Before I say anything else, I would like to send my condolences to the family of actor Larry Hagman after losing his fight with cancer earlier this year. Hagman would have fit in with most hockey players as he was a free spirit who loved a good practical joke. It is with the memories of Hagman the fun-loving person that I write the rest of this introduction. Larry Hagman's most famous character was the devious and ever scheming Oil baron J.R. Ewing on the primetime drama Dallas. I watched Dallas a lot as a kid and even though his character often lacked ethics and did a lot of terrible things he was my favorite character on the show. Hagman's J.R. Ewing character was calculated but had just enough charm so you didn't totally hate him but the same cannot be said for another devious corporate tycoon in the much-reviled Norm Green. Green didn't make his fortune in oil, but rather in shopping malls he tried to be the charming owner of the Minnesota North Stars before taking the team and running to Dallas. It is not a big surprise that Norm Green hasn't returned to the State of Hockey since he left back in 1993, not that we were hoping for a reunion anyways. Both people, one a fictional character the other a real-life villain were greedy, lying businessmen who angered lots and lots of people. Some things don't really change.
Another example of this is the Wild's current losing streak in Dallas. The team has not won a game in Dallas since 2003 when Wes Walz scored in overtime to give Minnesota a 3-2 victory. The Wild have ended some impressive streaks already this season, ending an 11-game long losing streak in Vancouver and earning as well as ending a long droughts in Detroit and Nashville as well. If the Wild need any inspiration at all all they have to do is look to Minneapolis where the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers' women's hockey team finished a perfect 41-0 season (49 consecutive victories and counting) and with their 2nd NCAA Championship in a row. Can the Wild end this dubious losing streak tonight or will it continue?
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1st Period Thoughts: The pace was fast and intense to start the game in Dallas and both clubs were only able to fire a few shots high or wide of the target as the pucks were leaving the offensive zone as fast as they entered. The first real scoring chance was created by the Wild's 2nd line of Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen and Mike Rupp who found himself out there when he replaced Pierre-Marc Bouchard who was at the end of the shift. A great hustle play by Setoguchi to track down the puck turned into a nice little play down low as Cullen worked the puck back out front to Rupp who put a shot on goal that was held onto by Kari Lehtonen. The Wild would follow up that good shift with one from its top line where Charlie Coyle had an excellent sequence showing his excellent play along the boards where he worked a give and go with Mikko Koivu and as Koivu dished it back to Coyle he sort of fanned on his initial attempt so he didn't get much on the wrist shot before falling to the ice and sliding into the Stars goalie. A few minutes later the Wild continued to pour it on offensively and with more great cycling work from its top line as Coyle, Koivu and Zach Parise set up what looked like what was a sure goal but the puck would squirt out to parallel to the goal line as Derek Roy just got a stick on it. The Stars would go on the counter attack and a bad turnover down low by Ryan Suter who was pick pocketed by Roy who wasted no time working a pass to the slot where Alex Goligoski ripped a shot by Niklas Backstrom to make it 1-0 Dallas. It was a demoralizing turn of events as the Wild went from feeling as though they deserved a goal only to feel the pain of one being scored on themselves due to one defensive breakdown at a point in the game in which they had been dominating. The Wild would then suffer a scary sitaution as Dallas' Aaron Rome pushed Cal Clutterbuck towards the goal as his knees would hit the post as he knocked the net off of its moorings but the rugged winger was bothered enough he put no weight on the skate whatsoever as Kyle Brodziak and Head Athletic Trainer Don Fuller helped him off the ice. After the injury the Wild went right back on the attack and in a sequence started by the hustle of Zach Parise who barreled in on the forecheck that forced a weak pass that was swept up by Matt Cullen who turned and fired a shot on goal that was redirected by Setoguchi that was stopped by Lehtonen but the Wild crashed the net and Parise moved in and chipped a shot on goal that fluttered up into the air where Parise knocked it down and the batted it into the net to tie the game at 1-1. The goal was briefly reviewed but ruled to be 'good' and the Wild had to be feeling pretty good after willing themselves that tally. The Stars would try to rally back as Jaromir Jagr had a few nice chances that were denied by Backstrom. Minnesota would catch Dallas on a few different occasions on weak passes out of their zone, and a ill-advised diagonal pass from deep in their own zone was intercepted by Bouchard who fired a shot off the crossbar. The Wild would take the first penalty in the game as Jonas Brodin tripped up former Minnesota winger Eric Nystrom giving the Stars their 1st power play of the game. It would be a costly mistake as the Stars moved the puck very well and a big shot from the point by Ray Whitney hit Loui Eriksson out front and as the puck dropped Niklas Backstrom would kick out the puck right to Jagr who buried the rebound with ease to make it 2-1. The goal seemed to energize the Stars who really were flying around in the closing minutes of the period as they fired a few more shots on goal that Backstrom had to fight off and you have to say it was a disappointing end to a period where the Wild had dominated. The Wild were doing lots of good things, getting shots on goal as they were outshooting Dallas 17-14 and I liked their overall hustle on the forecheck which was creating turnovers but still it was a tough start for Minnesota. Jonas Brodin was struggling a bit in this game so far. Clutterbuck's injury looked pretty ominous and he could very well be out a while.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota had good energy to start the 2nd period, dominating the territorial battle early. The 4th line of the Wild were looking a little ornery as Mike Rupp was chirping at Dallas' Erik Cole. The Wild's 4th line had a terrific shift as some good hustle by Konopka, Rupp and Mitchell resulted in a few shots on goal as Mitchell tried to sneak in a wrap around near the left post that was stopped by Lehtonen. The good shift was followed up with some hustle from the top line as Zach Parise stole a puck in the high slot and then dropped a pass off to Mikko Koivu who side stepped a Dallas defender before firing a heavy wrister by Lehtonen to tie the game at 2-2. The Stars would answer right back as defenseman Trevor Daley would jump into the play in a 3-on-2 and Loui Eriksson would feed Daley for a sharp angle shot that eluded Backstrom to give Dallas a 3-2 lead. It was a soft goal and one that had to make Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo wonder if he had the right guy between the pipes. The Wild tried to answer right back as Charlie Coyle got it going by winning a battle along the boards where he pushed it over to Koivu who made a nice power move to the crease where Lehtonen made a stop but Minnesota crashed the crease and the puck would reach the goal line but not cross it as the whistle was blown. The play would be reviewed but Stars defenseman Brendan Dillon was not found to have covered the puck with his glove which would've resulted in a penalty shot. The Wild undaunted, went back on the attack and again Koivu, Coyle demonstrated excellent strength along the boards as they created a few shooting opportunities but Lehtonen was up to the task. A few minutes later the top line would strike again after more hard work along the boards turned into a sharp angle shot that was stopped by Lehtonen who found himself out of position and Parise got just enough of it to get the puck over the goal line to make 3-3. The sparse home crowd was not happy with Lehtonen's play and let their goalie hear a Bronx cheer on a fairly routine save. The Stars would try to answer back as Roy would set up Whitney from point blank range where he was stopped by the quick paw of Backstrom as he forced it over the goal. Minnesota would light the lamp again as a shot from the point by Jared Spurgeon was stopped by Lehtonen who again was way out of his crease and Bouchard passed the puck to Cullen who buried it (his 200th career NHL goal) to give Minnesota its first lead of the game, 4-3. On the very next shift there was a bit of a 'meeting' between the two clubs as Vernon Fiddler gave a few shoves as he tried to agitate, but he'd earn a two-minute sit in the penalty box. On the power play the Wild moved the puck well but were hoping to set up Spurgeon for a one-timer but Dallas' penalty killers did well to deny that play and Minnesota would come up empty on the man advantage. The perod would end and the Wild had to be feeling good about the way this team responded after a few setbacks. Their simplified, crash the crease approach was really working for them. Minnesota outshot Dallas 14-5, and the 1st line was perhaps as dominant as it has been in the last 10 games. Its good to see Clutterbuck back in the lineup too.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd started as the other periods did with both teams trading rushes with one another. Minnesota continued to pay the physical price to make plays and good husle by Setoguchi would result in Bouchard setting up Seto for a big one-timer that was steered away by Lehtonen. Minnesota continued to attack, working the puck deep as Dany Heatley seemed to want to get involved in the scoring. It was at this point the Wild would ease up a bit and the Stars went on the attack and after a great shift by former Miami (OH) star Reilly Smith he'd dish a pass back to the high slot where Philip Larsen was waiting to rifle a one-timer by Backstrom tying the game at 4-4. It was an ugly shift for the Wild's top defensive pair as their indecisiveness led to the defensive breakdown and the frustration on Yeo's face was obvious. The Wild tried to answer back with an excellent shift by the modified 2nd line of Heatley, Brodziak and Setoguchi who was especially active physically driving the Stars nuts with his hustle and hits all night and this ultimately led to an exhausted Jamie Benn tripping up Matt Cullen giving Minnesota its 2nd power play of the game. On the power play the Wild again had good puck movement but this time they were taking their chances to shoot the puck but Lehtonen would come up with some big saves even with some traffic near the crease. Dallas would go back on the attack and Minnesota would get caught with its 4th line against the Stars' 1st line and this was a recipe for a disaster as Rupp would be tagged for a high sticking penalty as he got his stick into the face of Ray Whitney. It would give Dallas a 4-minute power play and Rupp would earn a 10-minute misconduct as well. The Wild would get a huge momentum boost early in the penalty kill as Cal Clutterbuck intercepted a pass and raced up the ice as he blasted a shot on goal that was stopped by Lehtonen and the rebound would move out into the slot where Kyle Brodziak buried it to give Minnesota a 5-4 lead on its first shorthanded goal of the year. The Stars' power play would go back to work and Ray Whitney would set up Jamie Benn for a redirect chance whose shot would strike the left post. Dallas would struggle to get real comfortable in the Wild's zone as Minnesota's penalty killers were challenging the Stars' puck carriers rather well and this would lead to some huge clears of the zone. Kyle Brodziak would lose his stick stopping a blast from the point by Whitney and the Stars tried to take advantage of the situation and they came dangerously close as Loui Eriksson was set up perfectly on the back door but he'd lift a shot too high and the Wild got a huge kill. The Wild were in full rope-a-dope mode, dumping the puck deep and changing and forcing Dallas to move the puck up the full length of the ice. Minnesota was being pesky in the neutral zone and forcing turnovers and another bad pass by Dallas would give the Wild the dagger with just over a minute left in the game. A pass was stolen by Kyle Brodziak who moved in and then backhanded a pass to Clutterbuck who got off a good shot on goal that was denied by the skate of Lehtonen but Heatley followed it up and shoveled it in to make it 6-4. The Stars would pull Lehtonen trying to answer back but the Wild would add insult to injury as Bouchard would tally an empty netter to seal a 7-4 win.
Niklas Backstrom was certainly not his best, making 22 saves in the victory. He was seemed to be fighting the puck for much of the night and he was fortunate the goaltender opposite him was just as suspect. Backstrom has been tremendous the last 5 games but this is one was one where he probably has to give the team in front of him most of the credit for the win. Defensively the Wild were ok at best. The top defensive pair of Suter and Brodin had some ugly moments in their own zone. That will have be cleaned up before their game against Phoenix on Wednesday. I thought Jared Spurgeon had a terrific game. The Wild really dug deep on the penalty kill (especially Clutterbuck and Brodziak) and obviously the shorthanded goal was the game breaker.
Offensively the Wild had an fantastic effort. They were peppering Lehtonen all night with shots, finishing the night with 42 shots on goal. I loved the way this team stormed the crease and they were rewarded for their hard work. Mikko Koivu played like a 1st line calibre center, showing a good power game to create some good scoring chances to pace this team early on. Yet the other lines also chipped in as Brodziak, Cullen, Koivu and Bouchard all registered a goal and an assist which shows you the terrific depth and scoring balance for this team that has it on its current surge. Parise and Setoguchi were also outstanding on the forecheck and I love the energy they had in this game.
The win is the Wild's 6th straight regulation win in a row which is the longest streak of its kind in franchise history and puts Minnesota back atop the Northwest Division. The victory was also a great example of this team's perseverence and character as Clutterbuck who was badly hurt in the 1st period came back and played through the pain to give Minnesota some huge minutes in the 3rd period (especially on that 4-minute penalty kill) to give this team a win. Clutterbuck was seen limping badly after the game, which shows you this club is fighting for each other and making sacrifices to earn wins and that is what championship teams do. An anecdote I once heard was about the Edmonton Oilers' who lost in the Stanley Cup finals to the New York Islanders in 1983. A young Wayne Gretzky said he didn't realize what sacrifice was until he walked past the Islanders' locker room where he saw the Islanders all banged up having done whatever it took to win and knew they would have to do the same if they expected to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup so its good to hear the club making similar kinds of sacrifices for the greater good. Another ugly drought bites the dust while the Wild continue to move in uncharted territory with its success. Let's keep it going boys!
~ The Wild roster was as follows tonight: Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise, Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Dany Heatley, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak, Mike Rupp, Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell, Justin Falk, Clayton Stoner, Tom Gilbert, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. Darcy Kuemper backed up Niklas Backstrom. Nate Prosser, Brett Clark and Jake Dowell were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were as selected by the AP's John Tranchina was: 1st Star Zach Parise, 2nd Star Mikko Koivu, 3rd Star Derek Roy
~ Attendance was 16,167 at American Airlines Arena.
~ The State of Hockey News would like to congratulate the Golden Gophers' women's hockey team on winning its 2nd straight NCAA National Championship with a 6-3 win over Boston University and finishing a perfect 41-0. We would also like to congratulate senior goaltender Noora Raty on being named the Frozen Four tournament's MVP.
Wild Prospect Report:
RW – Raphael Bussieres (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) – Its getting ugly in a hurry for first-year team the Sherbrooke Phoenix who find themselves trailing 2-0 in their series against Baie-Comeau but the Drakkar are not going to show any mercy as none was tendered towards them when they were the whopping boys of the 'Q'. One Drakkar player who endured those tough times was Raphael Bussieres but now he and Baie-Comeau are doling out the punisment after blitzing the Phoenix 8-1 yesterday. Bussieres had two goals and two helpers and finished the game with +3 rating. He also went 4-for-7 on his draws which is impressive for a winger. The 6'1" forward has 3 goals and 4 assists in the two games so far.
C – Tyler Graovac (Belleville, OHL) – Graovac really sort of appeared on the prospect radar after a strong finish in the playoffs last year, and he is off to a red hot start in this year's post season after contributing a goal and an assist in the Bulls 4-1 win over Mississauga on Saturday. The Brampton, Ontario-native had a bit tougher time on Sunday as Mississauga locked it down defensively to earn a 2-1 victory and cut Belleville's series lead in half 2-1. Graovac got things going for the Bulls scoring a goal just 3:36 in, but it wasn't enough. The lanky center has 2 goals and 6 points in 3 playoff games.
D – Mathew Dumba (Red Deer, WHL) – Saturday night was also kind for the Wild's top defensive prospect from a year ago as he helped Red Deer take a 2-0 series lead against Prince Albert by scoring a goal and adding an assist as well. Like Bussieres, Dumba has never been on a long playoff run in his junior career but with a stronger team it will be interesting to see how much he contributes.
F – Adam Gilmour (Muskegon, USHL) – The USHL is not in the playoffs yet but they are close, so its important to the Lumberjacks to buld some late season momentum. On Saturday Muskegon defeated Team USA 4-3 and the speedy forward helped the cause by scoring the game winning goal. Gilmour has 19 goals and 44pts in 59 games.