The saying is misery loves company. The New York Rangers are feeling pretty miserable right now. They have suffered through injuries and the embarrassment of a letter announcing a firesale & demolition of many of their core roster players. That demolition has begun as they shipped off Michael Grabner to the New Jersey Devils last night, the first time the two clubs have ever traded with one another. When you are willing to trade with your arch-rival you know things are looking pretty grim.
Normally this is where I’d write how the Minnesota Wild are in their own cycle of frustration but that is not the case. The Wild seem to be playing with more confidence and resilience after earning a come-from-behind win over the Devils last evening. Minnesota has a chance to do something most would’ve felt was highly improbable but they could earn a 3-game road sweep. Can the Wild finish what they’ve started?
1st Period Thoughts: The Wild had a little more energy to start the game than they did the previous night in New Jersey, but the same could be said for the Rangers who looked a bit more loose like a team with nothing to lose. Minnesota changed up all of its forward lines hoping tho shake things up as they are at the end of a 3-game road trip. The Wild were able to win some races for the puck, but whenever they had a chance to send some shots on goal they opted to pass hoping for a higher quality chance and invariably they’d just turn it over. The Rangers would get a bit of a spark from Chris Kreider who returned to the Blueshirts lineup tonight and he gave the home crowd something to cheer about as he walked past a Minnesota defender to set up Mats Zuccarello for a shot from the high slot that he fired wide of the goal. Minnesota looked a bit scrambly in their own end as the Rangers forecheck was physical and it was putting the Wild on their heels. The Wild would try to counter the Rangers’ pressure by utilizing the stretch pass and Matt Dumba found Eric Staal a long pass that he managed to push the puck forward and then skate by the New York defense for a breakaway where his backhander was denied by Alexandar Georgiev. The small play seemed to get the Wild’s feet moving and they started to tilt the play into the New York end. The State of Hockey would strike twice late in the period as Eric Staal chased down his own dump in and he’d then win a battle for the puck behind the Rangers goal, and passing out front to Mikael Granlund who went top cheese by Georgiev. 1-0 Wild. Minnesota continued to attack and a few minutes later it was Zach Parise making a backhand pass across the front of the crease to Granlund who buried his 2nd goal of the game. The Wild were just outhustling the Rangers and had a burst to finish the period with a 2-goal lead.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Wild tried to pick up where they left off in the 1st. Minnesota would create a 2-on-1 for Staal and Granlund and Staal would dangle around a diving Brady Skjei and feed a pass over to Granlund who was stopped at point blank range by Georgiev. We would get too cute with the puck and a fortunate bounce of the puck gave Matt Cullen the puck in the offensive zone but instead of taking what seemed to be a clear lane to shoot the puck he’d try to pass it back to Marcus Foligno who was tied up near the Rangers’ blueline and they’d go on the attack. The Rangers raced into the Wild zone and it was J.T. Miller setting up Jesper Fast for quick shot that Devan Dubnyk had no chance on. 2-1 Wild. The goal certainly got the Rangers legs moving a bit more but Minnesota would stay calm and it was Joel Eriksson Ek who would help settle things down for the Wild with two terrific shifts where he rang a shot off the post and then outlegged a Rangers defenseman for the puck and then came close to burying a goal on the wrap around. The effort drew the ire of Kreider who ragdolled the young Wild forward after the whistle. Minnesota was retreating well enough to help out defensively, but the Wild were not just sitting back and playing rope-a-dope either. The Wild would draw a penalty late and it appeared like Minnesota had re-established its momentum.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would start the 3rd with a power play and they’d make the most of it as Ryan Suter let go a shot from the point that was redirected by Staal and by Georgiev. 3-1 Wild. The cushion seemed to relieve some of the anxiousness and Minnesota would look more comfortable as they continued to take advantage of the time and space the Rangers were giving them. The Rangers still had their moments as Pavel Buchnevich would turn on the after burners but his wrap around bid was denied by Dubnyk. Minnesota would add to its lead as a puck hit the linesman just right to help set up a 2-on-1 for Granlund and Zucker. Granlund was patient as he let Zucker apply token pressure before making a small drag move before pulling the trigger that beat Georgiev. 4-1 Wild on Granlund’s hat trick marker. Minnesota was not giving the Rangers almost any time and space and Dubnyk’s job was pretty simple down the stretch. The same was not true for the Rangers who continued to give up prime scoring chances for Minnesota as Jared Spurgeon set up Charlie Coyle for a shot from the slot that Georgiev fought off. Late in the game they would change the 2nd goal to Staal meaning Granlund lost his hat trick but more importantly the Wild prevailed 4-1.
Devan Dubnyk didn’t have to be stellar as he had 22 saves in the victory. Dubnyk got plenty of help as Minnesota defenseman were helping him see the pucks and tying up Rangers forwards to make sure they were unable to pounce on any rebounds that he may have been giving up. Minnesota stayed out of the box and did not let the Rangers’ decent power play go to work other than once tonight.
Offensively, the Wild certainly got the firepower boost from Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau shuffling the forward lines for this game. The line of Staal, Granlund and Zucker was dangerous all game long. Both Staal and Granlund had 2 goals and 2 helpers apiece. Almost all of the lines seemed to be creating quality chances this evening, but part of that may have been due to the Rangers decimated blueline corps.
Minnesota earns the 3-game road sweep and will return to St. Paul for another big game against San Jose on Sunday. The wins certainly have the team feeling confident to say nothing of keeping the pressure on the other teams in the pack for the playoffs both in the Central Division and Western Conference. I am sure the flight home will feel pretty good, but hopefully the rest up and refocus for some important games at home starting on Sunday.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Tyler Ennis, Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Joel Eriksson Ek, Charlie Coyle, Marcus Foligno, Matt Cullen, Daniel Winnik, Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Nick Seeler, Jared Spurgeon, Mike Reilly and Nate Prosser. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Chris Stewart and Gustav Olofsson were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Mikael Granlund, 2nd Star Eric Staal, 3rd Star Ryan Suter
~ Attendance was 18,006 at Madison Square Garden.
Wild Prospect Report:
RW – Dmitry Sokolov (Barrie, OHL) ~ the Russian-born winger continues his over point per game pace since being traded to the Colts about a month ago as he had a goal and an assist (8 shots on goal) in Barrie’s 7-4 loss to Mississauga on Thursday. He has been on fire since the trade scoring 20 goals, 36 points in the 19 games he’s played with Barrie thus far. Sokolov has 40 goals, 74 points, 16 PIM’s and is a -10 in 54 games this season. Its his 2nd straight OHL season with at least 40 goals after scoring 48 goals in 64 games last year.
G – Kaapo Kahkonen (Lukko Rauma, Sm-Liiga) ~ the goaltender is not listed in the Hockey News‘ Top 10 Wild prospects which is interesting for a player having such a solid season in Finland’s top league as a 21-year old. Kahkonen has a 20-21 record, a 2.18 goals against average and a .927 save percentage with 5 shutouts.
F – Kirill Kaprizov (‘Team Russia’, Olympics) ~ the skilled forward will play in the Gold Medal game against Germany after the ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’ prevailed 3-0 against the Czech Republic on Friday morning. He had 4 shots on goal and 2 penalty minutes. Kaprizov has 4 goals, 5 points, 2 PIM’s and is a +5 with 15 shots in 5 Olympic games.