Spoiler alert, (I am only saying that because I guess its the polite thing to do, even with an older movie reference) in the big climax of the famous 1970’s film Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford the two gunfighters are trapped inside a house in Bolivia. It clearly is the end of the line as the two beaten up gunfighters start discussing what they should’ve done and how at this point its futile. So with the last of their energy they charge out of the building only to be cut down and the rest of the story passes into legend. I think the Minnesota Wild are kind of at this point, down 3-0 in their series with the Blues it may not literally be over but it sure seems like the ultimate outcome is inevitable.
While that may seem somewhat dour and depressing, its kind of like the story I’m referencing. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had an incredible run of bank robberies, escapes and close calls before the end came. Sort of like the Wild’s season where they had some remarkable strings of success and records broken. Will the Wild season end this evening or will they extend it by at least one more game?
1st Period Thoughts: The Wild started the period with good pressure as Jason Zucker went hard into the corner and forced a turnover that was kind of gathered up and chipped on goal by Martin Hanzal that hit Jake Allen in the shoulder before being swatted at by the glove of Jason Pominville. It was a quality close-range chance to start the game, but inexplicably after that encouraging first chance the team went back to its perimeter shooting ways. The shots kept Allen a little busy, but they were of little threat to score and the Blues started to tilt the ice in the Wild zone. Eventually the Blues’ 4th line of Scottie Upshall, Ryan Reaves and Kyle Brodziak got the forecheck going and the Wild were on their heels. Minnesota would eventually stabilize and then slowly go back to work to try to get the 1st goal of the game. One line that I felt came ready to work was the Hanzal, Zucker and Pominville line. Hanzal was particularly pesky and using his size to deliver checks, win board battles and work his 6’6″ frame in front of Allen. As he parked himself in front of the crease Jared Spurgeon rifled a point shot that Allen blocked aside but it was proof that with a screen he isn’t the puck vacuum he was when we were giving him a clear view of the biscuit. Minnesota would get a little lucky as the Wild pressured Allen a bit on a dump in and he tried to help his defense by passing the puck and Charlie Coyle read where Allen was going to go with the pass and he moved into intercept and then fire a quick shot on goal before Allen could get back. 1-0 Wild. Minnesota would then get tagged with a pretty weak slashing call. On the power play, the Wild penalty killers did a great job of moving their feet and getting sticks and bodies into shooting lanes and a part from one chance by Alex Steen that rang off the post Minnesota would escape unscathed. The Blues tried to raise the agitation level as Scottie Upshall attempted to goad Mikko Koivu into a penalty after tackling him, then facewashing him to no penalty with an official just a few feet away. It was a good start for the Wild who outshot St. Louis 11-4.
2nd Period Thoughts: The 2nd period would feature a pushback by the Blues, but also Minnesota showing some timely resilience as well. St. Louis tried assert their forecheck right away and it had some promising opportunities but Devan Dubnyk was sharp, making the initial stop and Minnesota was sweeping away rebounds. The Blues were hoping to get Vladimir Tarasenko free as he found a little room but again Dubnyk was able to come up with the leg pad save and then cover up the rebound. The Wild would try to counter a bit with some rushes the other way and they came dangerously close to adding to their lead when Alex Pietrangelo coughed up the puck to Nino Niederreiter who fired a quick shot on goal that Allen fought off. Minnesota’s hustle would then draw a few penalties as a spearing call on Robert Bortuzzo gave the Wild its first power play. On the power play, the Wild were biding for the perfect shot and St. Louis didn’t seem to watching Minnesota pass the puck around the perimeter. Tempers would flare as Mathew Dumba and Joel Edmundson would push and shove after the whistle earning them both a sit in the penalty box. With a little power play time left, the Wild would earn another as Upshall hooked Eric Staal as he tried to enter the zone. Yet the power play was another mess of slow, predictable puck movement and almost no pucks being sent on goal to even test Allen. A few minutes after the penalties and after another Blues surge which Dubnyk and the Wild managed to fight off they’d catch St. Louis with a long stretch pass from Nate Prosser to Hanzal who moved into the high slot and he’d wire a shot by Allen to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead. It was a huge goal both for confidence as well to help silence the home crowd which was starting to get energized. Minnesota would hold on to keep that 2-goal lead intact going into the 3rd. Mikko Koivu seems to be really laboring out there, and he seems almost afraid to go beneath the faceoff dots in the offensive zone and while I realize he’s worried about his defensive role but that really serves to deprive the Wild of another attacker whenever he’s on the ice as long as he’s going to insist playing above the dots. On the flip side, Charlie Coyle had a great period defensively, breaking up a few Blues rushes with some excellent hustle.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Blues would raise their desperation and agitation level in the 3rd as they sought to cut into the Wild lead. Minnesota did their best to try to deny time and space wherever they could, but at times the Blues would get loose. Early in the period, the Blues would catch Minnesota’s 4th line pinching a bit and go on the counter attack and Ryan White was compelled to slash Joel Edmundson as he got some free space as he joined the rush. This gave the Blues a power play, but the Minnesota Wild penalty kill was again superb at working themselves into passing and shooting lanes. Dubnyk also was tracking the puck well as he snagged a Colton Parayko blast from the point with a nice glove save. Minnesota would get the kill and they’d try to counter attack and they nearly caught the Blues as Mikael Granlund held a puck in the St. Louis zone to set up Staal all by himself but his wrist shot was blocked aside by the leg of Allen. The chippy play after the whistle also seemed to erupt after nearly every stoppage of play, especially when the 4th line of Reaves, Brodziak and Upshall were on the ice. The Blues clearly have been given some directive to try to knock off the helmet of Wild players to try to take them out of the game. Its been consistent all series and the officials have continued to let it happen. Minnesota stayed patient and disciplined and forced the Blues to settle for shots from the perimeter and they’d close out the last few minutes to earn a 2-0 victory and living to play at least one more game.
Devan Dubnyk was pretty solid, stopping all 28 shots he faced. He didn’t have to deal with a lot of traffic, but he did a decent job with his rebound control and also did not surrender one soft one (especially early) to keep his team’s hopes up throughout the 1st until they were finally able to strike. I thought Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin were terrific tonight. The penalty kill was also very good, not only did it keep the Blues off the scoreboard but they didn’t really allow St. Louis to create any momentum whatsoever.
Offensively the Wild didn’t score a lot of goals, but the key was they managed to get the all important 1st goal for momentum and then managed to get a little insurance with a nice tally by Martin Hanzal. Coyle’s goal was pure opportunity but it takes a player being aware of the situation and the play to step in front of that pass and make Allen and the Blues pay for it. Hanzal has been a favorite whipping boy on message boards, and while I understand the issues with his speed he played like the big 6’6″ forward that he is tonight even without the goal. He was consistently physical and he parked himself near the crease. I thought the Pominville, Zucker, Hanzal line was Minnesota’s best one through the first half of the game. It was good to see Hanzal rewarded with a goal this evening. Hopefully they work on the power play before Saturday afternoon’s game.
Sure its just one game, but it is a start. Minnesota played with more ‘want to’ tonight and that’s how they were able to get a victory. I have little doubt the Blues are going to press hard to try to spoil the Wild’s season by finishing them off at home. Minnesota must play with the same kind of urgency they had this evening. So can the Wild work some home magic to earn yet another playoff game? We shall see on Saturday, and I must give you a bit of programming note. With the game starting at 2PM, I will not be writing a post-game report as I will be coaching that afternoon.
~ The Wild roster this evening was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Martin Hanzal, Ryan White, Joel Eriksson Ek, Chris Stewart, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Mathew Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Nate Prosser. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Jordan Schroeder, Erik Haula, Christian Folin, Darcy Kuemper, Gustav Olofsson, Alex Tuch, and Tyler Graovac were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Devan Dubnyk, 2nd Star Charlie Coyle, 3rd Star Ryan Reaves
~ Attendance was 19,791 at Scottrade Center.
Iowa Wild Report & Season Summary (in brief):
Record: (36-31-7-2) 81pts 6th in the AHL Central
16.7% Power Play (19th in the AHL)
82% Penalty Kill (16th in the AHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #12 Pat Cannone ~ 9G 29A = 38pts
2. #17 Alex Tuch ~ 18G 19A = 37pts
3. #9 Mike Reilly ~ 5G 25A = 30pts
4. #7 Sam Anas ~ 12G 16A = 28pts
5. #44 Christoph Bertschy ~ 11G 13A = 24pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #3 Nick Seeler ~ 109 PIM’s
2. #27 Mike Weber ~ 97 PIM’s
3. #39 Kurtis Gabriel ~ 68 PIM’s
1. #32 Alex Stalock (23-17-8) 2.28GAA .926%SP 4SO
2. #34 Steve Michalek (13-14-1) 2.63GAA .919%SP 1SO
It was the Iowa Wild’s best season since the club moved there from Houston in 2013. Going back to the organization’s last season as the Aeros, the team hasn’t made the playoffs 4 years straight which is something that will not sit well with the organization. However, this season Iowa was at least a competitive team most nights and did not finish at the very bottom of the league standings as it had the previous 3 seasons. Just to provide an idea how its changed a bit (for a positive) last season the Wild called up Mike Reilly as a way to get him out of the ‘losing culture’ in Iowa, this year they kept him there.
Head Coach Derek Lalonde was well-received and for the most part the Wild seemed to buy into his system. Offense was still an issue throughout most of the season. Teemu Pulkkinen helped carry the squad initially but he eventually tired of playing in Iowa and asked for a trade. Pulkkinen’s departure meant more of the offense was predicated on the play of blue chip prospect Alex Tuch who led the team in goals. Tuch demonstrated an ability to score in the clutch and certainly benefited from getting lots of ice time. Pat Canonne disappointed in regards to goal scoring, but he provided decent leadership and he provided some terrific playmaking down the stretch. Sam Anas had flashes of brilliance. Iowa veterans Zack Mitchell, Christoph Bertschy and Tyler Graovac had a few games but more was needed considering their experience. In the closing weeks college signees Gerald Mayhew and top-prospect Luke Kunin provided a real boost to the team offensively which is a promising sign of the future. Prospect Mario Lucia had some good games, but a mid-season injury kept him on the shelf the 2nd half the year. Kurtis Gabriel seemed to focus a bit more on hockey than just dropping the gloves like he did in his first two seasons in the AHL. The Wild may have been better if Zac Dalpe was able to stay healthy (before he was picked up off waivers by Cleveland) and Jordan Schroeder had been kept there, but Minnesota needed him and Iowa still should’ve been able to produce offensively more than they did. Colton Beck was the unsung soldier in Iowa this season chipping in offense and was perhaps the team’s hardest worker most games.
On the back end, the Wild had a much better season from Mike Reilly who finished the season a +4 compared to a -27 from last season. Gustav Olofsson provided decent minutes and the biggest accomplishment for him was staying healthy most of the season, but he still needs to add muscle to his disturbingly frail frame. Veteran workhorse Mike Weber earned the “C” and got himself a contract extension for next season and led the team’s blueliners in +/- with a +6 rating and wasn’t afraid to drop the gloves to inspire his team when they needed it. He earned rave reviews from the coaching staff for his professionalism and leadership. Minnesotans Zach Palmquist was steady as usual and Nick Seeler and Hunter Warner provided grit and nastiness to the Iowa blueline. Carson Soucy was a late-arrival after finishing runner up in the NCAA’s at Minnesota-Duluth and didn’t look out of place as he provides some size to a group that lacks size.
The team’s biggest strength was between the pipes where they got solid goaltending from Alex Stalock and Steve Michalek. After a slow start, Stalock really turned it around to be one of the AHL’s best goaltenders which is why they felt confident to give him a contract extension. Michalek demonstrated he was ready to be a competent back up and will likely be Iowa’s starting goaltender next season as Stalock moves up to the back up spot in Minnesota barring any major shakeup this summer.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Gustav Bouramman (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) ~ the Stockholm-native’s season came to an end on Sunday in a 1-0 loss to Owen Sound. He seemed to have a bit of a stagnant junior season where he had just 2 goals, 36 points, 44 PIM’s and is a +10 in 66 games in the regular season. In the post-season he had just 2 goals, 3 points, 8 PIM’s and was a +2 in 11 playoff games.