Last game of the regular season. The team knows it will be in the post-season, although it doesn’t know (quite sure) just yet who it will be facing whether it will be the St. Louis Blues or the Nashville Predators. The Coyotes knows its 2016-17 season ends today. So which team will be more motivated to play this evening? Arizona players know this is their last chance to make an impression on their organization, while the Wild wants to keep building momentum for the post-season.
With plenty of storylines to be had with the Coyotes players we traded for to who is Minnesota going to rest the Wild come into this game with more about what’s next rather than the game right in front of them. Will Minnesota end their regular season with another victory to finish with the most points in franchise history or will the Coyotes spoil the occasion?
Game Thoughts: Right from the drop of the puck the Wild decided to dictate the pace of play. Minnesota would take advantage of a rare stickhandling gaffe by Mike Smith and his pass was partially blocked and swept out only to be intercepted by Erik Haula who wasted little time firing it into the yawning net. 1-0 Wild with just over 4 minutes into the game. The Coyotes seemed to be going through the motions and Minnesota didn’t mind at all as they looked to sharpen their execution on special teams. A holding call on Brendan Perlini did just the trick as Minnesota swarmed the Coyotes crease are and had Mike Smith chasing and flailing to stop pucks but Minnesota kept persisting until Charlie Coyle sent a pass to Eric Staal who hammered a shot by the exhausted Coyotes’ goalie. 2-0 Wild. It was the kind of relentless pressure we are going to want to see in the playoffs, but it doesn’t hurt the Coyotes defense looked lost and uninspired. The Wild were trying to assert their physical superiority over the Coyotes as Ryan White and Chris Stewart were rampaging in the Arizona end. Darcy Kuemper wasn’t tested too much but he appeared to be tracking the puck pretty well. Not a bad start for the Wild in a game with a fair amount of sentimental value to a lot of players.
The Wild stayed in complete control throughout most of the 2nd period, working pucks deep and keeping Arizona busy defending in its own end. The Coyotes tried to counter a bit as Ryan Martinook redirected a Perlini shot that that Kuemper managed to make a leg pad save on and then was able to cover the rebound before Arizona can pounce on it. In the 3rd period the Coyotes would cut the Wild’s lead to one when Perlini got a little time and space and ripped a shot from the high slot that beat Kuemper cleanly. 2-1 game and you wondered if the Wild were going to allow this one to slip away. Minnesota instead flipped a switch and poured it on over the next few minutes. They draw a hooking call on Max Domi. The Wild’s power play was again efficient and relentless as Mathew Dumba blasted a shot from the point that was stopped by Smith who tried to coral the rebound but couldn’t get there in time before Martin Hanzal was able to shovel it home. It was Hanzal’s career-high 20th goal of the season and he had a huge smile on his face. It was a great way to end the regular season and Minnesota certainly demonstrated it was looking hungry and ready for the playoffs to begin.
On a totally different note, I’d like to give a stick tap to Arizona Coyotes’ Shane Doan and Zbynek Michalek if this indeed their last season in the NHL. Doan has been consummate representative of what it means to be a member of the Coyotes, as the last member of the club that made the move from Winnipeg back in the late 1990’s. He has been instrumental in growing the game in Arizona and that’s why we’re seeing more players from this part of the country playing for our U.S. National Development program. Zbynek Michalek was a Wild free agent and we developed him in Houston and was just getting his feet wet in the NHL when the team dealt him for minor league defenseman Dan Wood and Erik Westrum. It was a shortsighted trade by the Wild and he went on to have a pretty decent NHL career with the Coyotes and Pittsburgh Penguins. I thought it was nice that Doan and Michalek were given stars of the game, but why not Martin Hanzal? Hanzal still feels a tremendously strong connection to the Coyotes and it was obvious he didn’t want to leave. I think a 3rd star selection would’ve been appropriate for the player who has spent his whole career in Arizona prior to this year’s trade and been in many a seasonal battle alongside Doan and Michalek over the years.
It was a great way to cap off a remarkable season for the Minnesota Wild, earning their franchise best 106 points and gaining some more positive momentum going into the playoffs. What a contrast from last season where the Wild couldn’t even figure out its lines by playing so poorly down the stretch as the fell into the post-season thanks to an epic collapse by Colorado. Minnesota now has the chance to rest up, prepare and focus for what will be a true war in the first round against St. Louis.
~ The Wild roster was as follows this evening: Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Chris Stewart, Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Martin Hanzal, Charlie Coyle, Jason Pominville, Ryan White, Joel Eriksson Ek, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Mathew Dumba, Nate Prosser and Christian Folin. Devan Dubnyk backed up Darcy Keumper. Jordan Schroeder, Jared Spurgeon and Mikael Granlund were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Shane Doan, 2nd Star Zbynek Michalek (no 3rd Star)
~ Attendance was 17,490 at Gila River Arena.
~ Crease and Assist would like to congratulate the Denver University Pioneers on winning an NCAA Championship and a stick tap to the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs for a fantastic season.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 3, Rockford 1
Iowa is still theoretically alive and is in need of some help in order to make the post-season, but all they can do in the meantime is win as many games as they can and hope for the best. On Thursday one of their arch-rivals, the Rockford Ice Hogs came to town and Iowa stayed in control for most of it. Iowa would strike first, on the power play when Luke Kunin fired a shot on goal that Lars Johansson stopped but Tyler Graovac tapped out of the air and in. After a scoreless 2nd period where Iowa carried most of the play, the Ice Hogs would tie the game early in the 3rd as Jeremy Langlois scored off a turnover in the offensive zone. Iowa would then get the go-ahead goal a few minutes later as Christoph Bertschy wrist shot threaded the needle beating Johansson. Iowa would then pad its lead on a pretty finish by Colton Beck who won the race for the puck against former Eden Prairie-star Luc Snuggerud to seal a 3-1 win for the Wild. Alex Stalock had 27 saves in the victory.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Carson Soucy (Minnesota-Duluth, NCHC) ~ the big defenseman came up just short of a national title as the Bulldogs fell 3-2 to Denver on Saturday night in Chicago. The Viking, Alberta-native had a shot on goal and finished the night a -1. Soucy struggled with injuries this season, finishing his senior year with 3 goals, 15 points, 55 PIM’s and a +7 in 35 games.
C – Avery Peterson (Minnesota-Duluth, NCHC) ~ the former Mr. Hockey set up Riley Tufte in the 3rd period to get the game within one for the Bulldogs but it wasn’t meant to be as they fell to Denver 3-2. Peterson had a nice comeback year since transferring from Nebraska-Omaha and had 7 goals, 15 points, 27 PIM’s and a +10 in 25 games.