Its a classic scene from the movie Wayne's World (1992) where the mullet-ed heroes Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) play a game of street hockey in their hometown of Aurora, Illinois in their Blackhawks sweaters. I think just about everyone who saw that scene replicated the "Game on! (game on!) Car!!! (car!!) Its gone, Game On! (Game On!)" at least once. Apart from the singing of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody in Garth's AMC Pacer, or the near psychotic Glen (Ed O'Neill) working at Stan Mikita's Donut Shop its a great film with lots of hilarious lines both in English and Cantonese. The movie became a pop culture hit and for young people of my generation the lines quickly became a part of your normal lexicon from bowing repeatedly saying "We're not worthy, we're not worthy" to any sort of impressive act to asking someone to spew into Dixie cup by saying "if you're going to spew, spew into this!" Its a bit silly sure, but films are cultural touchstones that people connect to. The move was irreverent and ridiculous, but its what you expected from an expanded version of a Saturday Night Live skit.
Seriously, who didn't want to learn the word "Excellent!" in Cantonese? The Wild are still not earning much respect on "Canada's Sports Leader" as they currently have Minnesota sitting in 8th on their power rankings behind the likes of the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers. Really?!?! Another team that is rated ahead of the Wild are tonight's opponent the Chicago Blackhawks who TSN's Scott Cullen (TSN's official moron) has 6th. The Blackhawks are of course led by their lethal foursome of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. While I will grant they're a very formidable group up front, the Wild have proven they are greater than the sum of their parts. So can the Wild show some of that success it had on the road with a strong effort back in St. Paul? Or will the Blackhawks justify Cullen's continued skepticism?
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1st Period Thoughts: The game would have a strategic like start as both clubs were trying to win a territorial battle as the Blackhawks worked it deep early and then Minnesota would take its turn. The Wild's energy line of Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak and Nick Johnson were outworking the Blackhawks but could not createa a lot in the way of shots. Chicago was being very patient, looking for weaknesses in the Wild's defensive coverage. Patrick Kane would skate into the Minnesota zone rather leisurely and he'd spin and let loose a weak shot that was easily turned aside by Niklas Backstrom. A few moments later after some more patient play the Blackhawks got its offense set up and it was former Wild forward Andrew Brunette passing a puck out to the point from down low where Niklas Hjalmarsson stepped into a slap shot that nearly beat Backstrom as he was just able to get enough of it to direct it aside. Chicago was trying to break Minnesota's coverage with the drop pass back to the point where Steve Montador blasted a shot that didn't miss by much. The Wild tried to work its own forecheck as the puck was dumped deep into the Chicago zone that was followed up by Johnson who nearly forced a turnover from Ray Emery, but not before letting up and getting a facial from Emery's mask. Minnesota was pretty sloppy at times in their own zone as the defense made some poor decisions with the puck that nearly led to a wrap around opportunity for Brunette. The Blackhawks would send out their top line and it looked like a power play as Minnesota was bottled up in its own zone but defensively the Wild were able to keep Chicago to the perimeter. The Wild were getting absolutely nothing accomplished offensively and with just over 5 minutes to play in the period, Minnesota still had yet to register a shot on goal. Minnesota was looking a little lethargic late in the period, content to just dump it deep. Chicago was pressing the play and a tired 2nd line and the Blackhawks had a few dangerous slappers from the point. The Blackhawks nearly took the lead after a shot by Viktor Stalberg that was blocked into the air by Backstrom who batted the puck to the corner and the Wild would carry it out of the zone where Mikko Koivu fired a shot from beyond the Chicago blueline that was gloved easily by Emery and drew a big Bronx cheer from the home crowd as the Wild registered their first shot of the period with just under 3 minutes left. Minnesota had another great chance, after Darroll Powe won a little race for a puck in the Chicago zone and he chipped a pass over to Koivu who alertly made a nice little backhand pass over to Dany Heatley who didn't get a lot of velocity on a snap shot that was directed wide by Emery. Not a great period, but the energy level was something you'd expect from a team coming home from a long road trip. However, being outshot 11-2 is something they'll have to remedy if they really want to have a chance to win this game. Marek Zidlicky was very shaky, playing hesitantly and looking very uncomfortable out there. The Wild are lucky Niklas Backstrom showed up tonight.
2nd Period Thoughts: The cautious play would start the 2nd period, but Kyle Brodziak would draw a little excitement as he swept up a puck that was over skated by former Wild 1st round pick Nick Leddy in the Chicago zone and he'd turn and rifle a shot on goal that Emery struggled with a bit. The Blackhawks would create a little excitement of their own as Dave Bolland raced into the Wild zone on the forecheck and he directed a puck towards the goal that slid right behind Backstrom who dropped to cover it and missed and Minnesota was just able to escort it out of danger. Perhaps feeling both clubs needed a spark, Daniel Carcillo would drop the gloves with Brad Staubitz. The fight would start out a bit cautious as both fighters wanted to get a firm grip on the other before start throwing big right hands. Staubitz would start, but the shorter Carcillo was able to stay out of range initially. After a few Carcillo hooks landed, the Wild enforcer switched hands that he was unprepared for and Staubitz unloaded a barrage that withered the Blackhawks agitator for a clearcut victory for the Wild pugilist. The fight seemed to ignite a little more energy in the Wild and the top line of Koivu, Heatley and Powe had a great shift as Koivu set up Heatley for a close range chance that was just blocked away by Emery. Minnesota kept swarming around the zone and it was the Wild's best sustained pressure of the evening to this point. A few minutes later, Mikko Koivu would get tagged for a trip when it appeared as though Brent Seabrook stumbled on his own. Minnesota's penalty killers were working hard and they thought they had given Matt Cullen a breakaway opportunity but he was tracked down by Duncan Keith who lifted a stick that caused Cullen to spill to the ice before he could get a shot off that was not called. The non-call drew a loud persistent boo but also some major ranting from the Wild bench and especially Cullen who felt he was tripped. Those words would prove costly as Cullen was tagged with a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct giving the Blackhawks a 5-on-3 power play. Minnesota's penalty killers did a good job of weathering the storm of just over a minute of being two men short. Mikko Koivu would end up coming back but the Blackhawks would move the puck towards the crease and after a short pass right near the blue paint was intercepted it was banged home by Marian Hossa to give Chicago a 1-0 lead to another chorus of boo's. The damage wasn't done there, as Chicago went on the attack and some very lazy defensive work by (what a shock) Zidlicky allowed a long diagonal pass by Marcus Kruger to reach Michal Frolik who tapped in before Backstrom could slide across his crease to make it 2-0 Blackhawks. The Wild were feeling pretty down, and how could it be anymore perfect that Kyle Brodziak would provide the pick-me-up. The linesman would waive an icing call at the last second and two Blackhawks defenders would run into one another and the puck was picked up by Nick Johnson who dished it out front to Brodziak who patiently waited for Emery to drop and he lifted a shot by him to cut the Chicago lead to one, 2-1. Blackhawks bench boss Joel Quenneville was raging on the Chicago bench after the non-icing call which probably should've been made but far be it from me to criticize it at this point. Minnesota was starting to counter punch, and a turnover into the neutral zone combined with being caught in a line change gave the Wild a 2-on-1 as Cullen was able to saucer a pass to a crashing Cal Clutterbuck who somehow dangled a puck on goal that was stopped by Emery but tapped home by Cullen to tie the game at 2-2. The Wild was starting to show some confidence as the top line set up a beautiful chance as Koivu stole a puck and raced into the Chicago zone and he dropped a pass back to Jared Spurgeon who had joined the rush and he dished it to the high slot to Heatley who laced heavy wrist shot that missed high. Minnesota's pressure would draw its first power play of the game as Steve Montador got his stick into the grill of Marco Scandella. The Wild's power play was moving the puck well early, as they set up Mikko Koivu for a few good blasts from a sharp angle that Emery didn't have too much difficulty on. Minnesota's best chance on the power play came off the rush as Dany Heatley dangled around Seabrook before setting up Brodziak for a wicked shot that missed high as he tried to pick a corner. The Wild had to feel pretty good with the way the period ended after an ugly 1st half of it. It makes you wonder what could have been without those costly penalties that led to Chicago's first goal. Latendresse was not on the Wild bench that period, but one player I wish was not on the Minnesota bench was Zidlicky who was his typical awful self.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period would have a cautious beginning as both clubs were wary of making an early mistake. The Wild were patient, biding time for an error and a blocked point shot of Chicago's became an opportunity as Cullen, Clutterbuck and Warren Peters went on the rush and Cullen dropped it back to Peters whose shot was deflected by a backchecking stick of Bolland. Minnesota was dropping back rather quick defensively and the active sticks were making it very difficult for Chicago to get any sort of shots on goal to challenge Niklas Backstrom. Yet, Chicago persisted and the talent level of the Blackhawks would show as a failed clearing attempt by Mike Lundin would be stolen away by Jonathan Toews and he drove to the net and he skated in and beat Backstrom by roofing a forehand shot to give Chicago a 3-2 lead. A great individual effort by Toews but its not without controversy as Lundin's clearing attempt hit the netting above the glass which would've made it a dead puck. Daniel Carcillo would take a run at Warren Peters who tried to lean and poke the puck forward and his elbow struck Peters on what was a pretty weak call. Yet the Wild were happy to have their 2nd power play of the game. Minnesota had some good puck movement from the halfwall back out to the point where Zidlicky blazed a slap shot that was stopped by Emery and then he stopped Brodziak's point-blank range attempt to stuff it in. The Wild would come up short on the man advantage and now time was becoming an issue for Minnesota. Minnesota was taking its chances to press the attack as Cal Clutterbuck would motor into the offensive zone and he'd rip a wrist shot that was stopped by the shoulder of Emery and then a few moments later it was Brodziak rifling a heavy wrister that was stopped by the 'Hawks goalie. The Wild's top line was pouring it on and a heavy shot by Powe nearly made its way past Emery but he'd follow it up for a rebound chance and he was tripped up as he attempted to do so. On the delayed penalty the Wild were patient and Clutterbuck fed a diagonal pass over to Koivu who snapped a shot by Emery to tie the game at 3-3. The Blackhawks would have a few great scoring chances late as a nice defensive play by Marco Scandella to help thwart a 2-on-1 featuring Chicago's Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. A few moments later a quick shot from the point by Keith was stopped by Backstrom and Marcus Kruger was unable to lift a puck over the sprawling Wild goalie and the game would go to overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: Minnesota would have the first quality scoring chance of overtime as Scandella would dangle by a Blackhawks defender and he ripped a wrist shot that Emery was just able to fight off. The Wild nearly gave the game away after some poor decisions by Mike Lundin and Nick Schultz who gave an errant pass that was intercepted by Seabrook who raced in and blasted a slapper that Backstrom held onto. Another turnover, this time by Kyle Brodziak at the Chicago blueline turned into a solo rush for Viktor Stalberg and the former Vermont Catamount drove a shot that missed wide. Scandella would again provide some spark as his speed allowed him to step around Leddy but he was unable to get much of a shot on Emery. Chicago answered back with a chance of their own but Leddy's shot was steered aside by Backstrom and the game would go to a shootout.
Shootout Thoughts: The Wild would elect to shoot first, and they'd send out Matt Cullen. Cullen would race in and slow down but Emery didn't react at all and his wrist shot was stopped with ease. Chicago's first shooter was Jonathan Toews, and he'd race in and beat Backstrom 5-hole with a simple wrist shot. Minnesota's next shooter was Dany Heatley, and he tried to pull of a backhand to forehand deke but he lost the puck and never got a shot off. Patrick Kane was Chicago's next shooter and he moved in and then nearly stopped as he very slowly kept his forward momentum as he pulled the puck back and forth waiting for Backstrom to commit and once he did and Kane buried it to seal a 4-3 Chicago shootout victory.
Niklas Backstrom played well enough to give the Wild a victory, making 28 saves in the loss. I thought he made some great saves from in close and it was some poor plays by his defense that let him down. Marek Zidlicky was a disaster, and Mike Lundin wasn't much better. Minnesota's best defenseman were its too youngsters in Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon.
Offensively, I think we can say Kyle Brodziak has made himself a significant contributor. Its not just the fact he leads the Wild in goals with 11, but he was a leader in chances firing 4 shots on goal and being almost as much a threat to score as Koivu and Heatley were. He continues to personify the Wild in terms of effort on each shift and is doing so many of the little things that allows Minnesota to transcend its talent on paper. Minnesota simplified its approach in the 2nd and 3rd period and 30 shots on goal is a respectable figure after a paltry 2 shots in the 1st.
You have to like the persistence of the Wild to battle their way back twice in this game. However, it was also evidence of how small the margin of error is for this team. A brief lapse of discipline and Minnesota found itself down 2-0 rather quickly. The Wild have dropped their last two games in a row, but they're still in 1st place for the moment and now its time to refocus and ready themselves to battle a scrappy Islanders team that embarrassed them earlier in the year. To use a Mike Yeo-ism, its time to see this team respond and on Saturday we'll see just what that response is.
~ The Wild lineup tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen, Guillaume Latendresse, Darroll Powe, Warren Peters, Brad Staubitz, Colton Gillies, Cody Almond, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, Mike Lundin, Clayton Stoner, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella. Matt Hackett backed up Niklas Backstrom. Greg Zanon, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Casey Wellman were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Jonathan Toews, 2nd Star Cal Clutterbuck, 3rd Star Mikko Koivu
~ Attendance was 19,254 at Xcel Energy Center (6th largest in franchise history).
Wild Prospect Report:
F - Mikael Granlund (HIFK Helsinki, Sm-Liiga) ~ Granlund continues to impress as he buried two more goals in a 3-0 win over Ilves Tampere on Saturday. The Oulu-native now has 16 goals, 38 points in 30 games and has surged to a +18.
F - Johan Larsson (Brynas, Eliteserien) ~ At one point it appeared as though Larsson was going to be the one making a big splash this season, but his production has slowed considerably the last few weeks. The Lau, Sweden-native's totals have more or less flatlined, as he has gone scoreless throughout much of the last two weeks as he has 6 goals, 21 points and is a troubling -7.
G - Dennis Endras (HIFK Helsinki, Sm-Liiga) ~ Endras started the season with the Houston Aeros, but after playing 2nd fiddle Matt Hackett he asked to be allowed to go play in Europe. So now he's being the main backstop for Mikael Granlund's HIFK squad and so far the German-born goalie is performing well going 5-0 with a sparkling 1.81 goals against average, and .925% save percentage.