Whether Minnesota has been doing well or poorly, Wild fans have relished in the colossal failure of the Colorado Avalanche. Why? In part, they’re kind of like Johnny from Karate Kid, you know the arch-villain of Daniel. He’s just the guy you love to hate because he’s cocky and fights dirty. That kind of sums up Minnesota Wild fans feelings about the Colorado Avalanche in general. They have plenty of players who’d fit that villain type of personality who appear to have an extra bit of vitriol for the Wild. Sure, its been fun to mock the Avalanche for their performance this season, but it also makes this very much a trap game.
You don’t need Mr. Miyagi around to know that you best beware of a cornered cobra like the Avalanche are. Minnesota are coming off a 3-0 shutout at the hands of Nashville and certainly could use a victory to solidify their place in the Central Division standings with the Blues and Predators hanging around as close as they are. So can the Wild avoid the trap, or will the Avalanche ‘sweep the leg’ of Minnesota?
1st Period Thoughts: Well I have to say that I liked the fact that Minnesota was able to keep the puck in Colorado’s end for much of the opening two minutes. I would have liked it better had they gotten more than one shot on goal. Of course considering how things have gone in March, I should just be glad that it’s still 0-0 as the three minute mark. Interesting all-Finnish look to the first line with Erik Haula taking Jason Zucker’s spot. And of course, Haula is going to have to adjust his speed, as he got caught offsides with Mikko Koivu’s habit of hesitating at the blue line. He’s been much better this season with that particular annoying habit, but I swear it comes out when it looks like his linemates might be able to do something. Color me surprised, but when the line of Jason Pominville, Charlie Coyle and Martin Hanzal open the scoring for the night, you really don’t know how this night is going to go. Now, if those particular three can pick up their scoring from here on out, life would be better. Minnesota almost got its second goal of the night with Haula going to the net. However, he would get the goal on a strange faceoff. Koivu would get kicked out the faceoff circle and Haula would take his place. After taking the faceoff, he would race to the net, and in a weird bounce, the puck would go past Calvin Pickard. There’s a possibility though that Haula’s goal will get awarded to someone else, but regardless of who gets credit, I’ll take it. I’m really like how the Wild are attacking the net today. I’ve argued for that for some time now. Minnesota is a better team when they skate with the puck. Minnesota would get called for the first penalty, Koivu for tripping. The Avalanche would spend most of the 2 minutes in the offensive zone, due to nothing more than the Wild inability to clear the zone, when it should have been an easy clear. But I’ll take a killed penalty with no shots on goal. As we head into the final minutes of the opening period, one thing I’m noticing is Minnesota’s ability to maintain the offensive zone. They’re skating hard to loose pucks and moving their feet. It feels like they’re also communicating better in this game. Both of these are key. And it feels like they’ve both been missing during March. I was feeling good about how this game had been going. Unfortunately Jonas Brodin got his skates caught up with Christian Folin and went down, which left Folin alone to defend. Colorado would get their first goal of the night with just over 2 minutes remaining in the period from Gabriel Landeskog. As we get closer to the playoffs, this team need to figure out how to prevent late period goals. Those have been killer lately. Thankfully, they would get a late goal of their own. Remember Haula’s goal earlier? As expected, that was reassigned to Jared Spurgeon. Haula would get his first goal of the night with just 20 seconds remaining thanks to hard work from linemates Mikael Granlund and Koivu. While I still don’t like the late period goal by Colorado, I’m just glad to see the Wild get one of their own. That’s something we don’t often get from this team. They need to figure out how to keep fighting until the last whistle.
2nd Period Thoughts: Technical difficulties always make things interesting. For my fellow Mac users, you’ve experienced the spinning beach ball of doom from time to time. For you Windows users, it’s the same as the spinning blue circle. Whether it’s Activity Monitor, Task Manager, or the more drastic, restart, they rarely happen at a convenient time. Just as the period was to start, there I was with the spinning beach ball. Thankfully for me, a quick restart was all I needed to do. I’m just glad that all of my work was saved. Minnesota would get their first power play after Fedor Tyutin would get called for interference on Haula. Just as I was going to comment that I don’t like Jason Pominville’s continual presence on the power play, Eric Staal would go behind the net to grab the puck and get it to Zach Parise who quickly made it 4-1 Minnesota. That goal would force Colorado to pull Pickard for Jeremy Smith. The Wild would test Smith early. In typical Wild fashion, I’m seeing a bit of a slacking 2nd period. Colorado is catching up in the shots category, and frankly, I’m not comfortable with that. The Avalanche are 29th in the league when it comes to shots on goal. I’d like to help keep them in that place or worse. And I’d definitely like to see the Wild pick up their shots on goal as well. And as we hit the midway point of the period, I’m seeing some questionable passes as well. Sure, you have a 3 goal lead, but making boneheaded decisions is not a good way to maintain that lead. With the exception of the power play goal, this period has felt like it has belonged to Colorado. Minnesota would head back to the power play after Anton Lindholm would get called for tripping Chris Stewart. There were a couple of nice chance, but nothing to really write home about. Shortly after Colorado went back to full strength, Haula would get some really nice chances. Had he been able to lift the puck, he would have gotten it past Smith. After a floated shot by Ryan Suter, he would get the puck back. He made the quick decision to make the cross ice pass to Jordan Schroeder who buried the puck behind Smith. Granlund would try to add one of his own, but it would go up into the netting. Remember we were talking about late period goals last period? Well the Wild scored their own by Schroeder, but Colorado decided they needed one of their own, scored by Mikko Rantanen. I didn’t like this period. Sure Minnesota still has the lead, but it’s a lead against the Avalanche. Come the playoffs, a period like this simply cannot happen.
3rd Period Thoughts: Well that was an interesting move by an NHL official. Charlie Coyle’s stick got stuck in a Colorado’s player’s skate. The official grabbed the stick to try and dislodge it. Another interesting tidbit I noticed is that Hanzal is the only Wild player with his playoff beard ready to go. Seems a bit odd considering he came from the Arizona Coyotes, a team that pretty much hasn’t had a chance at the playoffs since perhaps opening night. Heck, even Stewart shaved his off a week or so ago. In fact, the entire Wild roster looks rather clean shaven. Near the midway point of the period, both teams would get some back and forth chances. The Wild and Devan Dubnyk would luck out big time with a sprawling Dubnyk and a Matt Duschene shot that simply missed. Again, we’re seeing a bit of an unfocused Wild as we’re in the final ten minutes of regulation. Whether it’s Coyle unable to gather the puck or the inability to clear the zone, this is the kind of stuff that makes me nervous. The fact that the Colorado Avalanche have pretty much had the Wild’s number all season is not only annoying but concerning. Minnesota should look far more dominating than they have tonight. There’s a reason why Colorado is where they are in the standings this season. The shots on goal shouldn’t be close, but they are. And for having a three goal lead on the Avalanche, this game feels much, much closer than it is. It also doesn’t help that Dubnyk still looks shaky. He still goes deep into the net, which makes it hard to defend the goal. And much to my chagrin, Colorado would surpass Minnesota in shots on goal. With just under three minutes remaining in regulation, Koivu would get called for holding. While I’d rather not give Colorado the man advantage, at least Minnesota will get 2 minutes where they can ice the puck with no punishment. Of course, that’s if they can actually clear the zone. With an empty Colorado goal, that should be incentive to clear. In the first half of the minor, Minnesota surprised me with the ability to not only defend Dubnyk, but getting their sticks in the passing lanes and being able to clear the zone. The Wild would kill the penalty. They would also get back into the win column (although I’m not sure if that’s much of an accomplishment against Colorado). It was also nice to see Dubnyk find a win as well. While he wasn’t perfect, he looked a bit more steady than he has been as of late. Plus, Haula looked really good on the top line. A win is a win is a win, and I’ll take it.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Jordan Schroeder, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Jason Pominville, Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter, Martin Hanzal, Erik Haula, Joel Eriksson Ek, Chris Stewart, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Mathew Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Christian Folin. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Nate Prosser, Ryan White, Darcy Kuemper and Jason Zucker were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star, Erik Haula; 2nd Star, Jared Spurgeon; 3rd Star, Devan Dubnyk
~ Attendance was 19,164 at Xcel Energy Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
G – Ales Stezka (Chicago, USHL) ~ The 6’4″, 192lbs Czech-born goaltender still has not committed to a university yet, but he’s hopefully attracting some interest after a 28-save performance on Saturday in a 4-1 win over the Tri-City Storm. Stezka has 21-9-4 record, 2.20 goals against average and a .918% save percentage with 4 shutouts.