“I want to believe” is what it says on the poster hanging on Fox Mulder’s wall in his office at FBI headquarters on the science fiction-mystery classic television show X-Files. I like that it says ‘I want to believe’ because it shows a level of separation from those who blindly put their faith forward towards the things they want in life. From a sports fan’s perspective it tells me its ok to want my team to succeed but I do not have to just blindly believe they’ll be successful simply because I want it. The team has to give me a reason to believe. Its why I will never be a Wild homer.
The Wild go into Nashville with an opportunity to give themselves an excellent opportunity to lock up the 2nd place spot in the Central Division. Nashville will no doubt be pretty determined after losing 3-1 to Toronto on Thursday night. The Predators and Wild have always brought out the best in each other and no doubt it will be another raucous crowd on Broadway Street to watch it all. Can Minnesota move a little closer to their goal and make us all believe a little more?
1st Period Thoughts: With the Predators crowd certainly worked up the game had a playoff-like feel to it. Minnesota was dialed in early, skating well and making smart plays with the puck. The Wild were very efficient in their breakouts, using short accurate passes instead of just sending the puck out of the zone and hoping someone could skate it down. On the other end of the game, Alex Stalock looked sharp early as he stonewalled the first quality scoring chance of the game as the Predators set up Calle Jarnkrok on a diagonal pass with a fine leg pad save. Minnesota answered back with some great puck possession deep in the Nashville end as Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter and Chris Stewart used their body well to protect the biscuit as well as set up Staal for a chance from the slot that missed just wide of Pekka Rinne. The Wild were supporting the puck well, so as forwards and defenseman were tied up another player was there to pick up the puck and make a good play. Time and space was hard to come by with both teams skating well. At times it looked like the Wild had the Predators defense scrambling and on the ropes, but they were unable to turn that pressure into shots on goal. Jonas Brodin had a backhander ring off the post but that was as close as the Wild would get. Later in the period the Predators would tilt the ice into Minnesota’s end, but the Wild never seemed to panic and forced the Predators to settle for shots from the perimeter and Stalock looked poised and in control. Minnesota was outshot 12-10 but it was a pretty even performance thus far. I was also really impressed by Joel Eriksson Ek who was making things happen with his quickness and reach and I liked how he was taking the body consistently. He wasn’t reckless, he looked calm and under control with his hits. No question the first goal will be huge in this one, but a good road period for Minnesota.
2nd Period Thoughts: Well it was looking really good until the last 3 minutes of the period. The tight defensive chess match continued as neither club was giving up much in the way of scoring chances. Mikko Koivu would trip up Roman Josi and give the Predators the first power play of the game. Minnesota’s penalty killers did a decent job of keeping the Predators to the perimeter and Stalock remained sharp, absorbing pucks and not allowing the Predators to really gain any momentum. Even as the penalty expired, Marco Scandella would cough up a puck into the slot that Jarnkrok pounced on and Stalock would shut the door on the chance. Minnesota would try to counter with some scoring chances of their own as Zach Parise got a step on Kevin Fiala and then fire a shot on Rinne that he stopped and then denied the alternate captain on his rebound attempt. Stalock continued to be the story over the next few minutes as he kept making saves even as the Predators tried to get traffic near his crease. Minnesota just couldn’t seem to generate quite enough speed through the neutral zone to then put Nashville on its heels. Late in the period the Predators would take the lead as a point shot by Josi was redirected by Filip Forsberg. The goal would be reviewed but Forsberg’s stick was underneath the plane of the crossbar and just like that it was 1-0. Just 10 seconds later, the Predators would double their lead on an ill-advised pinch by Jonas Brodin which gave a lane for Fiala to exploit and he’d fly in and dangle around a sprawling Stalock for an easy backhander. 2-0 Predators and the home crowd was roaring over the final few minutes as Minnesota tried to cut into the home team’s lead late. It was again Parise generating a few shots but unfortunately Eric Staal couldn’t quite reach the rebound on what looked like a promising opportunity. Minnesota had played well for the most part, but a few battles lost and you find yourself behind the 8-ball. Minnesota must find a way to generate more chances offensively and get some bodies moving towards the Predators crease to take advantage of the rebounds Rinne is giving up.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild just didn’t seem to have that extra step they needed to create the scoring chances they needed down the stretch. The Predators stayed patient and competed hard for the 50/50 pucks and the Wild were mostly kept to the perimeter which made it a pretty easy night for Rinne. Especially when you consider the Wild were not really registering shots on goal at all in the 2nd half of the period you can kind of see how the struggle went. Rinne was making the initial save and Minnesota forwards were either too far away or were not strong enough to get to the rebounds to create that crucial secondary scoring chance. I think this was a part of the game where the team missed the speed of Jason Zucker and his hustle on loose pucks. The Wild just didn’t seem to have the jets necessary and you started to see frustration build as Ryan White got obliterated by Austin Watson and then as he tried to answer back with a big hit of his own only to be blown apart by Watson the former Peterborough Pete blew him up with a shoulder hit. No extra cheap stuff would ensue but the Wild just couldn’t get free. Towards the end the Wild started directing pucks towards the goal looking for redirections but again they couldn’t quite get there. Minnesota would pull Stalock for an extra attacker with over 3 minutes left in the game. The aggressive strategy nearly paid off as Jared Spurgeon got a little space and he made a great play to set up a wide open Mikael Granlund who fanned a one-timer off the left post even though he had an open net to look at. Granlund was despondent at the miss, and the Predators would get an empty net goal shortly thereafter by P.K. Subban to seal a 3-0 victory.
Alex Stalock did a good job of keeping the Wild in the game. He was sharp and overall very solid in his rebound control and provided stability in net. He had 33 saves in the loss. I thought Minnesota played fairly well in front of him and felt Ryan Suter and especially Jonas Brodin played pretty well this afternoon. Christian Folin took the blame for Fiala’s goal as he didn’t step up to help out his forward (Niederreiter) who was caught flat footed. Beyond that I don’t have many issues with how the team played defensively.
Offensively the Wild needed to be a little more determined to create chances and win battles for the puck near the crease. The Wild didn’t get much traffic going in the Predators’ zone which gave Rinne a clear look at most of the shots that were coming at him. Most goaltenders are going to make those saves, let alone a big body goalie like Rinne.
Minnesota will have another tough battle in what will likely be a very ornery team in Colorado. The Wild must move there feet more and draw some penalties which was something they didn’t do in this game. Minnesota needs to play like they must get this win to make the playoffs. Minnesota let up a bit and those 50/50 battles for pucks that went decisively to Nashville’s favor. The Wild cannot expect to just show up and see Colorado fall over. Minnesota has its work cut out for it tomorrow. Mentally as much as physically at this point.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise, Martin Hanzal, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Pominville, Chris Stewart, Joel Eriksson Ek, Ryan White, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Mathew Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Christian Folin. Devan Dubnyk backed up Alex Stalock. Darcy Kuemper, Jordan Schroeder, Jason Zucker and Nate Prosser were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Pekka Rinne, 2nd Star Kevin Fiala, 3rd Star Filip Forsberg
~ Attendance was 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena.
Iowa Wild Report:
Iowa 0, Chicago 4
While the Minnesota Wild do their best to solidify their position in the playoffs, the farm team is in a fight for its playoff lives. Currently the Iowa Wild are on the outside looking in and that means every game has major implications as to whether they make it or not. It was a defensive struggle through the first two periods as the West’s best team, Chicago tested Steve Michalek but the Harvard grad was up to the challenge stopping all 20 shots he faced. The Wolves would break the stalemate early in the 3rd on the power play as former Boston University star Wade Megan scored. Iowa tried to answer back, but had a hard time generating much in the way of scoring chances as Luke Kunin was denied by Ville Husso after a pretty set up by Sam Anas. The Wolves would score 3 more times to seal a 4-0 victory. Michalek had 28 saves in the loss. Iowa currently sits in 6th place, just a few winning percentage points (which is how the AHL determines their place in the standings) behind Cleveland and Charlotte.
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Dmitry Sokolov (Sudbury, OHL) ~ No one can say Dmitry Sokolov hasn’t done his part in the playoffs as he’s paced the Wolves with goals in the first round of the OHL playoffs as he added another goal (5 shots on goal) on Friday night in a 4-1 loss to Oshawa. The Wolves now trail 3-2 in the series. Sokolov has 5 goals, 8 points, is a -2 with 35 shots on goal in 5 playoff games.
D – Gustav Bouramman (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) ~ The offensive defenseman earned 3rd star honors on Friday with a goal and an assist as the Greyhounds rolled to a 6-1 series-clinching win over Flint in the first round of the Ontario Hockey League Playoffs.