Ever been really embarrassed? So much so you felt you could barely muster enough self esteem to face your peers because what you did was so ridiculously humiliating? For some, embarrassment isn't something that bothers them and they can make themselves look like an ass and then laugh about it with everyone else. For others, the fear of embarrassment can be crippling as they implode under the pressure. I wonder what the Wild are feeling right now? Shouldn't they feel a little embarrassed after being completely dominated by the St. Louis Blues on Saturday afternoon? Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo vowed to wear the ugliest tie he owned on national television if his team won against the Blues, wow were you impressed by that bold gesture? Nope, me neither and it obviously didn't motivate the Wild who mustered a paltry 13 shots on goal. One thing is certain, Wild fans are expecting their team to be blown out against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. They expect their team to be tired, unmotivated even though they are playing on the 'featured game' on NBC's Hockey Day in America as the seminal event of the Hockey Weekend in America. Can you blame the fans for having such low expectations? The team is 5-17-5 since December 13th and has lost its last 7 games in a row.
How bad will the Wild be blown out on Hockey Day in America?
At this point the Wild would best be served by forgetting about the playoffs altogether. The fans certainly are not talking playoffs anymore, they're talking about possibly getting a top 5 pick in the draft. This team just needs to worry about its next game. The Bruins are a lot like the Blues, for the most part they're most of their key offensive talent is still young, with great goaltending, solid team defense, and they have a physical element to their game. Minnesota will have to dig deep if it wants to avoid embarrassment. So will Minnesota surprise the State of Hockey and make it a competitive game or will they live up to expectations and be subject to a rout at the hands of the Bruins?
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1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota was sitting back a bit at the start of the game, but it was the Wild registering the first shot on goal as Devin Setoguchi ripped a snap shot that was blocked away by Tim Thomas. The Bruins would go on the attack themselves and David Krecji set up Milan Lucic for a one-timer that be pounded high and wide of the Wild goal. Boston would get its forecheck going and they'd bottle Minnesota up into its own end as they Wild found itself scrambling about in its own zone. The Bruins would come dangerously close to taking the lead as Boston caught Minnesota during a line change as Tyler Seguin blazed a slap shot wide of the mark. The Bruins were using the drop pass effectively but it was leading to shots being taken from the perimeter and very few were reaching Niklas Backstrom. Boston's speed was making things difficult for the Wild as Daniel Paille got behind Nate Prosser off of a flip pass and Paille rifled a shot that was stopped by Backstrom and then he denied Gregory Campbell's attempt off the rebound that drew the first loud cheers of the game. Minnesota was having great difficulty getting out of their own zone let alone creating any opportunities to put the puck on goal. The Bruins 4th line nearly got Boston on the board, as Shawn Thornton set up Paille for a quick shot that snuck through the pads of Backstrom but an alert Nick Schultz was there to slide the puck back underneath his goalie for a whistle. Boston's speed was just on another level than the Wild as Paille blew past Marek Zidlicky who raced in on a break away but again Backstrom came up with the huge stop. The Bruins were almost toying with the Wild as they moved the puck with ease, finding the open player as Boston always seemed to have an economy of space and movement. Minnesota finally had a nice scoring chance of its own as the 3rd line of Matt Cullen, Darroll Powe and Nick Johnson tried to work the puck down low that resulted in a turnover in the slot for Johnson and he fired a shot wide of the mark. Backstrom continued to be busy as the Bruins 4th line continued to take every chance to fire it on goal, and at this point they looked way more effective offensively than Minnesota's top line. Minnesota tried to rally back and again it was the 3rd line of Powe, Cullen and Johnson getting it started with a good shift and then it was followed up by Minnesota's 1st line as they set up a point shot by Jared Spurgeon that just deflected wide as Thomas found himself screened by Setoguchi. A few minutes later, a nice battle along the wall by Johnson and Powe turned into a good quality close in chance for Powe who tried to jam it through Thomas who stayed strong as Johnson was poking away at it until it was finally blown dead. The Bruins continued to have little trouble creating opportunities to put the puck on goal and Backstrom made a nice stop as he had former Wild 1st rounder Benoit Pouliot trying to poke away at it. Minnesota tried to counter attack as Jared Spurgeon joined the rush and he wound up and blasted a slapper that drew a rebound but as Powe tried to follow up the play he'd bump into Thomas and the Bruins would get the first power play of the game as Powe sat for goaltender interference. Minnesota's penalty kill was strong keeping the Bruins to the perimeter and sweeping away loose pucks to keep Boston at bey. Excellent active sticks by the Wild. The Bruins had one last scoring chance as an alert Chris Kelly threw a puck in the direction of the goal that glanced off a stick and went on goal as it was pounced on by Backstrom and Minnesota had to feel relieved it was still a 0-0 hockey game. Boston dominated the period, but surprisingly they were tied in shots 13-13 but the Bruins clearly had more quality scoring chances.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period had a bit slower pace at the start than did the 1st as the Bruins were starting to use their ability to protect the puck to control possession a bit more. The Bruins had a great opportunity early as Milan Lucic set up Krecji at the top of the crease that was stymied by a nice stop by Backstrom. Minnesota again looked like it was a half-step to a full-step slower than the Bruins and were getting caught chasing them all over their own zone. The Wild were scrambling but they started to frustrate the Bruins with their hustle as a big point shot by Dennis Seidenberg was absorbed by Backstrom as Lucic battled with Schultz. Lucic was a little angry at a high stick he got from his battle with Schultz and he gave the Wild defenseman a shove long after the whistle had blown to no call. Shots were few and far between for the Wild but Minnesota was taking their chance at firing the puck when it presented itself. The game would open up as both teams started to trade rushes up the ice with one another but the difference was Boston was able to get shots directed towards the net while the Wild were unable to get pucks to even go remotely near the Bruins goal. On one rush, the Bruins looked as though they were going to have a great opportunity for Jordan Caron but before he could get a stick on it was deflected away by a diving play by Spurgeon. About mid-way through the period the Wild were finally able to set up a wide open one-timer but Powe fanned it wide of the mark. The Wild would finally be able to get a quick break out of the zone as Chad Rau raced into the Boston zone where he blew by the Bruins defense and he rifled a snap shot by Thomas to put Minnesota up 1-0! Rau made a nice subtle play to feint at passing to Marco Scandella who had joined the rush and that caused Chara to stay away and defend a possible pass to Wild defenseman just long enough to be able to laser one by Thomas. A few minutes after Rau's goal a long pass caromed off the boards reached Heatley who raced in all alone but he wasn't able to get a shot by Thomas who was way out of his crease to challenge the attempt. The goal seemed to give the Wild a little extra jump as they started to forecheck with more intensity as Jed Ortmeyer leveled Seidenburg with a big hit. The Bruins tried to answer back and came close on a bang-bang play as Lucic set up Krecji who didn't get much on a quick shot that just slid wide of the goal. A few minutes later the Wild would draw its first power play of the game as Chris Kelly hauled down Matt Cullen. Minnesota would make the Bruins pay for the mistake, as the Wild would score again off the rush as Matt Cullen raced through the neutral zone and entered the Bruins' zone with speed before he rifled a wrist shot by Thomas to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead. Cullen initially fanned on the shot which caused Thomas to move a bit that created the opening he needed as he beat him on the short side. Boston tried to answer back with its top line but it nearly came back to bite them as Rau pressured Johnny Boychuk near the Wild blueline and he'd cough up the puck and Minnesota went in a 2-on-1 between Setoguchi and Heatley. Like Rau's earlier goal, Setoguchi tried to look off the defender by faking to Heatley before firing a wrist shot that was stopped by the leg pad of Thomas who then quickly corralled the rebound to keep his team down by only two. The Wild started to win some of the little races for the puck and Minnesota was playing smart hockey, not taking any unnecessary risks but not just sitting back and defending their lead either. Minnesota had another great opportunity late in the period as Matt Cullen stole a puck in the neutral zone and he went on the attack and he'd try to fire a shot on goal but it was blocked by Seidenberg and the Wild had to be feeling awfully good carrying a 2-0 lead going into the 3rd period. The Wild out shot the Bruins 14-12 and were starting to control the pace of play, certainly a good sign but can they finish?
3rd Period Thoughts: The Bruins were looking hungry to start the 3rd period as Tyler Seguin turned on the jets to try to fly around Greg Zanon for a quick wrist shot off the rush that was held onto by Backstrom. Boston's top line continued to buzz around the Wild zone and it was Seguin again being denied from close range by the Wild goaltender. Predictably, the Bruins were looking for a spark so Shwn Thornton would drop the gloves with Matt Kassian. Kassian would dominate early as the two grapped and the Wild enforcer was throwing quick jabs that were landing as Thornton tried to do his best to stay out of range. Thornton would recover and he'd tag Kassian with a nice hook that caught the jaw of Kassian who weathered the punch quite well and he started firing jabs low to the body in response. It was a long struggle but eventually the two pugilists would land a few more punches before tiring out ending the fight. Too close to declare a winner but Thornton turned to his bench as if to say, "hey boys, let's go!" as he turned back towards the penalty box. The Bruins went back to the task of cutting into the Wild lead but Minnesota was hustling well and getting bodies and sticks into shooting lanes and Niklas Backstrom did a fine job of controlling rebounds. The aggressiveness of the Bruins nearly backfired as Jed Ortmeyer out skated Boychuk for a puck and he raced in and fired a shot on goal that had Thomas sprawling to make the save and Ortmeyer would tap it back towards the crease where Christensen tried to jam it home but Thomas was able to make the stop and the puck would be tucked underneath him by Boychuk for a whistle. Moments after this great opportunity the Wild had another after some excellent puck movement by a line of Cal Clutterbuck, Cullen and Jeff Taffe as Cullen set up Taffe in the slot where he snapped a quick shot that struck the crossbar and out. The puck still was in the Bruins zone but Minnesota was unable to get another puck on goal before Jared Spurgeon was forced out of the offensive zone. The Bruins started to show some more frustration as I'm sure Minnesota's active sticks were really starting to annoy them as Boychuk hammered a slapper that Backstorm denied despite a deflection. If that wasn't driving Boston crazy enough, Backstrom was there to make a huge save as he snagged a Lucic sure goal out of the air with a pretty glove save. Lucic looked to the sky in frustration as the crowd gave an appreciative cheer. Minnesota was counter punching well and a nice play by Kyle Brodziak to tap a puck along the boards to get behind the Bruins defense and Brodziak fed Heatley who tried to lift it by Thomas but he'd come up with a huge save. Backstrom continued to come up with big saves down the stretch as he had plenty of traffic near his crease. Minnesota was playing like a desperate and determined club, diving to block shots, knock pucks out of the zone and being willing to pay the physical price to make plays. With the Wild in full rope-a-dope mode, as Minnesota did not hesitate to lift the puck out of the zone at every opportunity. On one of the Wild's rare rushes late in the game, Devin Setoguchi would work it deep and as he was forced to the wall Heatley tried to bring it back out front where he was rocked by a stiff shoulder check by Andrew Ference. The Bruins would pull Thomas with about 1:30 left, and after a stoppage the Bruins would call a timeout to talk things over. Boston had a great initial chance as Joe Corvo ripped a shot that was denied by the leg pad of Backstrom. Minnesota would continue to be scrappy, chipping the puck out of the zone and the Bruins never really got close as the Wild earned a huge 2-0 victory.
Niklas Backstrom was absolutely brilliant, stopping all 48 shots he faced. Especially early on, Backstrom was the x-factor that kept Minnesota in the game when it appeared as though it had no reason to be. Backstrom was seeing the puck very well and absorbing pucks when he needed to deny the Bruins from having 2nd chance opportunities. His 48 saves were the most ever by a Wild goaltender who got a shutout. Defensively I thought the Wild's defenseman did a pretty good job in the 2nd and 3rd period of sealing off Boston's forecheckers and making the little plays along the wall to poke pucks to their forwards so they could take it out of danger. Jared Spurgeon had an especially strong game, and I thought Marco Scandella also played well too.
Offensively the Wild were better at taking their opportunities to put pucks on goal registering 29 shots. While you can argue that few of them were of the quality that makes for a scoring chance the fact the Wild were not overhandling the puck made a difference. It put pressure on Tim Thomas and Minnesota got contributions from players not on its top line and luckily it was enough to win the game. I thought Minnesota's best line offensively was its 3rd line of Matt Cullen, Darroll Powe and Nick Johnson. This line had the grit, speed and assertiveness that made them a thorn in Boston's side all game long. The Wild were able to get shots from all of its lines and this team isn't skilled enough to have any line not take chances to score. Say what you want, but Rau's goal should be an example to any call up getting a shot with the Wild. SHOOT THE PUCK! I have to admit when I saw Rau look back I thought he was going to pass it back to Scandella and watch in frustration as we saw another blocked shot but instead he fooled everyone by the feint and shoot and it turned the game around.
This was a quality game because few expected Minnesota to have a chance. I do not think Minnesota can expect to give up 48 shots too many times an expect to be victorious, but the team did many of the little things you need to do to win the game. The Wild were paying the physical toll to get the puck out of danger, to block shots and to get sticks in passing / shooting lanes that drove the Bruins crazy. For the Wild, they were in jeopardy of really getting embarrassed on the national stage, but instead they look like underdog heroes. Hopefully they can follow it up with another win on Thursday in Florida (knock on wood). If they play like this, I think they certainly should have a good shot.
~ The Wild roster this afternoon was the following: Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Jeff Taffe, Cal Clutterbuck, Chad Rau, Jed Ortmeyer, Darroll Powe, Matt Kassian, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson, Erik Christensen, Nick Schultz, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Marek Zidlicky, Nate Prosser and Greg Zanon. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Warren Peters, Justin Falk and Mikko Koivu were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Niklas Backstrom, 2nd Star Chad Rau, 3rd Star Matt Cullen
~ Attendance was 19,198 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Warren Peters would earn a 1-game suspension for his cross-check to the head of David Backes during Saturday's 4-0 loss to the Blues. You can see Brendan Shanahan's explanation here.
~ Its been a rough week for Aeros goaltender Matthew Hackett, who gave up 3 goals on just 18 shots on Friday and was pulled just 8 minutes into the game on Saturday night after giving up 2 goals in a span of about 11 seconds. This game was not without some ugliness as the Aeros' Joel Broda was given 5-minute major and a 10-game misconduct for head butting towards the end of the 1st period. The Aeros would cut the Abbotsford's lead to one, when team captain Jon DiSalvatore lit the lamp but that was all the offense Houston could muster as the Heat went on to win 4-1. Darcy Kuemper was decent giving up just 2 goals on 23 shots. The loss was the Aeros' 3rd straight regulation loss, the first time they've had such a streak this season.
Wild Prospect Report:
Denver Pioneers' Jason Zucker
F - Anthony Hamburg (Omaha, USHL) ~ Hamburg and the Lancers have been heating up in the 2nd half of the season. The Lancers captain led the way Friday night with 2 goals and an assist in a 7-4 effort over Cedar Rapids. Hamburg has 7 goals, 22 points and 55 PIM's in 38 games.
C - Erik Haula (Minnesota, WCHA) ~ Haula had a great weekend, tallying two goals and two assists in the Golden Gophers' sweep of Bemidji State. The Pori, Finland native now has 14 goals and 35 points in 33 games.
LW - Brett Bulmer (Kelowna, WHL) ~ Bulmer had to have breathed a sigh of relief after the Rockets survived a late goal by Red Deer Rebels promising 2012 draft prospect Matt Dumba with just 32 seconds left to tie the game. The Prince George, British Columbia-native had 2 goals in the 4-3 shootout victory. The 6'3" power forward has 24 goals, 45 points and 76 PIM's in 41 games.
LW - Jason Zucker (Denver, WCHA) ~ The Pioneers did not get the sweep they were hoping for, but Zucker had a solid weekend scoring 2 goals and adding a helper in Denver's series split with Wisconsin. The Las Vegas-native has 17 goals and 37 points in 27 games.
F - Mario Lucia (Penticton, BCHL) ~ The Vees continue to dominate the BCHL and I have a feeling that their fellow Interior Conference foes loathe playing this powerful squad. Lucia hammered home two more goals in the Vees 4-0 win over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. The former Wayzata star has 36 goals and 80 points in 47 games.