Maybe it’s the Social Studies teacher in me, but I’ve always been fascinated by Prohibition. I am certainly not person adverse to alcohol, in moderation of course. Yet I would say I don’t mind tipping back a Labatt Blue, or a Sam Adams or even a New Glarus brew while watching some hockey on TV. However do I need a beer to enjoy the game? Not at all. Going back to Prohibition, one of the lesser told stories about Prohibition was that despite all the well-publicized illicit drinking that went on throughout the 1920’s and early 1930’s that Prohibition actually did work. Far less alcohol was consumed as most citizens obeyed the law. Certainly there was a portion of the population that went into ‘speakeasies’ but most Americans went without because drinking wasn’t a big deal to them in the first place. However the negative publicity (which often portrayed Prohibition as a complete failure) as well as the States’ resistance to enforcing Prohibition laws ultimately resulted in its repeal in 1933. And for those law abiding Americans who had been waiting for that opportunity to buy a cool adult beverage I am sure it had to have seem if the good times were back as the lyrics of a popular 1929 song by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen would suggest “Happy days are here again, The skies above are clear again, So let’s sing a song of cheer again, Happy days are here again, Altogether shout it now, There’s no one, Who can doubt it now, So let’s tell the world about it now, Happy days are here again.” So what in the heck does this have to do with hockey or the Wild’s game against the Florida Panthers?
A Florida Panthers fan celebrates a possible return to the post-season.
It took around 14 years for Prohibition to run its course, and its taken about 12 years for Florida’s ‘prohibition on the playoffs’ to take its course (knock on wood). If you’re a fan of the Florida Panthers, you probably haven’t been this excited since 1996 when this upstart team came within four games of winning a Stanley Cup. Their last the playoff appearance was in 2000, but they were swept by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils. So with the Panthers sitting in 3rd in the Eastern Conference as they sit atop the Southeast Division, Florida controls its own destiny. The Washington Capitals continue to stumble despite the coaching change that had Bruce Boudreau deposed in favor of Dale Hunter. The Capitals’ woes work for the Panthers gain and Florida Head Coach Kevin Dineen has his club overachieving with a hard working group, that embraces a scoring by committee approach. Like the Wild during their first half of the season it is your ‘different hero everynight’ kind of story; but luckily for the Panthers they play in the Southeast and despite having just 4 points more than the Wild they’re in 1st place. (shrugs) But those are the breaks. So will the Wild help the Panthers’ quest to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000, or will Minnesota take some of the fun out of these cats tonight?
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1st Period Thoughts: I really liked the way the 3rd line of Matt Cullen, Darroll Powe and Nick Johnson started off the period. Their hustle and grit along the wall caused Florida some problems early and Powe nearly was able to cash in on a point-blank-range chance that snuck through the pads of Jose Theodore only to be saved at the last possible moment by an alert Keaton Ellerby as the puck was more than 3/4ths across the goal line. This line was consistent at taking their chances to shoot the puck on goal, and this simple idea made them a threat throughout the period. One player who did not impress me was Erik Christensen, he seemed to be floating through his shifts and he was not anticipating the play very well. Even on the power play I thought he was hesitant and lacked the assertiveness to be aggressive on the man advantage. A great example was on the Wild’s 2nd power play where Marco Scandella found him on a nice cross-ice pass but instead of being ready to rip a one-timer he settled the puck and then fired a weak wrist shot that was easily gloved by Theodore. Along the wall, Christensen was also noticeably soft. It makes you wonder if this guy has enough heart to do what is necessary. The top line of Kyle Brodziak, Dany Heatley and Kyle Brodziak were also guilty at times of waiting and being a little hesitant to pass or shoot and the Florida Panthers’ were able to foil a few of their opportunities. I was not overly happy with Minnesota’s power play; it did not fire enough shots on goal to put Florida on its heels. Minnesota’s best chance on the man advantage came on its 2nd opportunity as Cal Clutterbuck just drove hard to the net before he was shoved into the goalie by Ellerby. Yet going 0-for-2 on the power play is never a good start. Minnesota was at its best hustling and working a 2-man forecheck, and their effort also worked effectively on the backcheck as they frustrated the Panthers several times in the neutral zone. Florida’s top line of Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann caused some havoc with some quick movement on the cycle as Marek Zidlicky looked like a lost toddler in his own zone. Versteeg’s wicked against the grain wrist shot seemed destined for the back of the net before it was snagged out of the air by the glove of Niklas Backstrom. Backstrom was very solid, efficient in his movements and seeing the puck well even with traffic near his crease. Defensively I thought the Wild were a little erratic. Too much stick work and too little physical play. The Aeros’ line of Matt Kassian, Warren Peters and Jed Ortmeyer provided good energy and some nice hits. The Wild did some good things out there, but to be that close to scoring and not lighting the lamp is normally a not-so-good omen (knock on wood).
2nd Period Thoughts: It was a pretty ugly 2nd, even by Wild standards. A Panthers power play was where the ice would tilt in favor of Florida and Minnesota was fighting for its life for the rest of the period. You could see a noticeable difference from the Wild power play and the Panthers’ power play as Florida moved the puck very quickly that had Minnesota’s penalty killers spinning in circles and yielding shooting lanes. Backstrom had a few big bodies near his crease as Erik Gudbranson was camping out near the blue paint but some alert plays by Nate Prosser helped sweep away pucks that could’ve been dangerous. Florida was really smothering Minnesota while the Wild could barely get the puck out of their own zone. Devin Setoguchi would take a bone-headed goaltender interference penalty where he just ran over Jose Theodore and I am not sure why he protested since it was pretty obvious no one shoved him into Theo. Stupid penalty, and those are the kind that often turn into goals. Florida’s power play again moved the puck well, and a wrist shot by Weiss yielded a rebound that Backstrom couldn’t track down as he lost sight of the biscuit and Mikael Samuelsson buried an easy rebound to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead. The Panthers continued to attack and Minnesota seemed a little stunned by Florida’s persistence. The Wild would finally start to move their feet late in the period, and Chad Rau managed to find a little space behind the Panthers defense for a quick shot on goal that was fought off by Theodore who then had to stop Prosser’s attempt from the point moments later. Minnesota continued to attack late and after a faceoff win in the offensive zone it was Marek Zidlicky attempting a shot from the point that resulted in a shattered stick that was directed on goal that was shoveled on goal by Heatley who forced a rebound and Kyle Brodziak was able to snipe it by Theodore to tie the game with just under 20 seconds left in the period. An absolutely huge late-period tally by the Wild to give Minnesota some much-needed momentum. Minnesota was more or less dominated the entire period, but was only out shot 8-14 although most of the Wild’s shots came in the final 5 minutes of the 2nd.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild got lucky early in the period as Weiss was called for tripping up Marco Scandella. On the man advantage the Wild moved the puck quickly from the points as they worked it towards the half wall to Heatley for a one-timer that was stopped by Theodore but he could not stop the rebound chance by Cullen to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead. The Wild would put Florida’s power play back on the ice after Marek Zidlicky got his stick into the grill of Sean Bergenheim who seemed to always put his glove to his face anytime a Minnesota player skated by him. Minnesota’s penalty killers were strong, with good active sticks to keep the Panthers to the perimeter. Florida didn’t mind too much as they did not hesitate to take shots from the point as Brian Campbell stepped into a slapper that did not miss by much as Niklas Backstrom was knocked over by Robert Kopecky to no call. Minnesota tried to answer back physically and the Panthers’ Jack Skille got destroyed by huge open ice hit by Jed Ortmeyer who had Skille challenging him afterwards but Ortmeyer didn’t give him the satisfaction. The Wild seemed to sit back a bit and simply try to defend their lead and the result of this approach was hardly surprising. The Panthers continued to persist and it was Sean Bergenheim sweeping a puck by Backstrom with just over 4 minutes left to tie the game. Lazy defensive play by Zidlicky and Greg Zanon resulted in the goal and the game would go to overtime. Minnesota had some great chances though late as Powe dropped a pass back to Cullen who blistered a slapper that was just deflected by the shoulder of Theodore, and in the last seconds it was Cullen setting up Powe for a close-in chance that the Panthers’ goalie was just able to sweep away to keep it knotted at 2-2.
Overtime Thoughts: Florida nearly gave the game away early into over time as Mike Weaver mishandled the biscuit right to Dany Heatley who pushed a pass up to Brodziak who couldn’t quite gather it up to take a shot but Minnesota would control the puck but couldn’t manage to register a shot on goal. Minnesota was looking aggressive in overtime, but Florida was counter punching well. Fleischmann ripped a shot that was blocked aside by Backstrom. Backstrom continued to deliver some big saves down the stretch as Minnesota got sloppy with the puck and the game would go to a shootout.
Shootout Summary: Florida would elect to have the Wild shoot first, and Minnesota’s 1st shooter was Erik Christensen. Christensen would race in where he’d pull of a beauty of a backhand to forehand deke for an easy goal, 1-0 Wild. The Panthers’ first shooter was Kris Versteeg and he raced in where he tried to go forehand to backhand but he was denied by the leg pad of Backstrom. Minnesota’s next shooter was Matt Cullen who skated in, slowing as he closed in on the crease before firing a wrist shot 5-hole by Theodore to give the Wild a decisive 2-0 edge. This meant Florida’s Sean Bergenheim had to score to keep the Panthers’ hopes alive. The Finn would race in on his fellow countryman but before he could pull the trigger he was stymied by a sneaky poke check by Backstrom to give the Wild a 3-2 shootout victory.
Backstrom was again brilliant between the pipes, making 41 saves in the win. He really kept Minnesota in the game when at times it did not have a reason to be. Backstrom had traffic near his crease most of the night, but he calmly made the stops, even as Florida forwards were literally falling over him. How impressive has Backstrom been? He’s stopped 89 shots on goal in his last two games giving up just 2 goals over that span. Defensively I thought Nate Prosser and Jared Spurgeon played exceptionally well. Zidlicky and Zanon? Not so much. Minnesota was paying the price to block shots, blocking 22 of them tonight.
Offensively the Wild had two lines that were consistently creating scoring chances; its 2nd line of Powe, Cullen and Johnson really led the way and were causing all kinds of havoc out there. This line wasn’t just firing a few wrist shots from an angle, they had lots of chances near the crease. It was too bad they were not rewarded with a goal because their effort certainly was worthy of it. The top line also had its share of shots, but not quite as many prime scoring opportunities as the more blue collar-like 2nd line. The Wild will need this kind of effort tomorrow night in Dallas if it expects to come away with a victory.
This was a huge game for both clubs, but Minnesota came dangerously close to throwing this one away late. However it regrouped and found a way to get it done. That is the kind of resilience that it hasn’t shown in a long time. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo told reporters at the post-game press conference, “Its nice to get two goals, bang-bang, but its nice for Backstrom too. We tried to win the game before the shootout but we almost ended the game before the shootout (laughing).” Overall he seemed pleased and I think the team worked pretty hard but its hard to believe this team can continue to give up 40+ shots on goal and win too many games. Hopefully they can rest and recover and earn a victory in Dallas; where they haven’t won since 2003.
~ The Wild roster tonight is as follows: Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Nick Johnson, Darroll Powe, Kyle Brodziak, Warren Peters, Matt Kassian, Jed Ortmeyer, Cal Clutterbuck, Chad Rau, Erik Christensen, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Marek Zidlicky, Jared Spurgeon, Nate Prosser and Marco Scandella. Matthew Hackett backed up Niklas Backstrom. Justin Falk, Josh Harding and Mikko Koivu were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Erik Christensen, 2nd Star Dany Heatley, 3rd Star Sean Bergenheim
~ Attendance was 13,892 at Bank Atlantic Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Zack Phillips (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ On Tuesday, Saint John had to prove itself against its maritime rival the Halifax Mooseheads. The Sea Dogs got out to a 3-1 lead but managed to hold on for a 4-3 victory. Phillips chipped in a goal and an assist in the win.
C / RW – Charlie Coyle (Saint John, QMJHL) ~ Its not always the amount but a matter of when you score. For Weymouth, Massachusetts-native its a little bit of both as he notched the game winner in a 4-3 win over the Halifax Mooseheads Tuesday night. Coyle’s shorthanded tally late in the 3rd period was his 10th of the season since joining the Sea Dogs after the World Junior Championships.
High School Hockey Report:
The Minneapolis Star Tribune announces its annual Girls All-Metro Hockey Team for 2012. *- Denotes Ms. Hockey Finalists as selected by Let’s Play Hockey.
G – Sr. ~ Katie McLain (Anoka)
D – Sr. ~ Milica McMillen (Breck)*
D – Sr. ~ Lee Stecklein (Roseville)*
F – Sr. ~ Hannah Brandt (Hill-Murray)*
F – Sr. ~ Kate Flug (Roseville)
F – Sr. ~ Jonna Curtis (Elk River / Zimmerman)*
G – Sr. ~ Madison Denny (Andover)
D – Sr. ~ Sam LaShomb (South St. Paul)
D – Jr. ~ Sidney Morin (Minnetonka)
F – Jr. ~ Dani Cameranesi (Blake)
F – Jr. ~ Kate Schipper (Breck)
F – So. ~ Kelly Pannek (Benilde-St. Margaret’s)
G – Sr. ~ Erika Allen (Roseville)
G – Sr. ~ Gillian McDonald (Irondale)
D – Jr. ~ Liv Halvorson (Benilde-St. Margaret’s)
D – So. ~ Dani Sadek (Lakeville North)
F – So. ~ Samantha Donovan (Irondale)
F – Sr. ~ Katie Johnson (Anoka)
F – Sr. ~ Megan Lushanko (Chisago Lakes)
F – Sr. ~ Maddie Peake (Mounds View)
Boys Section 7AA
#5 Cloquet / Esko / Carlton , #4 Elk River / Zimmerman
Elk River battled back from being down 1-0 in the 1st period where the Elks were out shot 14-5 to rally back to a 4-3 victory. The Lumberjacks got on the board as Westin Michaud lit the lamp early in the 1st. Elk River was not moving well and Cloquet was dominating the play. The Elks would answer back early in the 2nd as leading scorer Andrew Zerban buried one and a few minutes after that unsung forward Peter Jones gave Elk River a 2-1 lead. Cloquet would score again late in the period as Beau Michaud tied it up at 2-2 going into the 3rd period. Elk River again was able to find the back of the net early as Ryan Heid scored to give the Elks the edge but the Lumberjacks responded just 91 seconds later as Westin Michaud scored his 2nd goal of the game. Yet it wasn’t meant to be for the Lumberjacks as senior Mitchell Kierstad rifled a shot by John Scheuer just 52 seconds later for what was the game winner. Cloquet tried to rally one more time but the Lumberjacks just didn’t have the legs to make it happen and Elk River prevailed. Elks’ senior goaltender Anders Franke had 26 saves in the win. Elk River now advances to the 7AA Semifinals where they will play #1 ranked Duluth East at Duluth’s Amsoil Arena.