"You've got a way to keep me on your side, you give me cause for love I can not hide, For you know I'd even try to turn the tide, because your mine, I walk the line" are the lyrics to Johnny Cash's famous song I Walk the Line. Right now the Wild are walking a fine line between having a chance and playoff oblivion. After their most recent loss, a 5-2 defeat on Friday night the Wild have dug for themselves a 2-0 series deficit against a team many experts believe are destined for a Stanley Cup showdown with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Wild have to use the advantage of a home crowd to their full effect in order to stem the tide and turn this back in the series, let alone lift their flagging level of confidence. Minnesota has struggled to win games at home in the 2nd half of the regular season and with a bit better performance at home with a few wins against opponents like Edmonton and Calgary the Wild could hace avoided having toplay Chicago in the first round altogether. That is all water under the bridge now. It may all come down to how tough the Wild make it on Chicago. Defensively the Wild were more solid in Game 1 by the fact they did not give up the blueline real easy, as they confronted Chicago on their zone entries and causing the Blackhawks to go offsides numerous times.
The Wild must find a way to make the power play count as they have yet to find the back of the net on the man advantage. Back in 2003, it was the Wild's power play which punished Colorado and Vancouver consistently when they took penalties which made up for their struggles to score 5-on-5. If Minnesota is to have a chance, the power play must be a strength and not the liability it has been so far (no goals, with one shorthanded goal for Chicago). So will the Wild make a statement this afternoon with a victory over the Blackhawks or will they find themselves a little closer to that oblivion line I referred to earlier?
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1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota looked a little bit more direct and simplified as they started the game. The Wild were looking to shoot early as Devin Setoguchi blasted a shot on goal that was deflected up into the netting by Corey Crawford. A few minutes after that the 3rd line won a battle for the puck along the boards and Cullen escaped with it where he tried a toe-drag pass that just failed to connect with Setoguchi. Minnesota was trying to be more physical and Stephane Veilleux made his presence felt on two nice hits on his first shift. Not to be outdone, the Blackhawks Niklas Hjalmarsson would nearly grind Zach Parise into dust along the boards on a big crunch near the Chicago bench. The Wild were hustling but it wasn't yielding any sort of sustained forechecking pressure as Chicago was making the short quick passes to negate Minnesota's aggressiveness. Chicago was counterpunching successfully, as well as being able to establish their forecheck with superior strength on their skates near the boards. The Blackhawks puck control would yield a great scoring chance as Patrick Sharp set up Patrick Kane for a shot that was partially blocked by Marco Scandella. Minnesota was starting to juggle its lines, placing Parise on the 4th line with Torrey Mitchell and Veilleux and the move seemed to yield more energy and most importantly more speed. The Wild started to swarm more in the Chicago end, and so did the scoring chances. The first was on a near wrap around by Mitchell, that Parise just couldn't quite reach. Moments after that it was a hard charging shift by the 3rd line of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak that led to another chance as Clutterbuck backhanded a shot that hit Chicago's Duncan Keith but would miss the mark. The home crowd was appreciative of the effort and gave a nice ovation as Minnesota finally started to show some fire. The physical parts of the game also seemed to intensify as the hits started to pile up as Charlie Coyle and Mikko Koivu steamrolled a few Blackhawks. Chicago did not appreciate the Wild's hustle and Viktor Stalberg tripped up Jason Zucker. On the power play the Wild were again direct in their approach as Jared Spurgeon took the faceoff and looked to shoot right away but his bid was blocked on its way to the goal. Minnesota kept trying to carry the puck to the net, but when they did so there were not enough bodies near the crease to pounce on the rebounds and Chicago would escape unscathed. Chicago would go back on the forecheck and a strong phyiscal charge towards the net by Marian Hossa was fought off by Justin Falk, but Hossa was able to drop it back to Patrick Kane who took his time before feeding a pass cross-ice to Johnny Oduya who took his time and ripped a wrist shot by a well-screened Josh Harding, 1-0 Blackhawks. The 2nd line gain caused Chicago a few problems as Setoguchi separated Nick Leddy from the puck where it was gathered up by Cullen who passed it back to Setoguchi who turned and fired a shot on goal where Crawford steered it away. The line kept working hard down low. A few minutes later a questionable non-icing call the Wild almost seemed to play with a little dose of annoyed will power as Bouchard raced up the ice and he'd drop a pass back to Clutterbuck and he was able to fire a shot on goal and Bouchard would roof a backhander to tie it up 1-1. With the home crowd roaring, the Wild nearly struck again as Cullen found Zucker all alone on the backdoor and he rifled a shot just wide of the mark. Minnesota was greeted with another ovation as the 1st period expired. The Wild outshot Chicago 15-9.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would start the period with an excellent scoring chance as Kyle Brodziak carried the puck deep into the Chicago zone where he fired a sharp angle shot that yielded a big rebound from Crawford who then had to reach back to stop Bouchard who tried to slide home the rebound. The Wild were playing with excellent energy, and Devin Setoguchi would delivver another big hit on the forecheck as he crumpled Michael Rozsival with a big check and this led to a wrap around opportunity for Setoguchi who was stonewalled by Crawford. Minnesota was trying to play with a bit more edge and Justin Falk would get carried away as he got tangled up with Michael Frolik after a failed Blackhawks stretch pass was called offsides. Falk would sit for roughing. The Wild's penalty killers stood tall thanks to some huge faceoff wins by Mikko Koivu. The Blackhawks were able to create a few shots on goal, but Josh Harding was able to make the saves and the Wild were able to carry away dangerous pucks. Minnesota would go back on the attack and it was Brodziak setting up Clutterbuck with a close range chance that was denied by Crawford. The Wild would give Chicago another power play as Brodziak lifted the stick into the face of Hjalmarsson. Minnesota's penalty killers were outstanding as they pressured the Blackhawks into a turnover as Cullen stole the puck near the Chicago blueline and he dropped a pass back to Mitchell who drove a slap shot on goal that Crawford just got a piece of. The Blackhawks would help the Wild's cause as Jonathan Toews would hold up Ryan Suter from tracking down the puck. Minnesota would have a short power play but the movement was slow and uncreative so all they were able to create was a a few shots from the point. The Wild would follow up the power play with a tremendous shift by the 2nd line of Zucker, Setoguchi and Cullen buzzed all over the Chicago zone as they set up Zucker numerous times to fire the puck on goal. The line gathered the puck up, and moved it efficiently between defenseman Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella and their effort was received with an appreciative cheer from the home crowd. Minnesota's pressure was clearly starting to irritate the Blackhawks as Oduya popped Clutterbuck in the throat andt he feisty Wild winger would try to scrap with Oduya. After the scrum, Oduya would get a double-minor (one for high sticking the other for roughing) while Clutterbuck got just a lone minor penalty for his retaliation giving Minnesota a power play. The power play was a huge buzzkill as poor passing and stickhandling really never allowed it to get anything set up in the offensive zone. You could sense the crowd's anxiety as Minnesota muddled its way through the man advantage. Jason Zucker would add an exclaimation point to the period when he delivered a nice hit to Brent Seabrook, sending the rugged Chicago defenseman to his backside just as the period expired. Minnesota still had to be pleased with the way it controlled the period, but still their pressure wasn't being rewarded with anymore goals as they again outshot Chicago 14-8 in the period.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period the Wild seemed a bit more relaxed than it had in the first two periods. The 2nd line would continue to cause trouble as they entered the zone with speed and Zucker set up Setoguchi for a bomb that Crawford stopped but Cullen wasn't able to bury the rebound. Yet that effort sparked the Wild and they would be rewarded as Charlie Coyle carried the puck down low and he dished a pass from beneath the end line out front to Parise who gathered it up on the backhand before lifting a quck shot over Crawford to give the Wild to the lead, 2-1. With the crowd roaring, the Wild continued to hustle well and they were starting to win the races to the loose pucks. Minnesota would start to sit back a bit and wait for Chicago to come through the neutral zone instead of working it deep and keeping the Blackhawks pinned in their own end. The Wild were content to counter punch and as the trapping style was creating turnovers Minnesota was quick to attack in transition. The counterpunching style of the Wild was making Chicago one-and-done in the offensive zone. The Blackhawks started to pour it on and the top line Chicago had an amazing shift as Jonathan Toews fed a puck to Duncan Keith who eluded Bouchard with a Savardian-style spin-a-rama move and he'd let loose a backhand that was blocked away by Harding. The Wild were doing their best to play keep away with Chicago, working the puck deep and forcing them to lug the puck up the full length of the ice. At times it looked as though the Blackhawks were on the power play as they were scrambling around their own zone. Chicago would be rewarded as they'd catch the Wild in a bad line change and Kane would set up Keith for a one timer and he'd wire a slap shot by Harding to tie the game at 2-2. The Blackhawks would press for the go ahead goal as Toews would dangle around Spurgeon but his chance was stopped by Harding and the game would go to overtime. The Wild inexplicably decided to sit back and wait for the Blackhawks in the last few minutes that allowed Chicago to tie the game.
Overtime Thoughts: The Blackhawks looked hungry and dangerous early on as the Wild were scrambling a bit in their own end. Devin Setoguchi tried to spark his team with some big hits. The pressure he started would result in the game wining goal as Matt Cullen fed a pass to Jason Zucker who hammered a shot on goal that was stopped by Crawford but the Wild would gather up the loose puck and Bouchard dished it over to Cullen who was checked off the puck by Andrew Shaw and from his stomach Cullen moved it out front were Zucker intercepted it and fired a sharp angle shot that beat Crawford to give Minnesota a huge 3-2 victory.
Josh Harding had another terrific game as he had 25 saves and he was again a source of stability. He got good help from the Wild's defense as they swept away dangerous pucks. At times the Wild's defense were guilty of just blindlly giving away the puck off the glass, but overall they had a decent game. Minnesota backchecked well which also helped frustrate the Blackhawks offensively. I thought Ryan Suter was again a workhorse, logging 32:23 of ice time. I thought Jonas Brodin was also pretty solid. Marco Scandella also continues to play important minutes.
Offensively the Wild benefitted from a simplified approach, where they took just about every opportunity to direct the pucks on goal. Another part of that was Minnesota's physical play, as they outhit Chicago 34-13 and that led to its goals. From the Parise goal, the Wild's assertiveness with the body made a big difference. I was very pleased with how involved Devin Setoguchi was in the physical department, as he dished out 7 hits which was 2nd on the team to Cal Clutterbuck's 8. 37 shots on goal kept Chicago under siege for most of the game and Minnesota will have to duplicate that effort on Tuesday. Another key in the Wild's success was their performance on its draws as Minnesota won 56% of them. The Wild got goals from 3 different lines and that's how its going to have to happen if the Wild are going to have a chance. I still think the Power Play needs to keep it simple and just worry about peppering the goaltender with shots, but with the exception of the power play in the 3rd I felt the team at least built up a little pressure on the man advantage.
Minnesota is lucky its lapse in focus on the line change which led to Duncan Keith's goal, and decision to sit back and defend in the 3rd didn't come back to haunt them. Minnesota strayed from the formula that had worked so well and Chicago took advantage of it. Mike Rupp had just four shifts in the game and while he brings size the Wild were btter served by using faster forwards to punish the Blackhawks on the forecheck. Stephane Veilleux brought enegy and hits every shift. I would expect to see Jake Dowell in the lineup for the next game. As great as that game was the Wild need to put it behind them and try to bring it like they did today.
~ The Wild roster this afternoon was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Jason Zucker, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mike Rupp, Torrey Mitchell, Stephane Veilleux, Justin Falk, Tom Gilbert, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Ryan Suter. Darcy Kuemper backed up Josh Harding. Nate Prosser, Brett Clark, Clayton Stoner, Mikael Granlund, Jake Dowell and Zenon Konopka and were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Jason Zucker, 2nd Star Zach Parise, 3rd Star Josh Harding
~ Attendance was 19,238 at Xcel Energy Center.
Houston Aeros Report:
Grand Rapids wins the series 3-2
The Houston Aeros era ends in ugly fashion as they were throttled 7-0 by the Griffins on Saturday night. The wheels really fell off in the 2nd period as Grand Rapids built on a 1-0 1st period lead by scoring fouur times including a goal by Tomas Tatar with just 3 seconds in the 2nd. Houston attempted to rally back but penalties really denied the Aeros ability to mount a serious comeback. Mike Condon had 34 saves in the loss. The loss not only ends the season for the Aeros but also marks their departure from Houston to Des Moines for the 2013-14 season. I would like to give a special shoutout to the voice of the Houston Aeros Joe O'Donnell who did a superb job broadcasting the games all season long and for the last 5 years in general. The Aeros fans deserve a lot of credit for making Houston a great hockey market and like Joe believes, that hockey will return to that area. For the last 19 years the fans filled the stands and were treated to some terrific hockey as Houston qualified for the playoffs in 16 of those 19 seasons.
Wild Prospect Report:
LW ~ Raphael Bussieres (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) ~ It was too little, too late for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar as their late game surge came up short in Game 2 against Halifax 4-3. The victory gives the top seeded Mooseheads a commanding 2-0 series lead. Raphael Bussieres has been held scoreless in the last few games, registering a shot and a hit and was a -1 in this most recent contest.