)
3rd Period Thoughts: In the 3rd period, it took barely 2 minutes before the Canucks chased Niklas Backstrom from the goal as Ryan Kesler scores a pretty weak goal to get his hat trick as a pretty solid rain of hats serenaded Kesler's 40th tally of the season. Backstrom clearly wasn't himself, and so Wild Head Coach Todd Richards sent out Jose Theodore in relief. Vancouver was looking to add to its lead and Theodore found himself under siege early. Minnesota tried to get a pride goal but they just didn't have the horses to create nearly enough scoring chances to do so and Luongo didn't have alot of work in the final stanza. Mason Raymond nearly tallied a hat trick of his own if it wasn't for a great save by Theodore. Brad Staubitz tried foolishly to goad the Canucks into physical altercation after he nearly slammed Keith Ballard through the Vancouver goalpost. He would earn cross-checking minor and a game misconduct for his actions. Vancouver had the extra step, and were working themselves into shooting lanes and never allowing the Wild to have an uncontested chance. The home crowd gave one last loud "Louuuu" chant in the closing seconds as the Canucks skated away to a 5-0 victory.
Niklas Backstrom was not very sharp, allowing 5 goals on 23 shots. He wasn't seeing the puck very well all game long and seemed disinterested in general. Defensively the inexperience was shown but overall Wild goaltenders didn't see an inordinate amount of shots coming there way. The difference was Vancouver cashed in on its opportunities. The penalty kill the Wild got beat on was due to an overcommitment by Backstrom who took himself out of position giving Kesler an easy first goal.
Offensively the Wild had some great chances. Burns' power play chance and Koivu's scoring chance near the goal mouth both should've ended up in the back of the net if not for a heculean effort by Roberto Luongo. I am not going to say the only reason the Wild lost this game was because they ran into a hot goalie; but he never gave Minnesota a chance to win this game. I liked the hustle of some of the team's young players but the few vets were not giving quite enough. The vets had their moments but their lack of jump let the team down on more than one occasion.
Todd Richards was pretty matter of fact after the game which is what you'd expect when you play a team of Vancouver's calibre. When asked about the limitations of the lineup Richards said, "We gotta find a way. You're not going to win any games if you don't score any goals." I agree, there is no sense crying about injuries now. All you can do is go back to work and do your best. Richards gave Carson McMillan kudos for his play and I have to admit I really loved his effort. He skated hard, he checked well and showed excellent strength along the wall. I watched him out muscle Henrik Sedin for a puck along the wall and that is no easy task and he had little trouble pushing him out of the way which is a great testament of his strength. He had some little scoring chances in the 2nd and 3rd periods; even one where he was lying on his stomach and still swinging for the puck. Those are the little bright spots you have to look at when you lose a game like this. Hopefully the play better tomorrow against the Oilers. Just two more left...
~ Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, Brad Staubitz, Eric Nystrom, Kyle Brodziak, Jed Ortmeyer, Colton Gillies, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Carson McMillan, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Greg Zanon, Justin Falk, Maxim Noreau and Brent Burns. Jose Theodore shared the duties between the pipes with Niklas Backstrom. Martin Havlat, John Madden, Marek Zidlicky, Cam Barker, Cam Barker, Guillaume Latendresse and Cal Clutterbuck were the 'healthy' scratches. Chuck Kobasew was gone for 'personal reasons.' Nick Schultz (post-concussion syndrome), James Sheppard (knee) and Josh Harding (knee) are on injured reserve.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Ryan Kesler, 2nd Star Roberto Luongo, 3rd Star Mason Raymond
~ Attendance tonight was 18,860 at Rogers Arena.
NCAA Men's Hockey Report:
Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 4, Notre Dame 3 ~ The Duluth Bulldogs took full advantage of a UMD-friendly 19,139 crowd but you wouldn't know it early as Notre Dame struck just 49 seconds into the game on a goal by Brian Costello. UMD would get that goal back on the power play as Rosemount's J.T. Brown found the back of the net behind Mike Johnson. The Fighting Irish would re-take the lead about six minutes later when Freshman phenom T.J. Tynan beat Kenny Reiter on a nice wrist shot. The Bulldogs would strike back just about 2 minutes later when Kyle Schmidt scored his 10th of the season, tying the game at 2-2. UMD would then take the lead with just 6 minutes left in the 1st when Mike Connolly took a nice pass by Wild prospect camp tryout Justin Fontaine and Connolly ripped a shot by Johnson on the power play. Former Duluth Marshall Hilltopper Jack Connolly would score the Bulldogs 3rd power play goal of the game about 5 minutes into the 2nd and the Bulldogs held onto a nice 4-2 lead going into the 3rd. Notre Dame looked pretty deflated but they would get their spirits up early in the 3rd when senior Calle Ridderwall scored shorthanded to cut the UMD lead to one, 4-3. UMD then held off a furious attack by the Fighting Irish to earn as spot in the Finals. Kenny Reiter had 31 saves including 14 in the 3rd period. Wild prospect defenseman Sean Lorenz had 2 assists and was a +3 in a losing effort for Notre Dame.
North Dakota Fighting Sioux 0, Michigan Wolverines 2 ~ With a very large contingent of North Dakota fans making the Xcel Energy Center sound a lot like Ralph Englestadt Arena, but despite the 'home ice advantage' it wasn't enough as Michigan was content to play a shut down style. The Wolverines scored with about 6:30 left in the 1st when Ben Winnett scores just his 4th goal of the season when his blast from the point beat Aaron Dell. The Fighting Sioux poured it on with some great pressure near Michigan's crease but 5'7" Shawn Hunwick managed to find the buck despite all of the traffic and make the save time after time. You could feel the anxiety and nervousness in the building as North Dakota fans gasped on every shot on goal but Hunwick kept stopping each and every one of them. Scooter Vaughn provided the nail in the coffin on the empty netter, as the Wolverines move into the finals with a 2-0 win. Hunwick, clearly the hero of the game had 40 saves in the victory.
Wild WHL-based prospect playoff matchups (teams that have Wild prospects are in bold):
Kelowna Rockets (43-28-0-1, 2nd West) Vs. Portland Winterhawks (50-19-0-3, 1st West) ~ This looks like it could very well be the epic battle of the WHL Playoffs thus far as #1 Western Conference finisher Portland Winterhawks looks to control perennial playoff powerhouse Kelowna. The Winterhawks are one of the most star studded teams in all of Canadian Major Junior. Led offensively in the post-season by New York Islanders' 1st rounder Nino Niederreiter (4 goals, 10 points) and a host of other players that combine to give Portland one of the most balanced attacks in the WHL. 2011 Draft hopeful Sven Bartschi (2 goals, 7 points), Columbus Blue Jackets 1st rounder Ryan Johansen (2 goals, 7 points) and agitating Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Brad Ross (4 goals, 5 points) give most teams a lot of match up headaches. That means Wild prospect defenseman Colton Jobke, along with fellow blueliners headlined by Colorado Avalanche prospect Tyson Barrie will have their hands full in their own zone. Offensively the Rockets will be hoping 2011 draft hopeful the California-born and trained Shane McColgan can continue to stay hot (3 goals, 10 points) while some of its other key offensive contributors in Detroit Red Wings prospect Mitchell Callahan (4 goals, 7 points) and L.A. Kings prospect Geordie Wudrick (2 goals, 3 points) and the Wild's Brett Bulmer (1 goal, 1 assist) can get it rolling. Between the pipes, Kelowna will have to hope Adam Brown (4-0, 3.25GAA .901%) can raise his game to another level as he will likely be feeling the pressure in waves from the Winterhawks. Portland will be leaning on Mac Carruth, who was absolutely stellar in the Winterhawks' sweep of Everett. OUR PICK: Kelowna is no stranger to this time of year and I think that is the environment perfect for an upset. Wudrick and Bulmer need to get involved, I predict a 4-2 series win for Kelowna. (Kelowna leads series 1-0)
Red Deer Rebels (48-16-4-4) Vs. Medicine Hat Tigers (46-18-4-4) ~ This series is a classic case of the immovable object versus the unstoppable force. The Rebels have had an awesome breakout season, due large in part to the emergence of highly touted 2011 draft hopeful Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (4 goals, 9 points) and Wild prospect goaltender Darcy Kuemper (4-0, 1.50GAA .948%) who has been shutting the door on opponents all season long and looks to be just as solid in the post-season thus far. In contrast to this defensive stalwart, the Medicine Hat Tigers are an offensive machine that plays a 1980's Oilers' style of hockey where its simply about outscoring teams than dedicating themselves to team defense. L.A. Kings prospect Linden Vey (5 goals, 12 points) has been on fire for the Tigers, and Anaheim Ducks' 1st rounder Emerson Etem (5 goals, 9 points) could very well get the job of shadowing Nugent-Hopkins' every move. Kuemper gives Red Deer a far better level of insurance between the pipes than Medicine Hat's Deven Dubyk (4-1, 4.41GAA .872%) and he'll have to be better if the Tigers are going to pull off the upset. OUR PICK: I think Kuemper and the Rebels will prevail in a 4-1 series victory.