- Wild fans hope to see their team celebrating after Game 6.
I love “reality” shows that show egos at work. In the hour prior to start time, I was watching Chopped on the Food Network. There’s always at least one chef on the episode with an ego so big, you wonder how they got through the door. Nine times out of ten, that highly egotistical chef is of the male persuasion. Some episodes, you get more than one of the super-ego chefs. Tonight’s pre-game episode was one of those gems. You had three male chefs who thought they were God’s gift to the cooking world and a young and far more humble female chef. Each time one of the male chefs got eliminated, they just couldn’t believe it and they were positive that the famous chefs acting as judges didn’t know what they were talking about. The final round, which is desserts if you’re unfamiliar with the show, pitted the most egotistical of the three male chefs and the female chef. When the guy lost to his female competitor, you could tell he wanted to tell the judges off. He simply could not believe that he lost. And as a person who loves the underdog, I absolutely love when people like the egotistical chef are served up a healthy slice of humble pie.
- Marco Scandella seals off Jonathan Toews from a loose puck.
The Minnesota Wild kind of remind me of that young, humble female chef. Minnesota is facing elimination against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions (there should be an asterisk after that, as I feel as though last season didn’t really count). The Blackhawks and their fans know they’re the favored team, and they act like it. Same goes for the hockey media. So many don’t think the Blackhawks can possibly lose. Before this series started, many thought this series would be over in four or five games. Well it’s Game 6, and this series isn’t over until it’s over. There was a time when no one thought this year’s Colorado Avalanche, the Cinderella team, was going to lose either. They had the better story. They had the superior coach in Patrick Roy as well as exciting players like Nathan MacKinnon, Paul Stastny, and Matt Duchene (well once he came back from injury). The Wild had the goalie-go-round and the Avalanche had Semyon Varlamov. We all know how that all turned out. The Wild weren’t supposed to be in Game 6 of the second round. Yet we are. The Minnesota Wild have proven they can fight their way back into a series and come out in the end and win it. So yes, fans of the ‘Hawks and the hockey experts, don’t be counting out the team from Minnesota yet.
- Erik Haula’s shot is stopped by a leg pad save by Corey Crawford.
1st Period Thoughts: I cannot express just how important it will be to come out strong to start this period. Within the first couple of minutes, it kind of feels like both teams are trying to feel each other. However, that game plan isn’t going to work to Minnesota’s advantage. In the first couple of minutes would find the Blackhawks up with an early 1-0 lead on a scrum shot/deflection by Kris Versteeg. Now it is up to the Wild to see how they respond. This is not the game to just play wait and see. It is absolutely imperative that they fight and push back and say “we’re not about to let you walk all over us.” Especially not at Xcel Energy Center. Oh, and let me get this off of my chest. Dear fans, you don’t start the taunting chant of the opposing goaltender until you’re up a goal or two. Don’t start it when the score in 0-0 and especially don’t do it when you’re losing. Clearly, we’ve let the clueless bandwagon fans in the door tonight. Okay, I’ve said my piece. The first power play of the night would go to Minnesota, with Niklas Hjalmarsson taking down Charlie Coyle. Once again, watching our power play is like watching that scene from the classic Hoosiers. The coach is practicing setting up plays, and the coach insists that they pass four times before taking a shot. The Minnesota power play is a lot like that. Pass, pass, pass, pass, stand around think about taking a shot and then pass some more. Power plays have not come often in this series, so wasting them is pointless. And once again, we witnessed another wasted opportunity. Chicago would then get their first power play of the night shortly after the completion of Minnesota’s. This time, it would be Matt Cooke going to the box for boarding on Johnny Oduya. With about seven minutes remaining in the first, the Wild would get a good round of sustained pressure. Just when you think they’re getting somewhere, that pressure would be ended by Mikael Granlund playing the puck with a high stick. The Wild absolutely must bring more of that pressure in the rest of the game if they want any hope of playing another Game 7. It doesn’t help matters that it seems like Erik Haula and Nino Niederreiter are seeing more bench time tonight as well as Sunday night. Why would you sit the two players who actually skate hard, like to shoot, and have a habit of actually scoring? It makes absolutely no sense. Like I’ve said many times before, I still don’t understand why those two don’t see first line time with Zach Parise. Speed kills, especially in the playoffs. Instead, that pair keeps getting relegated to the third line. Now mind you, a fast third line isn’t a bad thing. However, right now we desperately need their offensive talents and inclination on a line that gets prime minutes. It’s times like this where I wish I could somehow take over the mind of Mike Yeo so the change would be made. Instead, we just keep people on the ice who want to do nothing more than pass. Yep, passes are what count the most in hockey. The Wild would end the period strong, they just have to find a way to keep that up for two more periods. And they also need to not be afraid to take shots on goal.
2nd Period Thoughts: Just like I wonder why Niederreiter and Haula are continually on the third line, I also wonder why Mikko Koivu is kept on the top line. He is too slow for that role. Early in the period, we saw that clearly demonstrated. Had it been Haula or Niederreiter, they would have stood a much better chance at getting to that stretch pass. And just as I’m typing this, it should come as no surprise whatsoever that the game is tied up by Erik Haula. See Mike, it’s time to make that change. Make it now. I know I’m simply talking to myself when I make this complaint. It’s frustrating. The vast majority of fans (well at least those who know what they’re talking about….bandwagoners need not apply) agree with me. The hard work by Haula, Cooke and Justin Fontaine would continue. It’s amazing what a goal and speed will do to inspire additional pressure and offense. That pressure would force a very tired Blackhawks group on the ice to get called for icing, and force Joel Quenneville to use their lone time out of the game. Ilya Bryzgalov would make the save on Patrick Sharp that just might make up for the soft Versteeg goal early in the game. It’s saves like that, that we need to see from Bryzgalov. The Wild would get a breakaway of their own, this time Corey Crawford getting the stop on Fontaine. Considering how this game started, I didn’t know if we’d get back to the Wild we’ve seen at Xcel Energy Center these playoffs. I’ve noticed that tonight’s referees don’t feel like calling slashing when sticks are broken. Both Chicago and Minnesota have gotten away with calls, so Bryan Bickell can stop yammering for a call. Had it been called on your teammate and not on the Wild then you would have something to complain about. The Wild continue to get chances in the second period, they just need to find a way to take advantage of those chances. With just over six minutes remaining, the Wild were lucky to not be trailing, as they had some trouble giving the puck away. Probably the most exciting scoring chance came from none other than a spin-o-rama from Cody McCormick. Had McCormick been able to bury the puck, the roof would have blown off Xcel Energy Center. At some point, Jason Pominville needs to find a way to contribute to this game for his team. For whatever reason, Pominville has had absolutely no puck luck. Fontaine would also find two shot on goal, his initial shot as well as the rebound, but both times Crawford would come up huge. Fontaine is having an absolute monster of a game. Since we’re not getting offense from Pominville, Koivu, or Parise, we’re going to need Fontaine to find a way to get to the back of the net. Instead of getting offense from Koivu this period, we’re just getting slower and slower. It is so frustrating to watch. So while our young skaters bust their butts to get to the puck first, Koivu either just takes his time or doesn’t have to wheels to do so. It would be great to see management address team speed this off-season through the draft and free-agency. The Wild would head to the locker room in a 1-1 tie after a much, much better period than the first.
3rd Period Thoughts: There are times where I wish the intermission could just be skipped. The way Minnesota finished the 2nd period, I wish we could have just continued the next 20 minutes instead of taking a break. Minnesota would get an early power play with a high-sticking call on Bickell. Now, it would be nice if the Wild would focus more on shooting than on passing than they did with the first power play. Now is not the time to look for the highlight reel goal. With this team, any goal is going to be a highlight reel goal. With all the passing, Chicago has no need to move around a lot either. We’re not a threat on the power play. The NBC broadcasters are talking about what a great job the Blackhawks are doing with the penalty kill, but here’s the thing, the Wild are essentially killing the penalties all on their own. It’s to the point, where it feels like the Blackhawks could sit all their guys on the penalty kill, and the Wild would still be unable to score. Another issue I’m having problems with tonight is the Wild’s inability to clear the zone. You cannot afford to be weak on clearing the puck when Patrick Kane is on the ice. He has a way of getting to those loose pucks and keeping them in the zone. Thank goodness Bryzgalov was eventually able to hold on and get the whistle. This series is the only one in the second round that has yet to go to overtime. I don’t know if we’re going to see extra time. Part of me can’t handle overtime. I’m at the point that win or lose, I want to see this game end in regulation. However, this game will head to overtime.
Overtime Notes: If you had to award an early overtime award for having a nose for the goal, it would be Keith Ballard. He had some great chances. Unfortunately, those chances didn’t become goals. Another issue is the failure to skate the puck in the zone. Just tapping it into the zone isn’t going to make things happen. You need to possess that puck as you cross the blue line and do something with it. We’ve had our top two lines on the ice not doing anything so far, so it’s time to put out the highly effective and energetic third line. I hate to say it, but Jason Pominville has become a liability. He needs to be off the ice, and soon. Same can be said about Koivu. If you can’t make hockey smart moves, you’re doing more bad than good for your team. In fact it’s not just Pominville and Koivu. Too many bad moves at bad times. Just before the midway point of the overtime, Yeo puts out the third line, and guess what, there’s an offensive chance. Once again, why aren’t they getting top line minutes? And when you think things couldn’t get worse, the Blackhawks get that lucky bounce off of the glass, the Wild players stand there watching the puck, and Patrick Kane gets a fluky goal. That is not the way you want to go out, and that’s the way it ends. This is also what happens when your top two lines are completely invisible during this series. I feel like spouting off a bunch of words that are far from being family friendly. Bryzgalov had no hope to stop that puck and had no help from his skaters. So sadly my friends, this is the end of this season. They certainly went further than many expected. See you next season, hopefully with a top line with a little fire in their bellies. Unfortunately, Koivu will still be on that line, so there will be no fire.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Charlie Coyle, Cody McCormick, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Justin Fontaine, Dany Heatley, Kyle Brodziak, Nino Niederreiter, Matt Cooke, Jason Pominville, Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund, Keith Ballard, Clayton Stoner, Marco Scandella, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, and Jared Spurgeon. Darcy Kuemper served as back up to Ilya Bryzgalov.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by were: 1st Star, Patrick Kane; 2nd Star, Erik Haula; 3rd Star, Corey Crawford.
~ Attendance was 19,396 at Xcel Energy Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Mathew Dumba (Portland, WHL) ~ The Winterhawks’ season ended in dramatic fashion on Monday night in a Game 7 thriller in Portland. After rallying back from a two-goal deficit the night before the Oil Kings had a monster 4-goal 2nd period to roll to a 4-2 victory and the WHL Championship. It was not a great night for Dumba; who made the critical mistake that led to Edmonton’s shorthanded goal that sort of blew open the floodgates that the Winterhawks were unable to overcome. Dumba was a -2 on the night and finished the playoffs with 8 goals, 18 points and despite the games still finished the playoffs with a respectable +18 in 21 playoff contests this year. Minnesota would continue to get some yawning goal opportunities, and either failed to shoot on them or would go wide. After some debate by the officials, Hjalmarsson would be called for delay of game. He’s sure it deflected off of a Wild player, but it was hard to tell. Minnesota would get the power play, but this time they need to shoot, shoot, and shoot. There’s no excuse for killing the penalty all on your own when you’re on the power play. Way too static, way too passive. Once again, we had another of our less than exciting power play. There’s a reason the fans call it the powerless play or the pathetic power play. As fans, we’ve come to expect nothing when it comes to the man advantage. And why Koivu is on the top power play unit makes absolutely no sense. The personnel decisions continue to baffle all. If Yeo is wondering why it’s not working, perhaps he needs to speak with the rest of us. We’d tell him, no holds barred. We’re getting to the point in the game, with just under ten minutes left in regulation, that if Chicago scores, Minnesota has almost no chance of getting it back. The Wild need to find the energy of the second period and find those open nets. And sadly, I think we’ll see Chicago score a soft goal like Versteeg’s that started the scoring tonight. It will be a weak goal, and no matter how hard Minnesota works, they won’t be able to get it back. I don’t know what it’s going to take. The Minnesota continue to get more of these bouts of sustained pressure, and yet they can’t convert them into goals. At this point, the Wild should be up like 4-1, yet we’re still tied.