There are moments in life where you wish you had a redo. On Friday, I wonder if the Minnesota Wild had its own “wish they could have a redo” moment when they watched the Vegas Golden Knights take a 2-0 series lead on goals from former prospect Alex Tuch and 7th round steal Erik Haula. Both provide elements the Wild seem to be lacking against the Jets; in terms of strength and speed up front. I realize that the purpose of offering those two players up to the Golden Knights to get them to avoid taking coveted defenseman but that tandem had 44 goals this season. I think you might wish you had them both.
Or maybe not. The Wild find themselves at crossroads as they trail the Winnipeg Jets 2-0 in the series. Fans are questioning whether the team has has the ‘want to’ necessary to will themselves back into this series. Will playing at home in Minnesota be a rallying cry or will it be a swan song for the Wild?
1st Period Thoughts: The Wild seemed to come out with some energy, but Matt Dumba would take the first penalty of the night just 43 seconds in. It would take almost a minute of the power play time for the Wild to clear the zone, but thankfully the zone time didn’t equate much into quality chances. Ultimately, the Wild killed the early penalty. The energy created by that kill turned into a great scoring chance by Jason Zucker. The Wild would take their second penalty, Matt Cullen getting called for slashing on a very weak call. The fans inside Xcel Energy Center were not amused by the officiating, especially when the replay on the Jumbotron show Cullen hitting the stick of the Jets player and not the hands. That penalty would end up becoming a goal off of a bad angle shot by Blake Wheeler. Clearly Devan Dubnyk is going to be a bit dubious tonight. I guess the Wild are going to be the team that is going to play like they just landed at MSP after 10am this morning. Minnesota would start to show some mettle and would drop some Jets players. They would also draw their first power play when Ben Chiarot cross-checked Eric Staal in front of the goal. The start of the power play showed some energy and would also take Adam Lowry to the penalty box for roughing, giving the Wild 1:21 of 5-on-3 time. While they maintained the zone for the most part with the 2 man advantage, I would take there were too many times when skaters weren’t ready for the 1-time shot. The Jets would kill the first penalty, but Mikael Granlund would find the back of the net behind Connor Hellebuyck. With the tying goal, it’s time for the Wild to channel this energy and not go back to the Minnesota Wild that let up the Jets early power play goal. And just seeing the grit and determination from the fourth line gives me hope. Daniel Winnik, Marcus Foligno, and Joel Eriksson Ek aren’t playing scared. And that kind of energy seems to be shared bit by bit by their teammates. With just under three minutes remaining in the period, Chiarot would head back to the penalty box for cross checking Charlie Coyle. The early part of the power play, they’re not doing as good a job of keeping the puck in the zone and generating chances. Of course, as soon as I think this, Zach Parise camps out in front of Hellebuyck and gave the Wild the first lead of the game. Then with just under a minute remaining in the period, Hellebuyck had to go to his bench to get a skate blade replaced. That impromptu time out allowed Bruce Boudreau to keep his fourth line out on the ice for some much deserved icetime. With 32 seconds remaining in the period, Dumba would head to the box for roughing. Minnesota will start the second period on the penalty kill, but if they continue to play as they have for much of this period, the Wild just might stand a chance in this game.
2nd Period Thoughts: With the Jets still on the man advantage, they’d come close to cashing in as Dustin Byfuglien blasted a slap shot that seemed to sting Dubnyk a bit as he held on. Minnesota would nearly cashed in shorthanded as a blocked shot turned into a 2-on-1 for Daniel Winnik and Nick Seeler and Seeler got off a shot that caught the iron and then was swept right along the goal line by Hellebuyck and out. Minnesota would get the big kill and they’d go back to work. The fourth line would cycle the puck and after a little drop pass by Winnik to Dumba who pulled the trigger on a wrist shot that beat a screened Hellebuyck. 3-1 Wild. The Jets would answer back a few minutes later as a loose puck in the offensive zone was fired on goal by Tyler Myers that beat an unscreened Dubnyk. 3-2 Wild. Penalties were an issue for the Wild and it didn’t seem to take much for the arm to go up from the officials in comparison to the ‘let ’em play’ standard of the 1st two games of the series. On the first penalty, the Wild got some huge blocks by Seeler who was sacrificing the body 2-3 times in a 20 second span. Dubnyk would make a fantastic read on a sneaky diagonal pass by Kyle Connor to a crashing Nikolaj Ehlers who appeared to have a goal only to be robbed by the Minnesota goalie. Minnesota would get another kill a few minutes later as good puck pressure would force the Jets to settle for quick shots from the perimeter. Dubnyk would make a few nice saves and the Wild again escaped unscathed. Minnesota would then strike twice in quick succession as Granlund stole a puck from Byfuglien in the offensive zone and he’d make a spin-a-rama pass back to Staal who went top corner with a wrist shot. 4-2 Wild. Just 20 seconds later the Wild would light the lamp again as Chiarot’s clearing attempt was knocked down by Jordan Greenway waiting in the high slot and he’d turn and fire a shot that went bardown on Hellebuyck and it was 5-2 Minnesota. A scary moment for the Jets as Myers took a leg-to-leg hit from Foligno and he’d lie still on the ice in front of the Jets’ bench. He’d eventually get up and walk off the ice and back to the locker room. Minnesota would then add to its lead a few minutes later as the 4th line worked a puck deep and then out to the point for Jared Spurgeon who fired a shot on goal that banked off Foligno and in. 6-2 Wild and the team had to be feeling pretty confident going into the 3rd period.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Jets would swap out Hellebuyck for Steve Mason between the pipes. The Jets seemed refocused while the Wild seemed to be a bit content to just defend its lead and were perhaps too nonchalant with pucks. The Wild were happy to just work pucks deep and the Jets started to ramp up their offensive pressure. Dubynk had to make some fine saves but I didn’t like how the Wild were not really forcing Winnipeg to defend at all. After the first 8 minutes of watching the Jets create scoring chances the Wild finally got the memo to go on the attack themselves and they’d come close to cashing in themselves as Zucker turned on the after burners and scoot into the Winnipeg zone before spinning and firing a shot on goal that Mason steered aside. Still, Minnesota was creating some unnecessary drama as Dubnyk misplayed the puck right out in front of his crease only to be bailed out by a diving block by Seeler. The Wild would get an appreciative cheer as they’d play a little keep away in the Winnipeg zone in the last few minutes and forcing the Jets to waste valuable time chasing them around the ice. With a little over a minute to play the Wild’s 3rd line had another keep away shift which got the crowd to serenade the team with a standing ovation as their team rolled to a 6-2 victory.
Devan Dubnyk was good when he had to be, making 29 saves in the victory. Yes, the two goals he gave up were soft but he made some big stops in the 2nd to keep the Wild in the lead and then stayed solid down the stretch. Defensively the Wild did a pretty good job at giving Dubnyk a clear view of the puck all night. Minnesota did give up a power play, goal but they killed off a number of power plays as well. I thought Jared Spurgeon was much improved and Nick Seeler was an absolute shot-blocking machine.
Offensively the Wild finally crashed the net with some purpose and they were rewarded for it. Hellebuyck gave up a few shots on tough angles, but the Wild were working their way closer and showing a willingness to pay the price to make plays. Minnesota struck twice on the power play and they’d be wise to repeat that assertive, net crashing strategy when they face each other again on Tuesday.
This was a nice confidence-boosting win for the Wild. Minnesota played with the urgency that was sorely missing in Game 2 in Winnipeg. Expect Winnipeg to try to go back to their free hitting ways in Game 3 and the Wild should expect an aggressive response from the Jets in Game 4. Either way, it was a quality win for the Wild. Enjoy it Wild fans!
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Charlie Coyle, Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jason Zucker, Marcus Foligno, Jordan Greenway, Nino Niederreiter, Daniel Winnik, Marcus Granlund, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Nick Seeler, Nate Prosser, Jared Spurgeon, and Carson Soucy. Devan Dubnyk got the start with Alex Stalock serving as backup. Gustav Olofsson, Ryan Murphy, Tyler Ennis, Kyle Rau, Kurtis Gabriel, Justin Kloos and Niklas Svedberg were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Mikael Granlund, 2nd Star Eric Staal, 3rd Star Marcus Foligno
~ Attendance was 19,175 at Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Final Record: (33-27-10-6) 82pts 5th in the Central
17.9% Power Play (14th in the AHL)
82.8% Penalty Kill (18th in the AHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #9 Cal O’Reilly ~ 14G 49A = 64pts
2. #7 Sam Anas ~ 26G 35A = 61pts
3. #42 Kyle Rau ~ 23G 27A = 50pts
4. #25 Justin Kloos ~ 19A 31A = 50pts
5. #12 Pat Cannone ~ 17G 22A = 39pts
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
Recent Score: Iowa 4, Milwaukee 2
Iowa finished the 2017-18 season with a road victory against division rival Admirals, allowing them to edge Milwaukee for 5th place in the Central Division. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things as both clubs miss the AHL playoffs. For the 6th straight season (if you count its last year in Houston) the Minnesota Wild’s minor league affiliate hasn’t qualified for the post-season. Ouch. Yet the season wasn’t without is bright spots. The team brought in ringers like Alex Grant and Cal O’Reilly to help lead the club and for the most part they delivered as both clubs led their respective position points. The team’s call ups provided reasonable support for the big club in Nick Seeler and Carson Soucy which indicates prospect development is working well. The team brought in undrafted college free agent (Bemidji State’s) Gerry Fitzgerald to decent success. Former college stars Sam Anas, Justin Kloos, Zach Palmquist, Kyle Rau and Gerald Mayhew had productive seasons for Iowa. Goaltending was inconsistent as Niklas Svedberg and Steve Michalek had streaks of excellence and some notable periods of struggle. Special teams which were a big part of the team’s success early lagged big time in March and caused the team to fall out of the playoff hunt.
Wild Prospect Report:
RW – Dmitry Sokolov (Barrie, OHL) ~ the skilled winger’s season came to an end on Friday as the Colts lost 2-1 to Kingston, falling in their series 4-2. The Omsk, Russia-native had 3 shots on goal in the loss. He finishes the playoffs with 8 goals, 15 points in 12 games. Sokolov had a career high 50 goals, 96 points in 64 games this regular season split between Sudbury and Barrie.