Minnesota has clinched home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs and has its best record since the 2006-07 season when the team had Marian Gaborik, Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra as its big guns. In that season with 104 points, Minnesota made the playoffs as the 7th seed. In the playoffs that season, the Ducks bullied the Wild in a forgettable 5-game series. Colorado who is in the midst of its worst season since the club arrived in 1995, is still showing some signs of being a prideful group. The Avalanche came back on Tuesday to surprise the Central Division leading Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in overtime. The Wild don’t really ‘need’ the points, but they want to build some confidence and positive momentum going in the post-season.
Another win would tie the Wild with the 2006-07 squad and if Devan Dubnyk gets the nod he has a chance to become the first Wild goaltender to earn 40 wins in a season. Colorado is on its way to posting the worst record in the NHL in over a decade in a non-Lockout shortened year. While its easy to pile on the Avalanche (no pun intended) Colorado will likely play Minnesota with an extra dose of effort simply out of bitterness over its fate. Can the Wild build on the positive momentum gained from Tuesday’s win?
1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota did not waste anytime jumping out to a 1-0 lead as Jason Zucker tracked down a loose puck that Calvin Pickard tried to play but the former Denver star motored by him and gathered up the biscuit and tucked it inside the post before the Avalanche goalie could get a leg pad on it. 1-0 Wild just 10 seconds into the game. The Wild didn’t really build on the early momentum of Zucker’s early goal. Instead the team stayed patient and moving the puck with lots of tape to tape passes that helped Minnesota elude the Colorado forecheck with relative ease. At times the Wild were overhandling the puck as Zucker got set up for a potential chance with a step on Tyson Barrie but instead of taking his lane to the goal, he instead tried to drop a pass back to Charlie Coyle that was intercepted. The Wild would get a gift of a tripping call on Gabriel Landeskog as Mikael Granlund may have dove a bit. On the power play the Wild managed to set up a few plays but nothing too dangerous. Seconds after the power play expired the Wild would light the lamp as Nate Prosser threaded a long-range wrist shot that beat Pickard cleanly. 2-0 Wild. At this point the would get overconfident and start to let up a bit and the Avalanche went on the attack. It started with Mathew Dumba fumbling the puck away to Rocco Grimaldi and the diminutive former Fighting Sioux rifled a shot that was fought off by Devan Dubnyk but as Minnesota tried to clear the zone, Ryan Suter would head to the box for tripping. Bruce Bourdreau was not happy with the sloppy play late, but Minnesota’s penalty kill was solid and the Wild would take their 2-goal lead into the 1st intermission. A decent 1st period where the Wild kept it simple for the most part and were rewarded for it.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild decided to coast a bit and the Avalanche would take advantage of it. The Avalanche would score early in the period as some lazy play in the neutral zone yielded a turnover that Tyson Jost pounced on and he beat Dubnyk with a wicked wrist shot, top right corner stick side. 2-1 game. The goal gave the Avalanche some hope and more jump in their legs. Shortly after Jost’s goal, Erik Johnson took a run at Jason Pominville and nearly decapitated the Wild forward as he jumped into the hit along the dasher as well as getting his elbows up near the head. Immediately Ryan White skated in to defend his teammate and he’d drop the gloves with Johnson. It was a pretty spirited fight with Johnson getting the early advantage before White started to rally back with a few hooks before the Wild pugilist wrestled him to the ice. Slight edge to Johnson in the fight. The Avalanche got a power play from the fight since White was given an extra roughing minor. The Wild had a scrambling effort on the penalty kill and Devan Dubnyk had to fight off a few solid chances by the Avalanche. A few minutes later, Minnesota was still lacking urgency and a bad turnover behind the Wild goal by Joel Eriksson Ek had him tripping up Grimaldi. On the power play the Wild again seemed to be playing with fire as the Avalanche appeared to be hungry and motivated. The Avalanche would tie the game late in the period as Francois Beauchemin seemed to deflect a shot by Sven Andrighetto that seemed to have caught Dubnyk not squared to the puck. Minnesota would get a late power play, but they were looking for the perfect set up instead of taking what Colorado was giving them and they’d come up empty and they had to feel a little ashamed after squandering their lead.
3rd Period Thoughts: This period had more twists and turns than a season of Lost. It started with Minnesota starting the period with some great hustle that put the Avalanche on their heels early. The Wild looked hungry for the go-ahead goal and they raised their game to another level as they swarmed in the Colorado game and Eric Staal made a terrific pass to Nino Niederreiter for a tap in goal. 3-2 Wild. Minnesota kept up the pressure and they’d score a few minutes later as Mikael Granlund raced along the wall and he caught Pickard napping a bit on the puck and his shot would hit the shoulder and find the back of the Avalanche net. Pickard was despondent after the goal that put his team down 4-2. Part of that success appeared to stem from the team embracing its speed and giving time to Jordan Schroeder, Erik Haula and Jason Zucker as they seemed to put Colorado on edge almost anytime they were on the ice. The Avalanche would make it interesting late as Matt Nieto would light the lamp as he tried to pass a puck that hit a sprawling Nate Prosser and went in cutting the Wild lead to one, 4-3. Colorado threw everything they had and appeared to get the go ahead goal with a 1:14 left as Andrighetto shoveled a puck in. NHL referee Brad Watson waived off the goal but left to discuss the play with his fellow officials. The play would be reviewed by Toronto and after explaining their decision to Ryan Suter and Gabriel Landeskog. Watson then turned and pointed to center ice for a good goal. Boudreau would ask for an explanation and in the process he’d use his coach’s challenge citing goaltender interference as Nathan MacKinnon shoved Jonas Brodin into Dubnyk. After the challenge, Toronto sided with the Wild coach and waived the goal off once again after about a total of 8-minutes having passed since it occurred. Colorado still worked hard for the equalizer but Minnesota circled the wagons and was able to clear the zone and managed to escape with a 4-3 win.
Devan Dubnyk was above average tonight, stopping 30 shots in his 40th victory of the season. I felt at times he looked great, but also felt some of the goals he gave up were on the soft side. Minnesota had its share of breakdowns and I felt in a way we were a bit soft in the area in around our crease tonight. I thought Nate Prosser had a pretty good game (not to mention his first multi-point game in his career).
It was a tougher game than it probably should’ve been, but the team found a way to get it done. The letdowns are something the team must eliminate if it wishes to make it beyond the 1st round of playoffs. I hope the Wild keep Schroeder in the lineup initially as I think playing fast is when Minnesota in its element. Schroeder helps make that 4th line extra pesky by being able to chase and track down loose pucks. Minnesota has one more regular season game left, can it finish on a high note?
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Martin Hanzal, Jason Zucker, Jason Pominville, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Schroeder, Erik Haula, Ryan White, Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella, Mathew Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Christian Folin. Darcy Kuemper backed up Devan Dubnyk. Chris Stewart, Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Nino Niederreiter, 2nd Star Nate Prosser, 3rd Star Tyson Jost
~ Attendance was 15,565 at Pepsi Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Record: (33-30-6-2) 74pts 6th in the Central
16.5% Power Play (19th in the AHL)
81.6% Penalty Kill (16th in the AHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #17 Alex Tuch ~ 16G 17A = 33pts
2. #12 Pat Cannone ~ 9G 24A = 33pts
3. #9 Mike Reilly ~ 5G 23A = 28pts
4. #7 Sam Anas ~ 12G 14A = 26pts
5. #13 Gustav Olofsson ~ 6G 18A = 24pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #3 Nick Seeler ~ 109 PIM’s
2. #27 Mike Weber ~ 92 PIM’s
3. #39 Kurtis Gabriel ~ 68 PIM’s
1. #32 Alex Stalock (21-16-7) 2.28GAA .925%SP 4SO
2. #34 Steve Michalek (11-14-1) 2.68GAA .917%SP 1SO
Recent Score: Iowa 2, Cleveland 1 OT
Iowa is likely going to miss the playoffs for the 6th season in a row, but it got a late-season highlight with a strong effort on Tuesday. The Monsters swarmed all over the Wild end in the 1st period, in part due to penalties. Luckily Alex Stalock was sharp and he was able to keep Cleveland at bey despite peppering him with 18 shots on goal. Iowa had a few quality scoring chances of their own but they couldn’t seem to solve Anton Forsberg. The stalemate would continue until Gustav Olofsson swept up a rebound and beat Forsberg in the closing seconds of the 2nd period. The Monsters would tie the game halfway through the period as former Wild farmhand Zac Dalpe scored on the power play. The game would go to overtime and Alex Tuch would hammer a shot on goal that was stopped by Forsberg and then stuffed home by Tyler Graovac to give the Wild a 2-1 victory. Alex Stalock had 34 saves in the victory.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Gustav Bouramman (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) ~ The small-ish defenseman only shot once in Wednesday’s game against Owen Sound but he made it count as he lit the lamp on the power play which help give the Greyhounds a 4-1 victory. Sault Ste. Marie leads the series 1-0. Bouramman earned 3rd star honors in the game and has 2 goals and a helper in the post-season, but most impressively he’s a +6 in 6 playoff games.