There is a saying in professional sports, ‘what have you done for me lately’ and it holds especially true at the start of the playoffs. Despite all the great performances of the regular season it doesn’t matter one bit once the puck is dropped at MTS Centre this evening if you’re the Minnesota Wild. The team has been maligned for his penchant for 1st round exits and against a quality opponent in the Jets there is a fairly good chance it could happen again.
The Jets are hoping this year is their year where they leave the ranks of the pretenders and make a big run as a contender. They have plenty of offensive firepower, they’re a youth-driven squad led by some battle hardened veterans who have been there since this team was called the Atlanta Thrashers. That right, since the Thrashers’ days. Can the Wild prove the doubters wrong with a victory in game 1?
1st Period Thoughts: The 1st period started like a major heavyweight title bout. Both teams were somewhat cautious, hesitant to really open up too much in the first few minutes and few shots were being taken. The Wild was content to work pucks deep; harass the Jets a bit on the forecheck and then change as they focused on keeping Winnipeg to the perimeter. Winnipeg was forced to settle for shots from the perimeter which made for easy saves by Devan Dubnyk. Minnesota was only able to generate a few token shots on goal throughout the period; but it was clear they appeared to be waiting for an opportunity to attack when the Jets overcommitted in the offensive zone. It wasn’t the most entertaining game, but Minnesota was playing smart and using good team defense to support one another in their own end. The Jets would get tired of waiting for an opening so they’d start to raise their physical play to get the mostly silent sellout crowd into the game and try to overpower Minnesota. It started out with a hit by Dustin Byfuglien to Jared Spurgeon. Minnesota was weathering the storm but the physicality started to pin the Wild in its own end. Dubnyk started to see more traffic and he would come up with some big saves as he sprawled to deny Andrew Copp on a close in opportunity. The last few minutes felt like a prolonged Jets power play, but Minnesota was getting sticks and bodies into shooting lanes and the Wild were able to escape 0-0 despite being outshot 13-4.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild was able to create more offensively in the 2nd period as they would start to create nice little outlet passes to exit their own end with speed and then work pucks deep. The Wild’s 4th line would get things going as Joel Eriksson Ek got a little space and he’d race in on goal where he got off a backhander that denied by Connor Hellebuyck who wasn’t really tested at all in the 1st. A roughing call to Dustin Byfuglien; who took an extra little swat at Jordan Greenway would give the Wild its first power play. Minnesota kept it simple on the man advantage, working the puck to wings as they set up Mikael Granlund and Matt Dumba for shots. Hellebuyck was sharp and unfortunately no one seemed willing to really stand in front of the Jets goalie for a screen. Still, the free-shooting Wild was refreshing after the opening stanza where Minnesota was a little too picky with pulling the trigger. Minnesota continued to generate most of the scoring chances through the first half of the period. Only a pretty weak tripping call to Eric Staal stopped the Wild’s momentum. On the penalty kill the Wild again did a pretty good job of working sticks and bodies into shooting lanes and they’d get the kill. Devan Dubnyk was particularly sharp making a number of quality saves. Jordan Greenway and the 3rd line along with Matt Cullen and Charlie Coyle who was flying all over the ice started to appear more comfortable and Greenway nearly cashed in on a wrap around attempt. A few minutes later, a holding penalty on Nate Prosser as he kind of held onto Brandon Tanev would prove to be costly. The Jets were patient as Blake Wheeler set up Mark Scheifele for a one-timer that he beat Dubnyk on top shelf. 1-0 Jets on the power play tally. Minnesota would apply some offensive pressure late in the period as Marcus Foligno set up Daniel Winnik for a quick shot that Hellebuyck held onto and the Jets would maintain their 1-0 lead going into the 3rd. Even though Minnesota was trailing at this point, I was pleased with the Wild’s effort and felt they were playing smart and within their abilities.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would go on the attack early in the period as Greenway would motor into the Jets’ zone drawing Winnipeg’s attention and he’d feed a pass back to Cullen who let go a wicked wrist shot that beat Hellebuyck cleanly. 1-1 game. With the sellout crowd stunned the Wild would strike again just 2 minutes later as Mikko Koivu intercepted a pass near the Minnesota blueline and work a quick pass up to Granlund for a 2-on-1 with Parise. Granlund would move in and he’d make a perfect pass across to Parise for the tap in goal. 2-1 Wild to a few angry taunts by the home crowd who were frustrated at their team’s effort to start the 3rd. The Jets would answer back quickly as a turnover near the Minnesota blueline by Matt Dumba was swept up by Scheifele who then dropped a pass off to Patrik Laine who got a lane to shoot and he’d go top shelf on a shot from the high slot. 2-2 game on Laine’s wicked snipe. The Jets certainly fed off the momentum and the Wild flirted with disaster with a few scrambling efforts as Dubnyk had to make a few big saves to bail out his team. Unfortunately, one mistake is all it takes. The Wild would get bottled in its own end and a puck went out to the point where Joe Morrow stepped into a slap shot that would deflect off the skate of Coyle and skitter off the ice and beat Dubnyk 5-hole. 3-2 Jets. The Wild struggled to connect on passes and their attempts to create offense were mostly disjointed and easily stymied. The 3rd line tried to go back to the same play that worked earlier in the period as Greenway found a trailing Cullen but this time his shot missed high and wide of the goal. Minnesota would pull Dubnyk for an extra attacker and despite some good hustle just could not generate much in the way of shots on goal beyond a wrap around attempt by Staal that Hellebuyck denied.
Difficult to be upset at how well Dubnyk played who had 37 saves in the loss. Dubnyk seemed calm and was tracking the puck well and made a number of great stops to keep his team in the game, especially early on when the Wild wasn’t able to do much of anything offensively. I thought the youngsters Nick Seeler and Carson Soucy did a pretty good job early on. I felt the Wild did a good job at managing gaps throughout most of the game and did a pretty decent job of forcing the Jets to the perimeter.
Offensively the Wild started to find their groove in the 2nd period. The 3rd line of Cullen, Greenway and Coyle seemed to have the extra jump this evening. Coyle was really moving well and Greenway appears to be feeling more comfortable with each shift. Another terrific effort for Joel Eriksson Ek who led the team with 4 shots from the 4th line and really being pesky all night.
I was pretty pleased with the Wild’s effort. They battled well and forced the Jets to really work for whatever chances they got. For the most part, they stayed disciplined and kept it close. Dubnyk looked confident and poised and the youngsters on the Wild blueline didn’t look like deer in headlights like some of the pundits predicted.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise, Matt Cullen, Jordan Greenway, Charlie Coyle, Marcus Foligno, Joel Eriksson Ek, Daniel Winnik, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Nick Seeler, Carson Soucy and Nate Prosser. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Gustav Olofsson and Tyler Ennis were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Adam Lowry, 2nd Star Devan Dubnyk, 3rd Star Patrik Laine
~ Attendance was 15,321 at MTS Centre.
Iowa Wild Final Report:
Record: (31-27-10-6) 78pts 6th place in the Central
18% Power Play (13th in the AHL)
82.9% Penalty Kill (17th in the AHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #9 Cal O’Reilly ~ 14G 47A = 61pts
2. #7 Sam Anas ~ 26G 34A = 60pts
3. #25 Justin Kloos ~ 19G 29A = 48pts
4. #42 Kyle Rau ~ 22G 25A = 47pts
5. #12 Pat Cannone ~ 16G 21A = 37pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #22 Ryan White ~ 109 PIM’s
2. #2 Alex Grant ~ 79 PIM’s
3. #29 Viktor Loov ~ 67 PIM’s
1. #35 Niklas Svedberg (18-18-7) 2.87GAA .905%SP 2SO
2. #34 Steve Michalek (12-7-6) 3.13GAA .906%SP
While some things change, others stay painfully the same. One of them being, the Iowa Wild who have missed the playoffs for a fifth-straight season. In the previous efforts, the team was out of it by the time February rolled around. Not this time, as the team was sitting near 2nd or 3rd in the AHL Central standings and then an absolutely horrible March saw them lose 9 games in a row (mostly to teams that were just behind them in the standings). In this last month, the team’s old penchant for frittering away games late in the 3rd period and overtime happened all too often. In the AHL, with the addition of the West Coast teams its all about winning percentage and not about points. So overtime losses hurt more than they do in the NHL. Iowa just couldn’t seem to buy a break in OT and those losses just compounded. The Wild lost 16 games in OT (10) and the shootout (6).
It wasn’t without any bright spots. Sam Anas and Cal O’Reilly were as good of a tandem as the franchise has ever had scoring-wise and for a time former Gophers’ Kyle Rau and Justin Kloos were red hot although he has cooled off considerably in the last month or so. Iowa’s blueline was vastly improved and they were one of the better offensive groups in the league with Alex Grant, Zach Palmquist and Brennan Menell having solid seasons. Goaltending was inconsistent down the stretch. It is a sad finish to what was its most promising season yet. Iowa fans are still attending games and support for the team is still strong. While the club didn’t have many ‘prospects’ I have no doubt the Minnesota Wild will be disappointed at where they finished.
Wild Prospect Report:
RW – Dmitry Sokolov (Barrie, OHL) ~ the skilled winger continues to be a major contributor for the Colts as he had a goal on 5 shots in Barrie’s 4-2 loss to Kingston on Sunday. On Tuesday he had another goal and an assist in another 4-2 loss to the Frontenacs as they evened the series 2-2. Sokolov has 8 goals, 15 points, and is a +5 in 9 games.