On February 26th, 1981 the Minnesota North Stars decided to make a statement. They were tired of being pushed around and intimidated by the Boston Bruins. So prior to that game, then North Stars Head Coach Glen Sonmor told his club to drop the gloves at the slightest attempt of intimidation by the Bruins. It happened right from the opening face off as Bobby Smith took a quick whack of the stick to the leg from Boston's Steve Kasper just prior to the face off. Smith would drop the gloves and even though Kasper got in most of the punches it was a sign of things to come as the North Stars repeatedly defended themselves and took it to the Bruins who at the time were considered the toughest team in the NHL. 14 fights and 406 penalty minutes later the North Stars had lost 5-1 but the message had been sent. The North Stars who were 0-28-7 in games played in Boston were not going to back down to anyone. They were not going to be intimidated and while it did not result in a victory that night, the North Stars would go onto sweep the Bruins in the playoff that spring.
Perhaps its only fitting that Bobby Smith led the crowd in the "Let's Play Hockey" chant before the game this evening. The Wild have made statements in the past. Their persistence that led to two comebacks from 3-1 series deficits to prevail against Colorado and Vancouver respectively. The Wild are in need of a statement now. The Los Angeles Kings are in a street fight for the playoffs as they have battled their way to the top of the Pacific Division. The Wild have embraced the spoiler role in the past as well, last year the Wild were all that stood in the way of the Dallas Stars qualifying for the playoffs. Minnesota raised their game and earned a win and Dallas went golfing in early April. A win tonight by the Wild may not keep Los Angeles out of the playoffs but it certainly could jeopardize their chances. With so many North Stars from that brawl attending tonight's game, hopefully the Wild can make another statement again. Will the Wild put the Kings a step closer or a step farther away from the playoffs tonight?
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1st Period Thoughts: The Wild started the game with some good jump as Darroll Powe used his speed to scoot through two Los Angeles defenders for a 2-on-1 with Kyle Brodziak, but before he could slide a pass over to Brodziak the play was thwarted by a diving play by Drew Doughty. Doughty knocked away the pass before sliding into the Kings' goal, knocking it off of its moorings. The Wild would score right off the draw as the puck was draw back and passed over to Nate Prosser for a one-timer that was redirected perfectly by Powe to give Minnesota an early 1-0 lead. Jason Zucker would show some more confidence as he raced into the Los Angeles zone and rifle a few slap shots that Jonathan Bernier fought off with his blocker. The Kings would answer back as they worked the puck deep in the Wild zone and Prosser failed to clear it and it was shot on goal by Anze Kopitar and it was Dustin Brown chipping a shot on goal that was stopped by Niklas Backstrom but the puck bounced into the blue paint where it was tapped in by Brad Richardson to tie the game 1-1. Minnesota would answer right back as Jason Zucker would gain a half step on Matt Greene and he'd put his shoulders down and power his way towards the Kings' crease where Bernier made a nice stop but Nick Johnson moved into lift home the rebound to make it 2-1 Wild. It was a bold move by Zucker to power his way around a physical blueliner like Greene and he was very deserving of his first NHL point (an assist). The game seemed to be going the Wild's way as the Kings would give Minnesota two consecutive power plays but Minnesota did absolutely nothing with them. Poor passing and in general a lack of execution by the Wild stymied the two chances where Minnesota didn't even get a sniff at the Kings' goal. Almost on cue, after the failed Wild power plays the Kings got one of their own as Stephane Veilleux got a slashing penalty when he shattered the stick of Jordan Nolan. The penalty would prove to be costly as the Kings moved the puck very effectively, as Anze Kopitar dangled around a few Wild defenders drawing Backstrom out towards him where he dished it off to Dustin Brown who moved towards the paint and jammed a puck in to tie the game at 2-2. The goal sort of killed the confidence the Wild had, and Minnesota found itself on the ropes. Warren Peters would toss a puck into the stands for a delay of game penalty. Minnesota's penalty killers would scramble and get a huge kill even though Los Angeles had some good chances as Jordan Nolan missed from the high slot. Darroll Powe paid a high price as he dove in front of a Willie Mitchell slap shot that had him lying on the ice for a few seconds and the Wild would go into the 1st intermission tied at 2-2. Both clubs had 9 shots on goal. The Wild's power play needs some serious work; far too passive.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Kings would strike early in the 2nd period as Brad Richardson got a step around Tom Gilbert and he swept around the Wild goal as Backstrom committed himself towards the left post and then Richardson wrapped it in to give Los Angeles a 3-2 lead. Backstrom seemed to be having trouble tracking the puck a bit as his movements were a little erratic in his crease. Minnesota tried to spark itself offensively as Erik Christensen raced into the offensive zone, turned sharply to gain a little space and he fired a wrist shot that was gloved by Bernier. The goal killed the crowd, and Minnesota found itself sitting back and playing defense over the next few minutes. The Kings were dominating the play and Richardson nearly got a hat trick as Kopitar set him up in the slot for a one timer that was denied by a leg pad save by Backstrom. Los Angeles was looking for some breathing room against the Wild and they'd get a little help as Justin Falk leveled Richardson with a vicious cross check that sent him falling into the back of the Wild goal. Nick Johnson, Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker made up a modified 2nd line that caused a little trouble for the Kings as Nick Johnson got off a backhand that was stopped by Bernier and then picked up by Jason Zucker who tried to attempt a wrap around but he lost the handle on the puck. The Kings would press late for an insurance goal and a long shot by Alec Martinez was stopped by Backstrom and then poked at by Richardson who drew the ire of Cal Clutterbuck who rode the Kings' forward into the boards to let him know that wasn't cool. The period would end with the Kings still holding a 3-2 lead, but Minnesota was lacking fire. Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi would notably absent from the period; perhaps because of a lack of effort is my guess. The Kings out shot the Wild 8-5 in the period.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild looked a little more determined to start the 3rd period, as Jason Zucker tried two quick wrap around attempts that both failed to connect. Warren Peters would fire a shot on goal before getting nailed by a big check by Kyle Clifford that sent him into the boards literally face first as he got some help by Wild trainer Don Fuller. The Kings tried to counter attack as they tried to use their collection of big bodied forwards to keep Minnesota pinned in its own zone on the cycle. The Wild were playing themselves into some easy turnovers in the neutral zone and this made it difficult to sustain much in the way of offense early. The time just kept steadily evaporating from the clock as the Wild was spending lots of time retreating defensively after turnovers in the neutral or offensive zone. Minnesota would get a little lucky off the rush as Christensen dropped the puck back to Zucker who fired a shot on goal that struck the skate of Christensen and in to tie the game at 3-3. The goal would be reviewed but Christensen was in the process of stopping and not kicking at it so the goal would stand. The Wild would go on the power play as Dwight King got his stick into the nose of Tom Gilbert giving Minnesota a 4-minute power play. Poor passing again caused the Wild to waste a good portion of power play time as the Kings' penalty killers challenged Minnesota puck carriers effectively. Minnesota finally sustained some pressure as the top line went out on the power play as Koivu set up Setoguchi for a one-timer that was stopped by Bernier and then the puck worked back out to Heatley who ripped a shot over the goal. The Wild would call a timeout with about a minute left to go in the power play to talk things over as Minnesota tried to get the go-ahead goal. Minnesota's power play would sputter and get nothing accomplished in the last minute as the superior hustle of Mike Richards and Justin Williams helped kill off the remaining minute of the man advantage. The last few minutes would expire fairly uneventfully as Mikko Koivu does a nice job of hurting his team with a selfish slashing penalty when he chopped at the legs to Dustin Brown with just 22 seconds of the period. The game would go to overtime. Both clubs had 7 shots on goal that period. Koivu's penalty was incredibly foolish on his part.
Overtime Thoughts: The Kings would start overtime with 1:38 left of power play time left giving the Kings a 4-on-3 power play. Los Angeles would help Minnesota inadvertently as Mike Richards hammered a slap shot that missed high and caromed off the glass and out of the zone. The Kings would take a timeout to talk things over with 51 seconds left in their power play. Minnesota's penalty killers did a nice job of disrupting passing and shooting lanes and Jed Ortmeyer and Cal Clutterbuck got two huge clears of the puck. The Kings continued to attack and Kopitar found Richards on a nice diagonal pass on what looked to be a sure goal but he was stoned by a fantastic leg save by Backstrom. The penalty expired but the Kings would continue to dictate overtime. As the Kings continued to swarm in the Wild zone a long range shot was kicked aside by Backstrom and Jason Zucker would lift a flip pass to Devin Setoguchi who tried to race in on a breakaway and he was hauled down by Martinez and he was awarded a penalty shot. Setoguchi would try to work up some speed as he bared down on Bernier where he ripped a wrist shot that rang off the left post and out. Minnesota would have another great chance a minute later as a point shot by Tom Gilbert was stopped by Bernier and the rebound was just pushed wide by Brodziak and the game would go to a shootout.
Shootout Summary: Minnesota elected to shoot first and they would send out Erik Christensen to be their first shooter. Christensen would race up the middle of the ice and he'd get very close before rifling a wrist shot by Bernier, 1-0 Wild. The Kings' first shooter was Justin Williams who nearly lost the puck as he approached Backstrom and all he could do was to get a quick wrist shot that was stopped by the Wild goalie. Minnesota's next shooter was Mikko Koivu and the captain pulled off his classic forehand to backhand move as he roofed a shot just beyond the reach of Bernier's glove to give the Wild a solid 2-0 shootout lead. This meant the Kings' Mike Richards had to score to keep the Kings' hopes alive. He'd move in and try a backhand to forehand deke the that was brushed aside by Backstrom to give Minnesota a 4-3 shootout victory.
Backstrom was ok tonight, at times a little shaky but he locked it down when the team needed him to do so. His huge overtime save on Mike Richards was perhaps the stop of the year for the Wild. Defensively the Wild had to work a man short for much of the game as Steven Kampfer left the game in the 1st with an undisclosed injury. I thought Justin Falk was much improved and felt overall the defense did a better job at working that first pass out of the zone.
Offensively the Wild got some goals through hustle and persistence and the real spark was rookie Jason Zucker. Zucker made something good happen on just about every shift and whether it was skill or luck he was in on 2 goals and nearly was on a 3rd on his flip pass in overtime to Devin Setoguchi. Playing confident and assertive is exactly what you want to see from a rookie. There has been more talk about Erik Christensen possibly earning himself a contract with the Wild and at this point its hard to deny. I like his attitude and his honest assessments of himself. I really was a little disappointed with the Wild's top talent of Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley. Heatley continues to float around the ice ineffectively, and seems kind of disinterested. Devin Setoguchi again looked a little passive until overtime. Koivu is lucky his selfish slash didn't lose the game, he should buy Backstrom dinner for bailing him out.
It was another resilient effort against a team that has everything to play for right now. If you follow Twitter at all, soon after the Wild won the appreciative tweets from teams like the Sharks and others flooded in and it tells you that even though it won't change the ultimate outcome for Minnesota it does affect others. The draft will figure itself out regardless of what we do, but it was a nice spoiler game for the Wild. They will have to regroup and do it tomorrow in Chicago.
~ The Wild roster for this evening was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Warren Peters, Stephane Veilleux, Jed Ortmeyer, Erik Christensen, Darroll Powe, Jason Zucker, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Nick Johnson, Justin Falk, Tom Gilbert, Clayton Stoner, Kurtis Foster, Steven Kampfer and Nate Prosser. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Cullen and Matt Kassian were the 'healthy' scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Jason Zucker, 2nd Star Erik Christensen, 3rd Star Justin Falk
~ Attendance was 18,209 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Cal Clutterbuck played in his 300th NHL game this evening and Tom Gilbert his 400th.
Wild Prospect Report:
Penticton's Mario Lucia
F - Mario Lucia (Penticton, BCHL) ~ Charlie Coyle's strong start has peaked the interest of many Wild fans but Mario Lucia is making a strong case of his own for some attention his way. On Tuesday, Lucia led the powerful Vees to a 5-0 victory over the Merritt Centennials on the strength of his hat trick. Merritt answered back with a victory of their own the following night where Lucia chipped in two assists. Lucia leads all BCHL players in scoring this post season with 6 goals, 13 points in 9 games. On Friday, Lucia would add another 2 assists to his credit as the Vees took a 2-1 series lead.
D - Colton Jobke (Regina, WHL) ~ Jobke's season came to an end Friday night after the Pats were defeated 5-2 by the Moose Jaw Warriors. The Delta, British Columbia native had the best statistical season of his junior career breaking out with 10 goals, 29 points a +2 and 104 penalty minutes in 71 games. In the playoffs Jobke was a non-factor contributing no points and was a -4 and 10 penalty minutes in 5 games.
C - Tyler Graovac (Ottawa, OHL) ~ Graovac and the 67's are battling Belleville in a surprisingly hard fought series thus far. Ottawa pulled ahead 3-2 in their series with a 5-2 win on Friday night. It has been an ok playoffs for the Brampton, Ontario-native has a goal and an assist in 5 games.
F - Anthony Hamburg (Omaha, USHL) ~ Hamburg had 4 penalty minutes and was a -1 as the Omaha Lancers defeated Lincoln 5-2 on Friday night. The Phoenix, Arizona-native has had his best junior season ever thus far scoring 13 goals, 37 points, +1 and 67 penalty minutes in 52 games.
D - Nick Seeler (Des Moines, USHL) ~ Seeler and the Buccaneers are trying to get back on track after a 4-1 loss to the Sioux City Stampede Friday night where the former Eden Prairie star had no points and was a -2. It has been a respectable first junior season for the offensively minded defenseman as he has 4 goals, 24 points and 59 penalty minutes in 52 games.