Even when the Wild are healthy, you'd have to consider Minnesota an underdog against the Chicago Blackhawks. With the current roster the Wild are using, you'd have to say Wild would be huge underdogs against the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Minnesota has managed to keep pace with the West, but admittedly in games against opponents that are not exactly what you call elite. No one is going to feel sorry for the Wild and its injury woes but there are signs some players are getting closer to being back. The question is, can the team keep playing better than the sum of its parts until the wounded start to return to the lineup? Is it time for MIke Yeo and the Wild to send a message the way John Tortorella and Bob Hartley did this weekend? Nah, just kidding. To be honest Minnesota would be perhaps an even bigger underdog if it choose to even try to send such a message.
What message could the Wild send after its debacle in Dallas on Tuesday? Perhaps a scribbled note placed on the bench that says "replace with NHL team" or maybe a they could go through warm ups with paper bags over their head. Maybe that's a tad bit harsh but the team should feel "shame" over the way it played on Tuesday. So will they rebound against the juggernaut Chicago Blackhawks or will they slink out of the arena in embarrassment once again?
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1st Period Thoughts: Good energy for the Wild to start the game. Minnesota was hustling well and hounding the Blackhawks all over the ice. The Wild were not registering much in the way of shots, but they were not just sitting back and trying to defend their end of the ice as they had against Dallas on Tuesday. Minnesota was not letting the Blackhawks have free reign through the neutral zone. The Wild were forechecking and stepping up to jump on turnovers. Time was flying off the clock as the game went nearly 6 full minutes before the first whistle. Darcy Kuemper would make Wild fans' heart skip a beat as he left his crease to play the puck where it was nearly gathered up by the forecking Blackhawks but luckily he was Shortly after that the Wild would light the lamp as the line of Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville and Dany Heatley would combine for the first goal as they found a little space behind the Blackhawks defense where Heatley saucered a pass over to Mikael Granlund who drove in deep, drawing Antti Raanta to commit to him as he dropped the pass back to Pominville who ripped it home for his 20th goal of the season. 1-0 Wild. Minnesota would continue to apply pressure as they'd swarm in the Chicago end, and they'd draw two different cross checking penalties to Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp giving the Wild a full 2-minute 5-on-3 power play. A great opportunity indeed. Unfortunately the Wild didn't take advantage of of it. Lots of passing from the point to the halfwall, back out to the point, repeat. Not fooled you say? Neither were the Blackhawks penalty killers who didn't even have to get tired out from chasing us around the zone. The Wild were only able to manage a few weak shots on goal and the Hawks would escape. I thought at this point the Blackhawks would flip the Wild's pathetic 5-on-3 effort on its end with a quick goal but instead it was Minnesota who would light the lamp next. Justin Fontaine would chip a pass up over a stick check by Michael Rozsival to Matt Cooke who got off a quick shot that snuck by Raanta to make it 2-0 Wild. It was a huge goal after its failed power play. The Wild were still buzzing from its lead, and Minnesota continued to threaten the Blackhawks who seemed to be mostly uninspired. The Blackhawks would then start hauling down Wild forwards as Zach Parise was tackled and then moments after that Jason Zucker was tripped up both to no call. Then as if on cue, the Wild would get tagged with a penalty as Matt Cooke was given a tripping penalty as he got caught up in the legs of Kris Versteeg. The Wild were strong on the penalty kill as they forced Chicago to stay to the perimeter and then used good positioning to get some turnovers that led to a few easy clears of the zone. As the period apparently expired, the officials felt time should still be on the clock. So even though the Wild had departed for the locker room they called them back onto the ice for a faceoff in their own zone. The Wild looked clearly annoyed as they went back to their bench and the ice. Minnesota would win the draw and the period would end. Minnesota out shot the Blackhawks 10-6 and should've had more than a 2-0 lead.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild had another solid effort in the 2nd period. Minnesota was hustling well and not giving Chicago much in the way of time and space. Chicago still had almost 30 seconds of power play time to start the 2nd period but Minnesota's penalty killers shut them down. The Wild would demonstrate an ability to counter punch in the period as the Blackhawks tried to step up their physical play and Minnesota would chip and then track down the loose pucks where the created a number of quality scoring chances. Minnesota's hustle drew a hooking penalty on Marian Hossa, and on the man advantage the Wild again were painfully uncreative on the power play. Predictable puck movement and not enough movement from low to high yielded just a few long range shots that were easily dismissed by Raanta. The Wild would come up empty on the power play, but Minnesota was playing well at both ends of the ice. One player who I felt had a great period was Justin Fontaine who demonstrated great anticipation as he intercepted a few passes in the neutral zone and he'd take off into the Chicago end where he did not hesitate to fire the puck as he rang a shot off the side of the goal. Minnesota was also collapsing well around Kuemper, blocking shots and then working the puck out of the zone and relieving pressure. Yet they did have one real bad shift, as a Dany Heatley turnover turned into nearly a minute of time spent chasing around the Blackahawks in their own end. Bryan Bickell would rip a shot off the mask of Kuemper and as the Wild cleared the zone for an icing the Wild would cause a bit of an uproar for the Chicago bench as Kuemper skated to the Wild side for some repairs. Joel Quenneville, sporting his trademarked perma-scowl was ranting and raving that this was an inentional delay on the part of Kuemper. Rick Bronwell and Matt Benz scrambled to the lockerroom to fetch Kuemper a new mask and what they gave him was Niklas Backstrom's mask. For the next few minutes Kuemper played with Backstrom's mask and but he stayed solid. Minnesota would earn a power play late as Brandon Bolig got his stick into the face of Jonas Brodin. The man advantage did not start out well for the Wild as Jason Pominville, who was playing the point stumbled and fell giving Marian Hossa a near breakaway that was thwarted by some outstanding hustle by Ryan Suter so all Hossa was able to do was get off a very weak shot that was stopped by Kuemper. Minnesota's power play would have great trouble entering the Chicago zone, not really because of any extreme amount of puck pressure, but rather because they overhandled the puck and were in general rather disorganized. The Wild would carry its 2-0 lead into the 2nd intermission but you had to feel as though Minnesota missed out on some great opportunities to extend its lead.
3rd Period Thoughts: Darcy Kuemper had to make some big saves early in the period as the Wild regrouped against a real forceful push by the Blackhawks. The Wild still had that same tenacious effort at both ends of the ice as they did their best to defend their lead with a passive 1-2-2 trap. Minnesota was trapping well through the neutral zone,causing turnovers and then dumping it deep or skating it in to keep Chicago defending and forcing them to attack the full lenght of the ice. The Wild were giving lots of quality minutes to its speedy 4th line of Jason Zucker, Erik Haula and Torrey Mitchell who gave the Blackhawks' fits. The line was not only harassing Chicago through the neutral zone but they were quickly transitioning to offense and even creating some quality offensive pressure. The 4th line would get some nice hustle from Jason Zucker which ultimately led to a Marco Scandella point shot that rang off the crossbar and out. Chicago steadily ramped up the pressure, but Kuemper was calm and collected as he stonewalled Chacago again and again deonstrating great agility between the pipes. Chacago would pull Raanta with about two minutes left in the game. Minnesota had a few chances with the empty net that ended up just wide of the mark. The Blackhawks kept pressing and they'd finally get a puck behind Kuemper as Kane took a back door pass for a wicked one timer that the big bodied goalie just couldn't quite get across on. Chicago would take their timeout to discuss how they were going to get the equalizer, and you could feel the tension in the crowd in the final seconds. But it wasn't meant to be for Chicago as the Wild shut the door and they'd skate away with a huge 2-1 victory.
Darcy Kuemper had another excellent game, making 33 saves in the victory. He deserved the shutout, but still came up with some big saves to keep Chicago's emotions tempered throughout most of the game. Kuemper is playing loose and with confidence and right now he's a huge x-factor in the Wild's recent spate of success (knock on wood). I liked the way Nate Prosser, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella played tonight. They were physical when they had to be and they made nice little plays to move the puck up the ice to the Wild's forwards and prevent Chicago from simply keeping Minnesota bottled up in its own end of the ice.
Offensively the Wild had some timely scores, but the Wild had lots of missed opportunities too. The failed 5-on-3 and some of the other power plays failed to generate much of anything. The puck movement is way too predictable and there is very little movement from players without the puck that more or less keeps the opposing penalty kill into a tight triangle giving the Wild's point man Ryan Suter no shooting lane to utilize. Keep in mind, the Blackhawks have the 2nd WORST penalty kill in the NHL and Minnesota is very fortunate those missed opportunities didn't come back to haunt them. Zach Parise certainly was rusty tonight, missing the net a few times but I liked his speed and general quickness which gave the Wild two fairly dangerous lines. The Wild was able to provide offensive pressure from all of its lines, and that helped the team keep the pressure on regardless of who was out on the ice.
This was a huge win for the Wild who have won 3 out of 4 games against Chicago which is no small feat. The Blackhawks have just 16 losses in regulation since the lockout, so the Wild should pat themselves on the back for adding to that total. The Wild are going into a very tough road trip, but earning two points against the Central's best team certainly helps buoy the confidence a bit. Let's hope they can build on it! Oh, and I have to admit a Wild win tonight was a pretty sweet birthday gift!
~ Wild roster tonight is as follows: Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Dany Heatley, Nino Niederreiter, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Justin Fontaine, Torrey Mitchell, Erik Haula, Jason Zucker, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner. Niklas Backstrom backed up Darcy Kuemper. Stephane Veilleux and Mike Rupp were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Wild Radio were: 1st Star Darcy Kuemper, 2nd Star Matt Cooke, 3rd Star Mikael Granlund
~ Attendence was 19,226 at the Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Recent Score: Iowa 3, Texas 4 SO
It was a crazy night between the upstart Wild and one of the best teams in the AHL, the Texas Stars. Iowa got out to an early lead thanks to a power play goal as Brian Connelly floated a shot that hit a Stars' defenseman and by Cristopher Nilstorp to make it 1-0. The Stars then controlled much of the rest of the period but Johan Gustafsson was rock solid making 13 saves to allow the Wild to hold onto its 1-goal lead. In the 2nd period, it was much the same with the Stars spending most of the period in the Iowa zone but Gustafsson was solid stopping 13 more shots in the 2nd. Texas would finally get a puck by Gustafsson just 46 seconds into the 3rd on the power play (off a foolish frustration penalty by Tyler Cuma) as Curtis McKenzie jammed a shot through even though the net seemed to be off its moorings. The goal was reviewed and ruled a good goal. Soon after this goal some chippiness began to show itself as Cristopher Nilstorp sort of got inadvertently tripped by Warren Peters. Nilstorp was writhing in pain and had to be helped off the ice so the Stars put Josh Robinson between the pipes. The Wild would then re-take the lead a few minutes later as Raphael Bussieres motored around a defender and beat Robinson on a wicked shot to make it 2-1. Soon after Bussieres' goal, Kyle Medvec would take a lazy hooking penalty to put the AHL's best power play back on the ice and the Stars took full advantage of their opportunity. Chris Mueller would take a pretty backdoor feed and rifle a one-timer by Gustafsson to make it 2-2. With the game tied at 2-2, both clubs were pushing hard for the go-ahead goal. Texas would strike with just over a minute left in the game as Colton Scevior blistered a slap shot by Gustafsson to make it 3-2. The Wild are toast right? Nope. Iowa would catch the Stars in a bit of a line change and Steven Kampfer would race into the Texas zone where he directed a shot towards the crease that was redirected perfectly by Zack Phillips with just 30 seconds left and the game would go to overtime. Overtime was both exciting, with both clubs trading offensive chances but also inconclusive so the game went to a shootout. Carson McMillan scored early in the shootout to give the Wild an edge, but no one else would score while the Stars got goals from Colton Scevior and Chris Mueller to seal a 4-3 victory. The loss stings a bit more when you consider it squandered a pretty good start by Johan Gustafsson who had 41 saves in the loss. Iowa's next game is Friday against San Antonio.
WIld Prospect Report:
C - Adam Gilmour (Boston College, H-East) ~ Gilmour has been a hot hand lately for the Eagles. He buried the game winner in Tuesday night's 4-1 victory over Merrimack. The freshman has 5 goals, 13 points and 6 PIM's in 24 games played this season while anchoring BC's 4th line.
D - Daniel Gunnarsson (Lulea, SHL) ~ The lanky defenseman is a little off his pace from a season ago where he had 6 goals and 17 points in 53 games. Right now, 41 games into the season Gunnarsson has 2 goals, 12 points and 10 PIM's.
Minnesota High School Hockey Report: These are the rankings as of Jan. 19th by FollowthePuck.com.
Class A (Boys):
2. East Grand Forks
5. New Prague
6. Mankato West
8. Duluth Marshall
11. St. Cloud Cathedral
13. Thief River Falls
15. St. Paul Academy
Class AA (Boys):
2. Lakeville North
6. Elk River / Zimmerman
8. Duluth East
9. Holy Family Catholic
10. Eden Prairie
11. Benilde-St. Margaret's
12. St. Thomas Academy
14. Grand Rapids
15. Cretin-Durham Hall