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Pyatt’s two goals and a paltry final effort mark give the Coyotes their 1st Pacific Division title as Wild lose season finale 4-1

Wild vs. Coyotes

You say “Yes”, I say “No”. You say “Stop” and I say “Go, go, go”. Oh no.  You say “Goodbye” and I say “Hello, hello, hello”.  I don’t know why you say “Goodbye”, I say “Hello, hello, hello”.  I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello.  I say “High”, you say “Low”.  You say “Why?” And I say “I don’t know”.
Oh no.  You say “Goodbye” and I say “Hello, hello, hello”.  I don’t know why you say “Goodbye”, I say “Hello, hello, hello”.  I don’t know why you say “Goodbye”, I say “Hello”.  Why, why, why, why, why, why, do you Say “Goodbye, goodbye, bye, bye”.  Oh no.  You say “Goodbye” and I say “Hello, hello, hello” are the lyrics from the Beatles‘ song Hello, Goodbye.  As the old saying goes, ‘all good things must come to an end’ and while you could debate just how ‘good’ this year was for the Minnesota Wild it certainly will be coming to an end no matter the outcome of tonight’s tilt against the Phoenix Coyotes.  The Coyotes, despite all the uncertainty that has swirled around the team for the last 3 years it has managed to qualify for the playoffs each of those seasons including this one.  The only thing Phoenix has yet to determine is whether it will end this season as simply a playoff qualifier or as champions of the Pacific Division.  I know having written about 82 games this season at times it has been a real struggle and even if the club manages to earn another victory it will be bittersweet and that is the feeling you get from the Wild’s locker room.  You can hear the sense of finality and overall disappointment in this interview by Wild.com’s Kevin Falness here.  For the Wild it is a goodbye but its a hello to the offseason and for some it will mean they will be playing somewhere else.  For the Coyotes its goodbye to the grind of the regular season and hello to the nail biting intensity of the playoffs.  In a strange twist of irony, one former Wild player will be rooting for his former club tonight and that is San Jose’s Brent Burns.  Burns, who once jokingly said that he hoped Minnesota would lose all 82-games this year, now needs Minnesota to defeat the Coyotes if the Sharks are going to make the playoffs. 

Mike Yeo  How would you assess Mike Yeo’s first season as an NHL Head Coach?

I am not sure if there is a player or member of the organization that has taken the course of this season more to heart than Head Coach Mike Yeo.  The term roller coaster is bandied about by the media in terms of describing the season (heck, I’m fairly certain I’ve even used it) but Yeo has probably experienced just about every single emotion one can over the course of the year.  When the team had risen to the top of the league standings, Yeo did his best to be modest and up front that at that point a lot of good things had gone the Wild’s way.  When the team was struggling he was up front and honest about why the team was failing to win games.  Last year, when Todd Richards was at the helm the last game of the season came and you could sense a lynch mob was waiting for him as they had enough of his excuses.  Oddly enough, the situation isn’t that much different from a season ago.  The team is out of the playoffs (for a 4th season in a row), an injury to team captain Mikko Koivu helped cause the wheels to fall off and the team slipped out of contention, the efforts were inconsistent at times so why are we not seeing the same level of vitriol we had for Todd Richards?  Have Wild fans softened?  Have they become so numb to failure they have started to not care (or show up) or is Yeo getting a 1st year pass?  Or, dare I say it.  Wild fans don’t see Yeo as the problem, whereas they saw Richards as a contributing factor to the team’s woes?  Tonight’s game is supposed to be about celebrating the fans.  The team will conclude the year with the ever-popular ‘jersey off our backs’ give away where randomly selected fans (mostly in the lower bowl and club level) will win a Wild jersey from the players from tonights’ game as the player literally hands their sweat-filled sweater to the fan who won for a picture on the ice at the end of the game.  Can the Wild dig deep one more time and deny the Phoenix Coyotes their Pacific Division crown? 

Jed Ortmeyer

1st Period Thoughts:  You could kind of tell in the first few minutes of the game that the hearts just weren’t in it for a lot of players on the Wild.  Minnesota was not skating all that well and Phoenix looked like a team that was not only focused but determined to win themselves their first Pacific Division title.  The Coyotes had the extra jump in their skates and the Wild found themselves on their heels early in this game.  Minnesota barely threatened the Coyotes offensively at all; just a few long range shots that either missed or were brushed aside by Mike Smith.  In the defensive zone the Wild were scrambling a bit, but not giving up too many prime scoring chances just yet.  Kris Fredheim would change that with a very weak and pathetic attempt to send the puck along the boards he more or less passed it to Shane Doan who quickly dished it over to Mikkel Boedker who fired it by Niklas Backstrom and just over 5 minutes into the game it was 1-0 Coyotes.  With that goal you could sense a surge of confidence in the Coyotes and a total sapping of the energy in the arena.  After the goal, Niklas Backstrom seemed to be fighting the puck much of the game.  He was flopping around in his crease and being caught out of position.  Phoenix would add to their lead after another scramble near the crease where the Wild’s defense didn’t seem to have the heart to handle the hustle of the Coyotes and Boyd Gordon set up Taylor Pyatt in the slot and the small-time Wild killer buried it to make it 2-0.  Pyatt is not as well known as other Wild killers like Jarome Iginla or Daniel Sedin, but he’s in another group of niche snipers who always seem to have a good game just against Minnesota and no one else. Chay Genoway not only looked small, but he too was hesitant with the puck did not impress me.  He may have looked about the same size as Jared Spurgeon, but he isn’t nearly as good of a skater nor is he as poised defensively.  Mikko Koivu looked tired out there.  The Wild managed just 4 shots in the period and was playing like a team that had simply given up. 

2nd Period Thoughts:  The Wild would show more fire in the 2nd period, and the true source of it was the 4th line of Jed Ortmeyer, Stephane Veilleux and Warren Peters.  This line brought its grit, hustle and forechecking that finally allowed the Wild to sustain some offensive pressure which had been so absent in the 1st period.  The line was able to create some scoring chances as Stephane Veilleux fired a shot from the point that looked destined for the back of the Phoenix goal until it struck the shaft of Mike Smith’s stick out of sheer chance since he had no idea where it was.  The solid effort inspired the rest of the Wild to show a little more energy and soon the 2nd line of Kyle Brodziak, Darroll Powe and Cal Clutterbuck was starting to create a little havoc.  Clutterbuck especially started to dish out the hits as he leveled Boyd Gordon and Radim Vrbata with some solid body checks.  The only problem was the fact the Wild seemed to take penalties here and there that forced Minnesota to stop attacking and defend Coyotes’ power plays.  Fortunately for Minnesota, the Coyotes’ power play wasn’t all that great; and their most dangerous weapon was the point shots that were being fired by Keith Yandle.  Minnesota would finally score a little beyond the mid-way point of the period as Koivu fed Dany Heatley who fired a shot from beneath the goal line that went off the leg pad of Smith and into the back of the net to cut the Coyotes’ lead to one, 2-1.  With the energy back in the building it was time for the Wild’s comeback right?  Wrong.  The Coyotes would waste very little time in striking back as Pyatt buried his 2nd goal of the game just about 30 seconds later to make it a two-goal lead for Phoenix again, 3-1.  Pyatt’s 2nd goal was a major buzzkill and you could even see a few fans departing for the aisles at this point.  After a few minutes of going through the motions the Wild put their 4th line back out there and Ortmeyer, Peters and Veilleux again caused the Coyotes some trouble in their own end as Veilleux had a great opportunity from the slot that was absorbed by Smith.  The quality shift inspired the Wild to surge a bit late in the period as they started to tilt the action in the Phoenix end of the ice yet it still had to feel a bit demoralizing being down 3-1 despite out shooting the Coyotes 12-7. 

3rd Period Thoughts:  The Wild did seem to be set for a bit of a resurgence, but those hopes would be dashed just a little beyond a minute into the period as Radim Vrbata took a sharp angle slap shot from near the boards just right of the right faceoff circle that beat an unscreened Niklas Backstrom cleanly to make it 4-1.  The goal was yogurt soft and really began to send fans looking for the exits.  The 4th line would get things rolling again as Warren Peters found a little space and he’d rip a wrist shot that struck the crossbar and went out.  Oddly enough the Wild started to dig in a bit more and they had some of their best scoring chances of the night. Cal Clutterbuck would thread a diagonal pass to Jason Zucker who moved in and tried to beat Smith 5-hole but the big goaltender was able to come with a stop.  Tensions started to flare a bit as well as Rostislav Klesla drew the ire of Dany Heatley and the two would chirp a bit at one another.  A failed power play about seven minutes into the period was really the Wild’s last chance to mount a true comeback but they’d come up empty as they passed the puck around but no one seemed to be in any sense of urgency to fire it on goal.  In the closing minutes the Wild tried in vain for one last goal but Smith was there to deny Devin Setoguchi and Tom Gilbert on two fairly good chances.  Tempers would flare again as Klesla boarded Heatley who tripped him up and then was jumped by Mikko Koivu who was then jumped by Derek Morris.  When the penalties were all tabulated, the Wild had a 5-on-3 power play, but they did little with it and they’d fall to the sound of a few half hearted cheers 4-1. 

Niklas Backstrom was not that great, making 24 saves in the loss.  I thought he was struggling through most of the game and at times he was flopping around his crease and just seemed to be a little unfocused.  The early 3rd period goal to Vrbata was a killer and Backstrom has only himself to blame on that one.  Defensively, Fredheim and Genoway were a little jittery out there.  While Genoway did show a good ability to pass the puck I thought overall he seemed a little hesitant which is not entirely unusual when you’re making your NHL debut.  Tom Gilbert had a reasonable game as did Justin Falk but the team was guilty of losing its assignments and those blown plays really put the game out of reach.  On the bright side the Wild killed off all 5 Coyotes power plays they faced. 

Offensively, it was another story of too little, too late.  The Wild gave up an entire period before they really started to attempt to create offense.  The Coyotes are a defensive-minded club that do not need a lot of goals to win games and by not taking their chances and just waiting and playing defense themselves they played right into Phoenix’s hands.  One player who I felt missed a great opportunity was Erik Christensen, for a guy who has been a bit of a bright spot for the Wild these last few games he could’ve left a ncie impression with a stronger game.  Instead he was invisible and the opportunities to impress the team’s brass are gone.  The 4th line really should’ve earned a star tonight.  Even Heatley’s goal was created out of the energy created by the hustle and checking of the 4th line.  The Wild would’ve had nothing if it wasn’t for the thankless work of Ortmeyer, Veilleux and Peters.    

Watching the post-game on Fox Sports Net North was a bit depressing to say the least.  The Wild’s loss gave the Coyotes their franchise’s first Pacific Division title without much of a struggle.  However the post-game interviews didn’t have a lot of sunshine no matter how much FSN’s Marney Gellner tried to spin it.  From the “we should’ve done better, we need to do better” comments from the players they interviewed (Koivu, Heatley, and Backstrom) the coup de grace really came from Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo who gave his shortest post-game interview I’ve seen yet.  With the look of frustration, embarassment over another paltry effort at home, Yeo took to the podium as a coach who probably felt like a failure.  You could almost see him cringe as he was asked yet again about the Wild’s promising crop of prospects that look to be the story for next season as he sidestepped the question by saying its all about what didn’t get accomplished this season.  Yeo talked about learning a lot, and like his players saying how he and the rest of the staff need to better.  No doubt, because its 4 seasons without playoff hockey.  All anyone can do is hope they figure it out this summer. 

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster tonight is as follows:  Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Jed Ortmeyer, Warren Peters, Stephane Veilleux, Erik Christensen, Darroll Powe, Kyle Brodziak, Nick Johnson, Cal Clutterbuck, Jason Zucker, Tom Gilbert, Kurtis Foster, Kris Fredheim, Chay Genoway, Justin Falk and Marco Scandella.  Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom.  Matt Kassian, Jared Spurgeon, Steven Kampfer and Matt Cullen were the ‘healthy’ scratches. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Taylor Pyatt, 2nd Star Chay Genoway, 3rd Star Mike Smith

~ Attendance was 18,864 at Xcel Energy Center.

~ Chay Genoway made his NHL debut this evening, he will wear #47 which is ironic since he is the 47th player to play for the Wild this season (a franchise record).  The last player to have worn #47 was Marc-Andre Bergeron

~ Clayton Stoner is out of the lineup with a broken rib, and Nate Prosser is suspended one game for his head butt to Chicago’s Jamal Mayers

~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Jack Connolly on being named 2012 Hobey Baker Award winner as the best player in college hockey.  Connolly has been a tryout at the Wild’s prospect camp the last two years and while it is extremely unlikely the team will sign the former Duluth Marshall Hilltopper he is likely going to have a good shot at a professional career and we wish him nothing but the best of luck! 

Houston Aeros Report:

Cody Almond

Houston 2, Chicago 4

While the Wild season’s ends no matter what happens tonight, the Houston Aeros still have a fighting chance at the post season but its looking more and more unlikely each game.  The last few games have seen the Aeros suffer through late-game breakdowns that have squandered leads and lead to a series of heartbreaking losses that currently has Houston sitting in 9th place in the AHL’s Western Conference.  Injuries and call ups cannot be blamed for this recent spat of losing.  The team is more or less playing with a complete and healthy lineup with their best goaltender, Matt Hackett, between the pipes not even he has been able to stop Houston’s slide.  A perfect case in point was Friday’s game against Chicago.  The Aeros jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a break away goal by Joel Broda.  The Wolves would answer back late in the 2nd period on the power play when former Golden Gopher Jordan Schroeder lit the lamp.  Houston wasted little time responding as Nick Palmieri took a pass from Justin Fontaine and rifled a shot by Matt Climie to make it 2-1 going into the 3rd period.  The Aeros would take their foot off the gas for a bit and that was all the Wolves needed as they struck twice on goals by Mark Mancari and Steven Reinprecht just 26 seconds apart to take a 3-2 lead with just over 5 minutes left in regulation.  The Aeros tried to rally back, but their hopes of a comeback were foiled by an empty net goal by Darren Haydar as the Wolves won 4-2.  The loss makes Houston winless in its last 7 games; Hackett had 23 saves in the loss.  When asked by reporters if it was time to panic Aeros Head Coach John Torchetti said, “Its not time to panic, I’m 47 years old and you don’t do that anymore, we just have to work on a few details and want it a bit more and we’ll be just fine.”  UPDATE:  Perhaps John Torchetti was right as the Aeros earned a huge 4-2 victory over Peoria on Saturday night, a victory that pushed Houston into 8th place in the Western Conference.  The Aeros got things rolling early as Chad Rau scored just 28 seconds into the game giving Houston a 1-0 lead going into the 2nd.  Just under a minute and half into the 2nd, the Rivermen tied the game on a goal by Phil McRae (the son of former North Star Basil McRae).  The Aeros would re-take the lead a few minutes later as Jon DiSalvatore banged home his team leading 27th goal of the season.  Peoria responded with a goal of their own as Anthony Nigro lit the lamp just under 13 minutes left in the 2nd.  The Rivermen looked primed to earn the go-ahead goal as Kyle Medvec was tagged with a tripping penalty (the only penalty of the game), but Cody Almond would deliver the dagger in the form of a shorthanded goal and Houston would stay ahead for good.  Carson McMillan added an insurance goal early in the 3rd and the Aeros sealed a crucial 4-2 victory.  Matt Hackett had 25 saves in the win.  The Aeros now have another huge game as they face the   

Wild Prospect Report:

Zack Phillips  Saint John Sea Dogs’ Zack Phillips

C – Zack Phillips (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ The Sea Dogs got off to a great start in their series against the Baie-Comeau Drakkar on Friday night, taking Game 1 by a convincing 9-3 score.  Phillips had a monster night for Saint John as he earned 1st Star honors with 2 goals, 2 assists and 1 hit to his credit.  The Fredericton, New Brunswick-native is having an impressive post season with 6 goals, 21 points in just 6 playoff games so far.  UPDATE:  I wonder if to other clubs in the ‘Q’ if it just seems unfair.  The Sea Dogs have an unbelievable collection of talent and they continue to steamroll the competition as they obliterated Baie-Comeau 10-2 on Saturday night.  Phillips had a sensational night, scoring twice and adding 3 helpers in the victory.  His girlfriend apparently made the trip down to see him play, after a night like that perhaps she ought to come to more of his games!   

C/RW – Charlie Coyle (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ While not amongst the 3 stars of the game for the Sea Dogs in their 9-3 rout of Baie-Comeau, Coyle had a strong game himself.  He got the scoring started for the Sea Dogs with his 1st period tally and then chipped in two helpers in the victory along with a hit and he went 9-for-15 on his draws (60%).  The Weymouth, Massachusetts-native has 10 goals, 20 points in 6 playoff games.  UPDATE:  As you saw from his teammates impressive accomplishment, Charlie Coyle also had a strong game chipping in 4 assists as well as dishing out 3 hits in the 10-2 rout. 

C – Tyler Graovac (Ottawa, OHL) ~ It was also a good night for the Ottawa 67’s, as they took Game 1 against the Barrie Colts, 5-1.  Graovac had his best night of the post-season as he added a goal and two assists in the effort.  The Brampton, Ontario-native has 2 goals, 5 points in 7 playoff games. 

F – Mario Lucia (Penticton, BCHL) ~ The Wild prospect had no points, but the team prevailed 3-1 against the Powell River Kings in Game 1 of the BCHL championship.  St. Cloud State recruit and former St. Francis star Joey Benik had an unassisted goal for the Vees.  UPDATE:  It has been a tight series thus far and that continued Saturday night as the Vees edged the Powell River Kings 2-1 in Game 2 of the BCHL Championship.  Lucia, who has been a force throughout much of the playoffs was scoreless for his 2nd game in a row, which has been a rare occurrence throughout most of this season. 

D – Jonas Brodin (Farjestads, Eliteserien) ~ It looks like some of that offense scouts had felt there was potential for might be starting to show as Brodin scored his 2nd goal of the playoffs in a 4-2 loss to Brynas on April 3rd.  Brodin has 2 goals, and 12 penalty minutes in 11 playoff games. 

Jack Jablonski & Jenna Privette