I was watching TV in between hockey games this weekend and I came across the disaster film 2012. The film gives you the unbelieveable tale of the Mayan Prophecy coming true and the Earth hits its own 'reset' button as a combination of Earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunami devastate the planet. Luckily, the great (wealthy) nations of the world had planned for this disaster and had constructed these giant arks that was only able to save small populations of humans who were going to have to restart civilization after the Earth had its way with things. As we all know, the prophecy did not come to pass but the movie still makes us ask the question of how we would handle such adversity? Would we survive, or would we be wiped out like most of the people in the Earth no doubt would have been? I wonder what the Wild are thinking as they sit near the presipice of their own disaster after a 4-1 loss on Sunday to the Calgary Flames, a team with no playoff aspirations at all. Somehow the hopeless played with more urgency and desperation than a team supposedly playing for its playoff lives. Like the plot of the movie 2012, it seems unbelievable. The Wild have steadily slid towards the cliff of being out of the playoffs with a series of stumbles, most notably at home as they have lost their last 5 games at the normally friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center.
If the team does not realize how close it is to ultimate failure (i.e. missing the post-season) the fans and media certainly do. The teams outside of the playoff picture are doing all they can to earn points while the Wild seems to be in coast mode. Missing the playoffs would be like the movie 2012 for the Wild and I think we could see some significant house cleaning if that were to take place. After the Wild's loss against Calgary I watched the Los Angeles Kings play the Dallas Stars. The game had all the feel and emotion of a playoff game. The action was intense, the physicality was raised a notch or two and both clubs were battling as if there was no tomorrow. If this Kings' team, i.e. fast and aggressive, shows up on Tuesday I am not sure if the Wild can win. I know for sure they will not win if the team just sits back and watches the top line do all the work as they did on Sunday. So will this team finally show a sense of urgency and earn a big victory over the Kings or will they be reeling and hoping for some of the teams pursuing them in the standings slip and fall on their own?
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1st Period Thoughts: The Kings were moving well to start the period and Niklas Backstrom found himself under pressure early as Justin Williams swung a shot on goal that he stopped and then he had to fight off a rebound chance by Anze Kopitar. Los Angeles was controlling the pace of play while the Wild seemed to be a step too slow to put the Kings on their heels. An early tripping penalty by Mikko Koivu gave the Kings' potent power play a good opportunity to get on the scoreboard. Minnesota's penalty killers were very good for the first half of the man advantage, using good active sticks and puck pressure to not only clear the zone but even take their chances to put a shot on goal as Ryan Suter stepped into a slap shot that was directed away by Jonathan Bernier. The Wild's penalty kill continued to move their feet well and the Kings were held without a shot on the power play. Minnesota would go back on the attack and it was a 3-on-2 rush which resulted in a good chance for Koivu after a nice pass by Kyle Brodziak. Los Angeles would go on the forecheck and the Wild did not have any answer for the speedy, big bodied forwards of the Kings and they operated as though they were on a power play as Minnesota chased them around their own end. The Wild's 2nd line would show a little fire as Devin Setoguchi found a little space where he pulled the trigger on a quick shot that was stopped by the blocker of Bernier. Minnesota kept pressure with their modified top line of Jason Pominville and Zach Parise as he ripped a shot on goal and the followed it up with a rebound chance that was dismissed by by Bernier. The Wild were stating to outwork the Kings and the home crowd gave a cheer of approval. You could sense momentum building with each shift as the Wild were paying the price physically as they started to dish out the hits. Clutterbuck and Setoguchi were particularly active, taking every opportunity to punish the Kings. Each shift was keeping the crowd eager in anticipation and the Wild would reward its fans just a few minutes later. Off an excellent shift where the Wild kept hustling and holding the zone their pressure would yield results as Zach Parise passed the puck from beneath the goal line to Charlie Coyle waiting near the top of the crease and the rookie fired it by Bernier to give the Wild a 1-0 lead. With the crowd still roaring from Coyle's goal, the Wild would strike just 16 seconds later off the rush as Devin Setoguchi fed a pass up to a speeding Cal Clutterbuck who raced into the Kings zone where he rifled a shot short side and over the shoulder of Bernier causing the water bottle to hop a bit as he made it 2-0. Sensing the game getting out of control, Kings' Head Coach Daryl Sutter would call a timeout to refocus his team. Minnesota would continue to apply pressure and you could sense the Kings were getting frustrated as Jordan Nolan would take a foolish penalty when he leapt and gave a foolish open ice hit to Jason Pominville giving the Wild its first power play of the game. On the power play the Wild were a bit picky in their shot selection as they tried to set up Jared Spurgeon on a back door play but the Kings' active sticks never let him get a clean pass. The 2nd power play unit would show a little more urgency and their quick puck movement set up Pierre-Marc Bouchard for a slapper that he rang off the post and out and before anyone could direct another puck on goal time would expire. It was an excellent 1st period for the Wild where they managed to match the Kings intensity, physical play and were playing with the level of desperation necessary in order to score goals. Hopefully the Wild keep pressuring Los Angeles instead of just sitting back and defending their lead because Los Angeles has more than enough potential to make that lead disappear in a hurry. Minnesota outshot Los Angeles 13-5. Keep it up!
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota would go on the attack to start the period as they had 24 seconds of power play time carrying over from the 1st. Zach Parise gave a pass to Koivu who took the puck to the goal where he tried to sneak a backhand through 5-hole but Bernier was able to shut the door. The Kings tired to cause some havoc with its big bodied lines but the Wild were hustling well and winning the races to the loose puck. Backstrom was solid making a good first save and his defense was able to carry the puck out of danger. The Kings tried to digi back in as a shot from the point was stopped by Backstrom and as the puck popped up into the air it was batted out of mid air by Justin Williams and as the puck rolled into the goal it was immediately waived off by the officials. The 'goal' would be reviewed and ruled to be a high stick and the 'no goal' call was confirmed. With the Kings trying to work a comeback, but the Wild were counterpunching effectively as Pominville got behind the Los Angeles defense and was able to get off a wrist shot that was absorbed by Bernier. A few minutes later, a blocked Kings shot turned into a quick break for Pominville who blasted a slap shot that was gloved by the Kings' goalie. Minnesota would take control, and the top line would create some tremendous scoring chances as Koivu made a great diagonal pass down low to Coyle who had to settle it before putting a shot on goal that Bernier was just able to get across on. Dustin Brown would blatantly elbow Pominville right in the face of and in completely within sight of two officials but no call was made. Minnesota continued to match the intensity of the Kings and their hustle started to yield turnovers. An errant pass was swept up by Kyle Brodziak, but unfortunately the puck would roll before he could pull the trigger. Minnesota would have a bit more bad luck late in the period as Dustin Brown trips up Jonas Brodin to no call and the Kings were able to get their forecheck going which culminated in a buzzer beater goal by Jeff Carter who wired a shot over the shoulder. A replay confirmed the goal went in with .8 seconds on the clock. The Wild bench was insensed at the last calls, especially Head Coach Mike Yeo who told officials, "A fucking trip, a fucking hold, wake the fuck up!" Indeed. The goal was huge for the Kings' confidence and hpefully the Wild don't get gun shy, even with Pominville out of the lineup after Brown' vicious an uncalled elbow.
3rd Period Thoughts: The King were trying to work for the equalizer with a strong two-man forecheck but the Wild almost caught the Kings but Setoguchi got the puck in his skates or he would've been on a breakaway but instead he was offsides. Both clubs would trade scoring chances as the Kings were firing bombs from the point and the Wild were doing what was necessary to block shots, as Tom Gilbert stepped in front of a rocket by Jake Muzzin. Minnesota would counter attack and it was a big slap shot by Brodin that popped into the air after Bernier made the initial save as Brodziak tapped it out of mid-air but he'd miss just wide. The Wild were playing with a focused intensity, and even though they were being punished physically by Los Angeles the hustle was causing the Kings to have some issues in its own end. Minnesota was very aggressive on the backcheck and they never gave Los Angeles much in the way of time and space. The Kings started to take a page out of the Detroit Red Wings book of tricks by throwing pucks on goal and hoping for a lucky bounce or carom off a skate. The Wild were keeping shifts short as they did their best to keep the Kings bottled up in their own end. Time would steadily evaporate off the clock as the Wild did its best to circle the wagons around Backstrom. The Kings would have to wait a lot longer than they wanted to before they could pull Bernier thanks to some clever defensive plays in the Wild zone by Gilbert and Cullen. When the Kings finally managed to pull Bernier the Wild kept them to the perimeter, but they'd have one last chance as Kopitar fed Slava Voynov on a backdoor play but he was robbed by a diving save by Backstrom. With just 12 seconds left, Koivu would win a big draw but as the puck made its way along the boards Cullen would try clear the zone through middle of the ice and this gave the Kings one more chance but they'd come up short and the Wild earned a huge 2-1 victory.
Niklas Backstrom was excellent, making 22 saves in the victory, including a stop late in the game you may call a season saver on Voynov. Backstrom was a source of stability for the Wild as he made the intial stops and his defense supported him well by sweeping away loose pucks and being unselfish and blocking shots where necessary. I thought Ryan Suter, Tom Gilbert and Jonas Brodin were fantastic. Suter was terrific in both zones, holding the zone so the team could sustain offensive pressure and being strong in the Wild's end.
Offensively I thought the Wild got good pressure from its top two lines. The 1st line continues to be tremendous in working near the wall and on the cycle while Cal Clutterbuck brought good speed, assertiveness both with plenty of hits as well as a willingness to shoot the puck which really had faded from Jason Zucker's game. Clutterbuck looked like the Clutterbuck of the last few seasons where he was so involved in multiple aspects of the game. About the only thing Clutterbuck didn't do was agitate, but the speed and checking really helped that line come alive. Pominville was a marked man all night and it remains to be seen if him being taken out is only temporary or a long-term situation. His loss is significant for that 3rd line which had been playing rather well since he arrived. In his absece the team stepped up well but they may need to do so for a while. I thought the 4th line looked better with Zenon Konopka back and Jake Dowell providing some more grit and the ever pesky play of Torrey Mitchell who was all over the ice. Coyle was again fantastic along the boards and seems to be finding his way offensively.
This was a nice clutch effort by a team who was playing an opponent who has been firing on all cylinders lately. Minnesota won this game with hustle and selflessness. Even Pierre-Marc Bouchard was racing into the corners with defender bearing down on the puck, Gilbert was blocking shots. This team was doing the little things that teams do in the playoffs. The game had the feel of a playoff game and its only fitting that they take another step towards the playoffs with a win this evening. Now the Wild have to keep their memories short, rest, refocus and then take it to Edmonton on Friday so they can punch their ticket to the playoffs.
~ Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise, Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Kyle Brodziak, Jason Pominville, Cal Clutterbuck, Zenon Konopka, Jake Dowell, Torrey Mitchell, Clayton Stoner, Tom Gilbert, Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Nate Prosser, Stephane Veilleux and Brett Clark were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Cal Clutterbuck, 2nd Star Charlie Coyle, 3rd Star Niklas Backstrom
~ Attendance was 18,825 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Jake Dowell wore #18 for the joining Richard Park, Cam Stewart, Mattias Weinhandl, Adam Hall and Colton Gillies in wearing the number for the Wild.
Wild Prospect Report:
F – Adam Gilmour (Muskegon, USHL) ~ The Wild prospect's Jr. A season comes to an end after being swept by a powerful Dubuque squad on Sunday night. Gilmour and the Lumberjacks were clearly frustrated and the Boston College commit's 10-minute game misconduct for unsportsmanlike conduct in the 3rd period was an ugly finish to a promising season. Gilmour had just 1 goal and was a +1 with 10 PIM's in 3 playoff games.
C – Tyler Graovac (Belleville, OHL) ~ Graovac returned to the Bulls' lineup Monday night and he'd make his presence felt as he tallied a goal and an assist. Unfortunately it wasn't enough as Barrie took a 2-1 series lead after earning a 5-4 overtime victory. The Brampton, Ontario-native has 6 goals and 19 points in 11 games.
LW – Raphael Bussieres (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) ~ You win some, you lose some. Tonight, the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada suffocated the Drakkar's offense and won 3-0. Bussieres tried to do his part by dishing out a hit and 2 PIM's in the loss. Baie-Comeau still leads the series 2-1.