Sports are a magnet for superstitions whether amongst fans or the players and coaches involved. I coached with a guy who had a ton of them. From a lucky pen, to a lucky towel that he had to shower with at a certain time of day, to a lucky song that could be an omen of a victory. Michael Jordan wore his North Carolina shorts underneath his NBA shorts each and every game. Hockey players are no different. Its all in the routine right? Whether you don't skate on the lines like Patrick Roy or place the blade of your stick in the toilet like Bruce Gardiner. Sometimes players have a certain order as to how they put on their equipment. Fans can be equally superstitious. I'll admit it I have some superstitions of my own that I wear hoping it will bring the Minnesota Wild good luck. Since the Wild have won their last 3 games I looked back at what I did during that time and each time I invoked the memory of the Minnesota North Stars. I'm doing so again as I invoke an improbable series victory by the Minnesota North Stars defeating the mighty Edmonton Oilers who still had the likes of Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr, and Mark Messier on their squad to try to conjure up another Wild victory. Very few thought the North Stars had a chance, and there are probably very few that believe the Minnesota Wild have a chance against the Predators tonight.
The Predators' are clearly a team playing for right now. The team made an obnoxious trade when it dealt a 1st round pick to Buffalo for Paul Gaustad and a 4th round pick. The Predators even have made amends with defected Russian winger Alexander Radulov saying everything is ok, going as far as counting the last 15 games of the year as a full year to get the skilled scorer back in the lineup for a playoff run. The team could very well be seeing the last of coveted defenseman Shea Weber and Ryan Suter in a Predators uniform. The Wild have been preying rather successfully on those teams that are playoff bound so should the Predators be worried? Or will they take it to the Wild tonight?
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1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota was moving well and being physical at the right time early in the game. The Predators found the Wild's forecheck a little tough to deal with as the top line worked the puck and along the wall successfully. Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, and Mikko Koivu supported each other well but were unable to get much in the way of shots on goal for Anders Lindback to deal with. The Wild had to deal with the first tricky shot of the game as Roman Josi uncorked a slap shot that was redirected on goal by a roving David Legwand that drew a nice stop by Niklas Backstrom. Minnesota also backchecked aggressively as Stephane Veilleux thwarted a possible shooting opportunity for Alexander Radulov. A scary moment occurred deep in the Predators zone as a few Wild players collided while working against the boards and Kyle Brodziak fell to the ice and as they scrambled to help out on the backcheck Darroll Powe stepped over Brodziak and may have caught Brodziak in the face with his skate. The Predators tried to take an early lead and Marco Scandella nearly handed Nashville that opportunity as he lost the puck in his skates and it was picked up by Gabriel Bourque who rifled a shot on goal that was absorbed by Backstrom. On the other end, Jason Zucker was showing a little more jump than their last game against Chicago and he pulled the trigger on a wrist shot that was fought off by Lindback. The Wild would get the first power play of the game as Devin Setoguchi was sent into the boards dangerously by Ryan Suter. On the man advantage, the Wild moved the puck ok at the start, setting up a blast from the point by Tom Gilbert that missed high and wide. Minnesota then put out its second unit and it was Erik Christensen setting up Zucker for a quick shot that was directed away by Lindback and then moments after that Lindback kicked away a big slapper by Kurtis Foster. The Wild came up empty on the power play and the Predators would soon be given their first power play as Justin Falk held up a Nashville forward for an interference call. Nashville had a good scoring chance early as Mike Fisher fired a shot from the slot that trickled behind Backstrom who laid backwards to cover it up but he didn't quite do so which caused a host of Predators to storm his crease as they looked to poke it in. The net would be pushed off its moorings by the mass of people before Martin Erat poked it in as he wanted a goal and a bunch of players began to grapple with one another. No goal was called and Minnesota dodged a bullet. Minnesota would get the big kill they were looking for and the game remained knotted at 0-0. The Wild were working hard in the Predators end, and even when they were not creating offense they were forcing Nashville to work very hard in its own end just to dig the pucks out and I like how Minnesota was battling out there. The 4th line would create a bit of a scoring chance on a long shot taken from near the left wall as Warren Peters snapped a shot that Lindback mishandled with the glove and Jed Ortmeyer would follow that up with a shot off the rebound before he was finally able to cover it up for a whistle. The top line would sustain some offensive pressure with good passing as Dany Heatley just fanned on a one-timer but Tom Gilbert was there to blister a shot that was knocked down by Lindback and Minnesota seemed to be playing one step ahead of the Predators. Minnesota would earn another power play as David Legwand hauled down Jason Zucker. On the power play the Wild were incredibly static; not a lot of movement and their attempts to put the puck on the net were a bit predictable and ineffective and Minnesota would skate into the 1st intermission still tied at 0-0. The Wild out shot the Predators 12-10 in the period. I really liked the work ethic and willingness to pay the price to seal the Predators off the puck; especially in the Wild's own zone. Great period.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota started the period with nearly a minute of power play time and the Wild moved the puck very well to set up about 4 scoring chances in quick succession. Unfortunately, none of those shots reached Lindback even though the 6'6" goaltenders stick was knocked behind the goal and he was sprawling in his crease. The Predators answered right back with a good opportunity of their own that had Niklas Backstrom reaching back towards his crease as a host of bodies fell into the blue paint. For whatever reason the play was given a lengthy review (over 5 minutes in length) even though no goal was signaled and the puck was apparently underneath Niklas Backstrom. The replay was very inconclusive as all you can see is bodies on the ice; even from the overhead view. After a review that lasted a little over 6 minutes in length it was ruled 'no goal', uh duh! Lame. The Predators went right back on the attack and they had two big blasts from Shea Weber and Martin Erat respectively but they both missed wide of the mark. Minnesota countered with their 3rd line of Kyle Brodziak, Darroll Powe, and Cal Clutterbuck and Powe created a turnover in the offensive zone and he got off a quick shot that was stopped by Lindback and then followed up by Cal Clutterbuck. The Wild again went back to out working the Predators to loose pucks and the battles down low were intense. The Predators tried to take advantage of the Wild's aggressive forecheck and Radulov tried to lead the rush but he was thrown down rudely by Justin Falk who tossed him like a rag doll that drew the ire of the home crowd. The Wild would counter attack and Nate Prosser oddly enough found himself rather alone off the rush but instead of taking the shot he forced a pass that was intercepted before it could reach Zucker. Nashville would transition and attempt to take advantage of a tired line and they got close as Kevin Klein bombed a shot that was held onto by Backstrom. A few minutes later the Predators tried to pass the puck cross-ice back and forth a few times before a bouncing pass eluded Sergei Kostitsyn before he could pull the trigger on what could've been a wide open shot. The Predators' were carrying the play but Minnesota was being tough in the right areas of the ice and alleviating pressure. As soon as I type that, Mikko Koivu passes the puck back into the defensive zone to Stoner who is flat footed and he is pick pocketed by Nick Spaling and he dished it to Bourque to give the Predators a 1-0 lead. A completely pointless and boneheaded play by the Wild's captain. Minnesota tried to answer back with some hard work with its 3rd line; and it was more of the same of out battling the Predators along the wall but nothing to show for it in terms of shots on goal. On the very next shift the 4th line responded with an excellent effort as Stephane Veilleux twice attempted wrap arounds that just failed to connect. The Wild's persistence would pay off as Dany Heatley worked a 2-on-1 with Devin Setoguchi where Heatley fed Setoguchi who ran out of room where he couldn't get a shot off. Yet Setoguchi would move from behind the goal and fire a shot that found the crossbar and Minnesota gathered up the puck and a point shot by Nate Prosser that was redirected perfectly (in a nonchalant way) by Heatley that just snuck underneath the arm of Lindback and in, 1-1 game. The Predators tried to answer back, but the hustle of Warren Peters stymied the shot when he dove in front of it like a secret service agent and the puck would go up and into the netting up and behind the glass. Minnesota had to feel pretty good the way they battled back to tie the game going into the 2nd intermission. Shots were hard to come by as the Predators held a slim 6-5 edge. I really love the effort I'm seeing, another quality period minus that one bad mistake; this team deserves to be ahead 1-0 right now.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would get an early power play to start the 3rd period, as Martin Erat tripped up Justin Falk. The Wild again tried to spread out wide but it still was fairly static with very little puck movement apart from the wall to the defenseman. Kurtis Foster would fire a shot on goal that was knocked out of the air by Heatley that was eventually held onto by Lindback. A few moments later, the Wild had another close chance as a fanned shot by Foster was picked up by Setoguchi who passed it to Heatley who attempted a sharp angle shot that was denied by the shoulder of the 6'6" goaltender. After the power play expired, the Wild had a surprising scoring chance as Ortmeyer moved in and he swept a shot on goal that struck the outside of the left post. The Predators tried to answer back but Minnesota continued to backcheck effectively and they continued to outhustle and outbattle Nashville in their own zone. The Wild had their chances, the top line had some space to work with as Setoguchi passed the puck to Koivu who then tried to slide a lazy pass back to him that was intercepted and only some good hustle by the Wild's defense prevented a Nashville scoring chance. Niklas Backstrom would bail out his team as Josi found himself alone at the point with a shot and the Finnish netminder absorbed it like a sponge. The Wild would draw another penalty as Ortmeyer kept driving his legs before being hooked down by Spaling but both would be sent to the box; Spaling for hooking and Ortmeyer for diving. The ice was a bit more open but neither club could gain much of an advantage with it being a 4-on-3 power play for the Wild. A few minutes later the Predators tried to take the puck close to the Wild crease and Martin Erat looked to be in position to capitalize but Nate Prosser forced a shot that missed high over the goal while Backstrom was down on his pads. Jason Zucker would take off and he'd speed his way through the Predators' defense for a backhand shot that was stopped by Lindback and then he managed to chip another shot on goal but it was good assertiveness on his part. Over the next few minutes the Wild would really put the lock-down on the Predators who seemed to be content to skate to overtime. The Wild would draw a late penalty on Andrej Kostitsyn with just under 12 seconds in regulation giving Minnesota a long power play to start overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: Minnesota would would start overtime with a 4-on-3 power play but the Predators' would challenge the entry into the zone and this would cause the Wild some problems. The Wild moved the puck well, but too many times they were forced to settle the puck instead of utilizing a true one timer and Lindback was able to get into position and make some huge saves. Minnesota held the zone well and sustain pressure but they were unable to get something by Lindback. The Predators went on the attack but Minnesota kept good active sticks and Nashville was only able to create a weak shot on goal. Minnesota's defense was outstanding, showing tremendous poise and doing a fine job of being tough at the right times and good backchecking also played a big factor as the Wild brought the game to a shootout. Devin Setoguchi's effort in his own zone was fantastic.
Shootout Summary: The Predators opted to have the Wild shoot first. Minnesota's first shooter was Erik Christensen, and the Wild's ace would move in where he lost the handle as he tried to handle it on the ice where the puck started to roll and he never got a shot off. The Predators' first shooter was Martin Erat who moved in slowly where he tried to go backhand to forehand but he couldn't lift it over Backstrom. Minnesota's next shooter was Mikko Koivu who really got up to speed where he tried to fire a wrist shot blocker side that was steered away by Lindback. Nashville's next shooter was Alexander Radulov who made a quick little deke where he fired a forehand that beat Backstrom to give the Predators a 1-0 lead. This meant Devin Setoguchi had to score to keep Minnesota's hopes alive and he'd race up the ice where he tried to fire a wrist shot that was blocked away by Lindback and the Wild fell 2-1 in the shootout.
Niklas Backstrom played very well, stopping 23 shots in the loss. I thought he did a terrific job of economizing his movement and staying solid to the shooter which is crucially important against a team that loves to blast it from the point. Backstrom gave the Wild every chance to win this game and defensively with the exception of the one gaffe by Koivu and Stoner the blueline had an outstanding game. Nate Prosser, Tom Gilbert, Justin Falk and Marco Scandella really had a tremendous game in my opinion. They took away the Predators' favorite plays, swept away rebounds and stayed calm and moved the puck out of the offensive zone quite nicely. Gilbert was especially solid; as he personally stopped a number of Predators' attempts to mount a rush. Falk was tremendous as well; showing a vicious physical side of his game that we don't see often enough.
Offensively the Wild struggled to create scoring opportunities, but this team still found some moments to sustain an attack. The top line on a few occasions stepped up and caused some genuine havoc against one of the better defenses in the league. I wasn't a huge fan of the power play, but I see what they were trying to do by spreading it out as much as they did. They were clearly hoping to create some shooting lanes but too often guys weren't ready to shoot and the lack of puck movement made it pretty easy for the Predators to sit in the shooting lanes. I would like to have seen the Wild use a little more puck movement since the Predators' penalty kill was being so passive in their approach. Jason Zucker had a few nice glimpses but he really isn't going to get much playing the few minutes that he is. I liked his assertiveness this game versus what he shown on Sunday against the Blackhawks where he was more or less invisible.
Overall I thought the Wild put forth a tremendous effort. They were strong at both ends of the ice, and they really pushed the Predators to the limit. The Predators' obnoxious fans may have given the Wild a "you suck" chant but Minnesota was dangerously close to winning this game. You could even see in the body language the Wild exhibited after the game that the players had no regrets and they did the best they could. That's all you can ask of any team. With the Wild working so hard it should make for a very interesting game Thursday night.
~ The Wild roster was as follows tonight: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Erik Christensen, Stephane Veilleux, Warren Peters, Jed Ortmeyer, Jason Zucker, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Nick Johnson, Darroll Powe, Kurtis Foster, Clayton Stoner, Tom Gilbert, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk and Marco Scandella. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Matt Kassian, Steven Kampfer, Matt Cullen, and Jared Spurgeon.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Anders Lindback, 2nd Star Gabriel Bourque, 3rd Star Dany Heatley
~ Attendance was 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena.
Minnesota High School Boys Hockey Report:
Minnesota has announced the roster of its U-18 team that it will send to the National Invitational Tournament where it will play similar teams from Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota and Massachusetts. Here is Minnesota's U-18 entry.
#35 - G - Zach Thompson ~ 6'2", 170lbs (Duluth Denfeld)
#1 - G - David Zevnik ~ 5'11", 165lbs (St. Thomas Academy)
#2 - D - Lance Carney ~ 5'10", 170lbs (White Bear Lake)
#3 - D - Meirs Moore ~ 5'9", 175lbs (Duluth East)
#4 - D - Wyatt Schmidt ~ 6'3", 202lbs (St. Thomas Academy)
#5 - D - Chris Forney ~ 6'2", 175lbs (Thief River Falls)
#6 - D - Jake Zeleznikar ~ 6'2", 185lbs (Hermantown)
#7 - D - Ryan Bittner ~ 6'2", 170lbs (Crookston)
#8 - F - Jake Guentzel ~ 5'9", 155lbs (Hill-Murray)
#9 - F - Jake Jackson ~ 5'10", 175lbs (Tartan)
#10 - F - Alex Thompson ~ 6'0", 175lbs (Duluth Denfeld)
#11 - F - T.J. Roo ~ 6'0", 170lbs (Totino-Grace)
#12 - F - Zach LaValle ~ 5'10", 185lbs (Hill-Murray)
#14 - F - Zach Glienke ~ 6'3", 180lbs (Eagan)
#15 - F - Will Peterson ~ 5'11", 160lbs (Eagan)
#16 - F - Anthony Walsh ~ 6'0", 212lbs (Edina)
#17 - F - Colin Hernon ~ 5'10", 175lbs (Bloomington Jefferson)
#18 - F - Dylan Zins ~ 6'1", 170lbs (Prior Lake)
#19 - F - Hans Gorowsky ~ 5'9", 165lbs (Centennial)
#20 - F - Matt Serratore ~ 5'8", 145lbs (Bemidji)
Wild Prospect Report:
Ottawa 67's Tyler Graovac
F - Tyler Graovac (Ottawa, OHL) ~ Tyler Graovac and the Ottawa 67's advance to the next round of the OHL playoffs after a hard fought 2-1 victory Monday night. For Graovac, he dropped the gloves for his team as he fought Belleville's Joseph Cramarossa. The two had a history as you can see in the video clip below Cramarossa firing a few punches at Graovac earlier in the series. The Brampton, Ontario native has a goal, an assist and is even with 12 penalty minutes in 6 playoff games.
F - Mario Lucia (Penticton, BCHL) ~ Lucia and the Vees will be advancing to the Fred Page Cup Finals after crushing the Merritt Centennials 6-1 on Monday night. The 6'3" forward contributed 2 assists in the victory. Lucia still leads the Vees in playoff scoring with 6 goals, 15 points and 2 penalty minutes in 11 playoff games.