"It's a trap!" was the line bellowed by Mon Calamari Admiral Akbar in Star Wars' Return of the Jedi. Sometimes the hardest thing about sports is playing an opponent you clearly are better than and staying at the top of your game. Mentally speaking, athletes sometimes allow themselves to not focus the same they would against an opponent they feel are equal or superior to themselves. The result of that lack of focus is sloppy play and games that can turn out to be major disappointments or far more difficult than they should be. Minnesota has played well as of late but they would be wise to not overlook the Hurricanes or they could miss out on an opportunity the way they did when they lost to the lowly Florida Panthers.
Carolina has had trouble scoring, scoring just 8 in their last 7 games but those the kind of stats that make this one your classic 'trap' game. The last time the Wild played in Raleigh (Nov. 15th, 2009), the Wild got goals from Robbie Earl and John Scott. Yes, John Scott. So to say its been awhile is a bit of an understatement. The Wild is due to have some success in Carolina and keep their strong month going. Will they play to their level and take care of business or will they have a let down?
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1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota started out the game a little sluggish and slow on their feet as Carolina got in on the forecheck right away. The Wild were chasing around its own zone and Ryan Suter would use his stick to hold up Eric Staal giving Carolina the first power play of the game. Fortunately for the Wild and Suter, the penalty kill was very good making it very difficult for Carolina to get set up in the offensive zone. The Hurricanes' best chance came off the stick of Nathan Gerbe who pushed a shot wide of the goal but the puck would carom off the lively boards and back out front but no one was there to fire it home. Minnesota would go back on the attack and Ryan Suter would thread a long pass to Jason Pominville who moved in on a breakaway and he beat Justin Peters with a quick wrist shot to give the Wild a 1-0 lead. It was a beautifully precise pass to Pominville who buried his 200th goal of the season. Yet the good feelings would not last long as after some good play by the Wild in the Carolina end they would strike back as Ryan Murphy fired a long shot that deflected off the skate of Nate Prosser and the puck fluttered over Harding and off the cross bar and in tying the game at 1-1. Minnesota had a few power plays but I thought they tried to be a little too fancy with the puck and even though they did their best to set up Pominville at the point the Wild did not have enough players near the crease to be ready to bury the rebounds his big blasts were creating. I think the Wild need to consider starting the 2nd unit on the man advantage to switch things up a bit. I want to see more of the Pominville, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund line as I think they were able to cause more havoc in the Carolina zone than the 1st line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle who seemed a step too slow. The Wild had a great chance late from the 4th line as Zenon Konopka bounced a shot on goal that Peters snuck through Peters and as the puck sat in the blue paint it was swept away by Murphy just before Dany Heatley could bury it. The Wild outshot Carolina 13-11 in the period but I still thought Minnesota was a little too eager to get rid of the puck at times and it cost them some potential chances.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period was like staring at a bowl of puke. Just a huge sloppy mess. Poor passes, bad decisions helped turn the game into a quagmire that Carolina was more than happy to play in. It neutralized whatever advantages in talent and skill the Wild had and turned the game into just a series of small races to the puck. Minnesota's younger players were particarly guilty of the sloppy passes; as Mathew Dumba looked like a (red) deer in headlights through most of his shifts as he bobbled the puck and made weak passes that made for easy turnovers. Charlie Coyle was almost as bad, as he unwittingly helped Carolina take the lead as stopped the puck before it crossed the blueline and out of the Wild zone and then attempted to pass it to the middle where it was intercepted and the Hurricanes took the puck to the net where Jiri Tlusty backhanded a shot through Harding, 5-hole to make it 2-1. Fortunately Carolina wasn't always sharp either and its lack of discipline gave Minnesota some chances on the power play. On their first power play of the period, the Wild's top group was absolutely atrocious. Falling all over the ice, frittering the puck around the ice without pace or much purpose and the team basically wasted the first minute of power play time. Then when they sent out its 2nd power play unit, they moved the puck with more zip and Marco Scandella really was raising his game and he'd step into a slap pass that was redirected masterfully by Justin Fontaine and by Peters to tie the game at 2-2. The Wild would get another power play, thanks to Riley Nash and Minnesota would send out its 2nd unit sooner, but it was though they started to believe in their own hype and suddenly no one on the power play seemed to want to shoot the puck. All they could manage was a weak backhand shot by Fontaine that was steered away by Peters with ease. Harding was also doing his best to keep Minnesota fans' stress level high as he was venturing outside his crease to play the puck even though he had defenseman nearby to take care of it and fortunately his sojourns from the blue paint didn't end up resulting in a goal. Harding did help a little as he stopped Chris Terry slapper from the high slot. It was a period where the Wild played down to the level of the Hurricanes and were fortunate to have a 2-2 tie. The Wild's biggest enemy right now is itself. They need to wake up.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd didn't start all that well, as Justin Fontaine was sent to the penalty box just 11 seconds in with a high sticking call. The Wild's penalty kill again was strong, disrupting passing and shooting lanes and keeping Carolina confined to the perimeter and they'd escape unscathed in the man advantage. The play was a little less sloppy in the 3rd, but there were still a shortage of clean passes. Both clubs would have some great scoring chances created off of luck or misfortune depending on how you look at it. A hard working shift by the 3rd line saw Kyle Brodziak find a little space behind the defense and he gunned a slap shot on Peters that he stopped but the line continued to buzz near the crease and Brodziak found himself set up again for another sharp angle shot that was also stopped by the Carolina goalie that may have been helped by a trip by Cooke. Then Carolina had some terrific chances of its own as Eric Staal was stoned by Harding on 3 quick attempts as the Hurricanes caught the Wild with its 4th line on the ice. Minnesota would answer back with some great work by its own top line as Parise helped set up a wrap around attempt by Koivu but Peters was there to shut him down. With a few minutes left it was as though both teams were content to let the game go to overtime as they simply tried to play conservatively as they wanted to at least come away with a point in this game. Harding would luck out late as Murphy rang a long shot off the post and the game went to overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: Carolina started off overtime asserting itself with a strong effort but as the Wild scrambled in its own zone, Minnesota would break out and have a golden opportunity. It all started with Granlund winning a battle for he puck along the wall and he'd push it over to Ryan Suter who chased the puck down beneath the goal line and he fed a pass out front to Parise who ripped a shot just wide of the mark. The Hurricanes would try to counter attack but great hustle by Jared Spurgeon prevented a potential scoring chance. Carolina had a few other quality chances as they swarmed in the Wild zone, drawing a hooking penalty on Granlund. The Hurricanes had nearly a minute of time on the power play to work with but Minnesota's penalty killers shut the door and the game would go to a shootout.
Shootout Summary: In the shootout the Hurricanes would elect to shoot second and Minnesota's first shooter was Zach Parise. The Wild assistant captain would move in slowly in kind of a windy approach before speeding up and feinting at a shot that got Peters to drop and then calmly wrapped a shot around the sprawling goalie to make it 1-0 Minnesota. The Hurricanes first shooter was Riley Nash and the former Cornell star moved up the ice where he made a little fake and fired a quick shot that rang off the post and out. Minnesota's next shooter was Mikko Koivu and even though just about everyone in Minnesota knew what the captain was going to do, apparently that memo didn't reach Justin Peters who seemed to have no idea as he went from forehand to backhand where he roofed the shot underneath the crossbar and in to put the Wild up 2-0. Carolina's next shooter was minor league stud Chris Terry and he'd move from left to right where he dusted off a nice forehand to backhand deke shelf move of his own, 2-1. This put the game in the hands of Jason Pominville and the former Sabres captain did not disappoint as he moved up the middle of the ice where he made a few small dekes before sliding a shut through Peters 5-hole to give Minnesota a 3-2 shootout victory.
Josh Harding was reasonable, making in the win. He had some huge saves, especially late in the period as well as being helped by the iron a few times too. Yet he also made some questionable decisions to leave his crease and had a few situations that nearly resulted in disaster. Ryan Suter was again the club's super workhorse logging over 35 minutes in the game. I thought Marco Scandella had a tremendous game, and Jared Spurgeon was good too. I thought Nate Prosser and Mathew Dumba especially were terrible and they were used very sparingly after the 2nd period. Too many foolish turnovers and too much reliance on chipping the puck blindly off the boards and glass even at moments where it was not necessary. On the bright side the penalty kill had a solid game.
Offensively the Wild had some good moments on the power play but little beyond that. Sloppy passing and a reliance on using the boards and glass for the breakout would prevent the Wild from being very efficient in mounting the rush. The power play was really where the Wild would have most of its prime chances and it continues to be a source of strength. It was good to see the Wild solve its shootout woes with a 3-for-3 performance tonight.
It was not their best effort but the Wild found a way to win. Simply put the Wild are off to their best start in franchise history with 24 points through 18 games. The team earned 3 out of a possible 4 points on this 2-game road trip and that should not be ignored. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo wasn't overly happy with how the team performed but was glad the team still found a way to win.
~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederrreiter, Jason Pominville, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Justin Fontaine, Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka, Dany Heatley, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Mathew Dumba and Nate Prosser. Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding. Mike Rupp (knee), Keith Ballard (lower body) and Clayton Stoner (lower body) are out of the lineup with injuries.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by 99.9FM the Fan were: 1st Star Ryan Suter, 2nd Star Ryan Murphy, 3rd Star Jason Pominville
~ Attendance was 14,704 at PNC Arena.
~ The Iowa Wild used a super potent power play to earn a big 5-2 win tonight over Rockford. The Wild would strike twice on the man advantage early as Warren Peters and Jonathon Blum found the twine behind Antti Raanta. The Ice Hogs would answer back with two goals of their own as Garret Ross and Philip Danault lit the lamp. In a penalty filled 2nd period, the Wild found a way to both kill off a series of 5-on-3's and bury the puck too as Brett Bulmer scored hid 4th goal of the season to give Iowa a 3-2 lead. Jason Zucker would receive a match penalty (his 2nd of the season, where he will no doubt be suspended) for a hit to the head giving the Wild a 5-minute major to kill off. The Wild got the big kill, and as the penalty expired Taylor Matson would pick up the loose puck and score an unassisted goal to make it 4-2. The Wild would add another when Stephane Veilleux caught Kent Simpson out of his crease as he got caught out of his crease and he scored Iowa's 4th power play goal sealing a 5-2 win. Johan Gustafsson had 32 saves in the victory.
Golden Gopher Hockey Report:
The NCAA's longest win streak continues as the #1 ranked Golden Gopher women's team rolled to a 4-1 win over St. Cloud State on Friday night. The Gophers got things going early as Sarah Davis found the back of the net early in the 1st period. Kelsey Cline and Rachel Bona would add to the Gophers lead in the 2nd period. SCSU would answer back in the 3rd as Payge Pegna beat Amanda Leveille. However a Huskie comeback was not in the cards as Kelly Terry buried her 8th goal of the season to seal a 4-1 victory and give Minnesota its 60th consecutive victory. The 2nd game of the series was a lot more dramatic. The Huskies got out to a 2-0 lead on goals from Abby Ness and Molli Mott. The Golden Gopher would answer back with two goals from Davis. But SCSU was stubborn and they'd re-take the lead on a goal by Laura Hespenheide early in the 3rd. The streak is coming to an end right? Nope, the Gophers would tie the game with just over two minutes left in the game on a goal by Dani Cameranesi and then would get the game winner from Milica McMillen about a minute later. The win was their 61st consecutive victory. The State of Hockey News would like to offer our sincere congratulations to the team (both past and present) and Gopher Head Coach Brad Frost and all of his staff on this accomplishment!
Meanwhile the #1 ranked Golden Gopher men's hockey team played Notre Dame in non-conference play. The Fighting Irish got on the board first as Bryan Rust beat Adam Wilcox early in the 1st period. Mahtomedi's Ben Marshall would answer back on a blast from the point off a fed by Hudson Fasching. After this it was all Notre Dame as Sam Herr, Garrett Peterson and Jeff Costello all found the back of the net against unusually suspect Wilcox to seal a 4-1 lead. In game two of the series the Golden Gophers got off to a great start with two goals from Taylor Cammarata and Hudson Fasching. Notre Dame would answer back with a goal from Shayne Taker. Former Lakeville South star Justin Kloos quickly put Minnesota ahead by two with his 2nd goal of the game. Wild prospect Mario Lucia would score to make it 3-2 going into the 2nd period. Fasching would light the lamp early in the 2nd to give Minnesota a two-goal lead but it was short lived as Lucia would score soon thereafter as would Stephen Johns making it a 4-4 tie going into the 3rd period. Freshman defenseman Jake Bischoff would beat Steven Summerhays on a long shot to give Minnesota a 5-4 victory and giving the Golden Gophers a series split.
Wild Prospect Report:
D - Gustav Olofsson (Colorado College, NCHC) ~ The lanky defenseman had a nice return to the Colorado College lineup after being out last week due to injury. Olofsson had a shot on goal and was a +1 in the Tigers' 1-1 tie against in-state rival Denver.
RW - Adam Gilmour (Boston College, H-East) ~ The power forward continues to stay on the top line for the Eagles along with vets Bill Arnold and "Johnny Hockey" Gaudreau. Gilmour had 4 shots and finished the game with an 'even' rating in BC's 5-1 win over arch rival Boston University on Friday night.