The past often provides bitter lessons for those who don’t learn from their mistakes. Whether they are poor choices personally or at a national level they can create setbacks or have catastrophic consequences. If a person or entity learns from those mistakes is really the defining response to that lapse of judgement. Case in point with the Minnesota Wild. At the time they were a 1st place team in the Central Division, playing a non-playoff foe in Carolina. Minnesota fails to prepare itself physically and mentally to play the game and they lose 3-1. Unfortunately they continued to make those same errors and were eventually passed up by Chicago who clinched the Central Division title (and more importantly home ice advantage) last week.
So the set back currently is we’re not going to win the title which we were in the driver’s seat for, but the more dire consequence may be coming in the post-season if our two clubs face one another and we suddenly wish we had home ice advantage. Ooops. Yet that is all water under the bridge and now the goal is to secure our 2nd place finish in the division and another 2 points will do just that. Carolina will no doubt want to earn a season sweep of the Wild, can Minnesota learn from its mistakes and rectify a mid-March loss?
1st Period Thoughts: This was a good news, bad news type of period. We’ll start with the good news first. Minnesota was looking sharp and hungry offensively. The Wild wasted little time in taking the lead as tried to be a little fancy off the rush as Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise and Eric Staal worked a tic-tac-toe play that was nearly perfect except they didn’t bury the goal, but undaunted Staal would gather up the loose puck and find Parise wide open on the back side for a pretty tap in goal. 1-0 Wild. The Wild were creating offensive pressure from all over its lineup as Jordan Schroeder would pounce on a rebound created by a point shot by Mathew Dumba to fire it by Cam Ward before he could recover. Niederreiter would get a bit lucky as a Jared Spurgeon shot would redirect of a few sticks before finding his and he buried it. The bad news was the Hurricanes were able to answer back each and every time the Wild scored. Minnesota just seemed to let up and the Hurricanes were apt to ramp up the pressure on the next few shifts after the Wild goal. After Parise’s goal, the Hurricanes scored just barely over a minute later as Marco Scandella and Mathew Dumba tried to skate to Jeff Skinner leaving Lee Stempniak for Mikko Koivu to cover and Skinner made a perfect cross-ice pass that Stempniak redirected by Dubnyk. Then just about 4 minutes after Schroeder’s tally, the Hurricanes would managed to get Minnesota bottled up in its own end and it was Jeff Skinner stepping into a slapper near the point that beat Dubnyk with ease. Skinner would strike again with just 12 seconds left as Dumba coughed up a puck to Skinner who was near the slot and he fired it by Dubnyk who just couldn’t get in front of. It’d be one thing if shots and scoring chances were even, but the Hurricanes had 3 goals on just 6 shots on goal in the period. Beyond that, the Wild carried most of the play throughout the period but you had to feel as though Bruce Boudreau wasn’t going to put up with 50% goaltending too much longer. Only the fact there was 12 seconds left in the period probably spared Dubnyk the indignity of getting pulled right then and there. Dumba and Scandella seemed to be the suspect pairing which really wasn’t a surprise to many Wild fans and Carolina was certainly looking to attack when they were on the ice.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Hurricanes’ approach was pretty obvious in the 2nd period. If you’re in the Wild zone with an open shot take it and hope for the best. Initially that strategy looked pretty smart as Dubnyk was giving up generous rebounds and luckily for him his defense was able to tie up Hurricanes’ forwards before they could pounce. Yet as the period went on and more shots reached Dubnyk, he seemed to get more comfortable and his rebound control improved considerably. By the time the period ended, he looked more akin to his former self. Minnesota would re-take the lead with a little under 8 minutes into the 2nd as Charlie Coyle outmuscled Justin Faulk for a loose puck and he swept up a rebound and shoveled it by Ward. 4-3 Wild. At times it appeared the Wild were flirting with disaster a bit, as Jeff Skinner and Sebastien Aho were giving Minnesota a little bit of trouble in its own end. Minnesota wasn’t just sitting back on its heels and they were able to flirt with adding an insurance goal. The closest attempt came off a point shot by Ryan Suter that Ward bobbled a bit, but he’d bail himself out with a great reach back save before the puck could cross the goal line. It was a quieter period, but in a good way as the Wild were keeping Carolina to the perimeter of the ice. Still it was just a 1-goal lead going into the 2nd intermission, so its still anyone’s game.
3rd Period Thoughts: In the 3rd period the Wild did a pretty good job of locking the game down and denying time and space from the Hurricanes. The result was very few quality scoring chances for Carolina and while it may have sucked the life out of the game it was pretty effective. No doubt this made Devan Dubnyk’s job easier and playing without Jared Spurgeon who left the game early in the 2nd period with what had been described a ‘lower body injury’ the Wild were keeping it simple for their remaining 5 defensemen. Offensively the Wild put a cherry on top in the latter half of the period when Zach Parise set up Nino Niederreiter’s 2nd goal of the game and Minnesota would win comfortably 5-3 to an appreciative home crowd celebrating their last home matchup of the regular season.
Devan Dubnyk cleaned up his game, but it was one ugly start as he gave up 3 goals on 6 shots in the opening period. After that he was better but I wouldn’t say he was perfect. Initially it was big rebounds but eventually he managed to fix that part of his game and he was better stopping the next 24 shots to earn a victory. Jared Spurgeon’s injury was said not to be too serious as it was termed as ‘rest’ instead of forcing him to play through it and make it worse. I thought Ryan Suter was really assertive and I felt he stepped his game with Spurgeon’s absence.
Offensively, the Wild got it done from a number of different lines this evening. Erik Haula didn’t score a goal but he probably deserved at least one for his hard work tonight. Zach Parise seems confident and hungry and his line of Staal and Niederreiter are Minnesota’s most dangerous unit right now. Martin Hanzal seems to be getting more and more comfortable and he’s being more of a factor offensively. I was also pleased with the play of the 4th line and I must admit I like the skill and speed Jordan Schroeder, Joel Eriksson Ek bring to whoever the other winger is whether its Chris Stewart or Ryan White like it was this evening. I think their speed makes them tougher for opponents to deal with and both Eriksson Ek and Schroeder seem take their chances to shoot the puck.
It wasn’t the prettiest game, but the Wild look good offensively. Defensively, beyond the pairing of Scandella and Dumba which I still think is mental lapse prone its really about goaltending. If Dubnyk’s average or slight above average Minnesota is probably in reasonable shape most games. The victory allows Minnesota to have home-ice advantage for the 1st round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008. I think the team is almost out of its rut and the confidence is starting to exhibit itself again. That can only be a good thing for the Wild.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Jordan Schroeder, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter, Martin Hanzal, Jason Pominville, Ryan White, Erik Haula, Joel Eriksson Ek, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Mathew Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Christian Folin. Darcy Kuemper backed up Devan Dubnyk. Nate Prosser, Jason Zucker and Chris Stewart were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Zach Parise, 2nd Star Nino Niederreiter, 3rd Star Eric Staal
~ Attendance was 18,848 at Xcel Energy Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Dmitry Sokolov (Sudbury, OHL) ~ the talented sniper’s season came to an end on Sunday night as the Wolves were defeated 3-1 by Oshawa losing their series 4 games to 2. Yet the Omsk, Russia-native did his part registering the lone goal as well as 5 shots on goal in the loss. Sokolov finishes the playoffs with 6 goals, 9 points, -2 rating and 40 shots on goal in 6 playoff games.