A few years ago, the motto for the football team I coach was "One Shot". "One Shot" was meant to represent all of the times in a person's life where you get one chance to succeed. A job interview, an important project, maybe a first date. The lesson is you want to prepare yourself mentally, physically and emotionally to execute a plan and be successful because you may never get another chance to do so again. I encourage my players and students to carry this mentality so they do what they can to get things right the first time. I hope it instills an attention to details and creates a sense of urgency as well as importance on the tasks that are before them. The Minnesota Wild have another game after tonight but they'd be smart to embrace a "One Shot" mentality against the Edmonton Oilers. Not only is this the last time the two teams will face one another as divisional opponents but if the Wild prevail this evening they qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Meanwhile, the Oilers have nothing to lose tonight. And knowing full well of the Wild's situation makes them a dangerously and likely very motivated team. Anyone who has played sports for any length of time and been on a team that wasn't going to make the playoffs understands how a coach will give their club a "let's take something away from them" kind of pep talk. The OIler's will want this game to be their playoff game, where they prove they can take away something from a team that seems to be on the cusp of the post-season. And the Oilers will will do their best to spoil the Wild's season in front of what should be a very spirited and anxious Xcel Energy crowd. It is the biggest game the Wild have played in the last 5 years. Can the Wild prove they've taken that next step by punching their ticket for the playoffs tonight or will the Oilers put those aspirations on hold?
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Wow, I am not even sure where to begin. Let me first start by saying that the Wild would make for a very poor predator in the Wild because when the games get more important the team finds a way to choke and choke it did tonight. Well, at least one part of the team choked. That would be between the pipes as Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding worked together to squash any chance the Wild had to win this game. The Oilers deserve some credit for picking their spots and finding them as they scored 6 goals on just 17 shots total giving the Wild a collective save percentage of just 65%. The incredible scoring efficiency of the Oilers just served to demoralize the team and the sellout crowd that arrived to the now somewhat hostile confines of Xcel Energy Center to watch a game that was really over before it even started. Niklas Backstrom gave up 3 goals on just 5 shots, for a beautiful 40% save percentage and the hole was dug and the Oilers never really had to worry about a Wild comeback. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo would swap Backstrom for Josh Harding but he wasn't much better. Giving up 3 goals in the first 9 shots he faced for a fairly stingy 66% save percentage compared to Harding's 40%. It was these 2nd period tallies that effectively eliminated any shred of hope the Wild had left. When Harding finally did stop a puck, he was serenaded with a few bronx cheers.
Meanwhile on the offensive side of the puck the Wild were showing some desperation as well as some persistance as they fired 40 shots on goal for Nikolai Khabibulin to face. The veteran was terrific, absorbing rebounds as well as recieving excellent support from his defenseman and forwards who were quick to sweep it away. The Wild were not getting a whole lot from its 2nd line of Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi and Cal Clutterbuck who had maybe 2-3 solid shifts but spent lots of time accomplishing rather little in the offensive zone. This forced Mike Yeo to double shift the top line of Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle and Zach Parise and while this line demonstrated some urgency as well as great hustle. I liked a lot of what this line was able to create but it seemed like whenever anyone out front would get free for a shot and even take it, there was no one else there to pounce on the rebound and despite the good pressure it often was a one-and-done situation. It is also why it was so much more frustrating / humiliating loss to deal with as the team had some good chances and as soon as it did the Oilers would move up the ice into the Wild zone and the puck would end up in the back of our net.
The Wild would at least get a goal to prevent a shutout but it didn't excuse the result. In the 3rd period the Wild appeared to be resigned to their fate. And rightfully so, as the Oilers were still outhustling the Wild in most aspects of the game and even though the Wild held a tremendous advantage in shots on goal the club didn't seem to want it as badly as the Oilers' did. The game was eerily similar to that of the game against Calgary where the Flames had to try a little harder to solve Backstrom than the Oilers' did but the Wild didn't execute and then some defensive breakdowns led to some quick goals. The Wild had some close ones that didn't go in, but does that matter? Champions and winners finish their chances. They don't go to the post-game press conference and brag up all 'close ones' they should've had. That's what the losers do.
Wild fans are sick of the excuses. Whether its a lack of a training camp, or a 'hot goalie' or the team was gripping the stick too much and pushing shots wide that all has to stop now. I said this a few weeks ago but the cushion is gone. The task before them is remarkably straight forward. You win, and you're in the playoffs. If you lose, you're out. The Wild, its fans and most notably its upper management and owner who shelled out mega dollars this season to have a playoff contender will be satisfied with nothing less. Moral victories are not going to cut it.
Tonight should have been a fantastic send off for a team hoping to make its first playoffs in 5 years. Like many fans I was really excited about it. Yet the excitement turned to disgust rather quickly. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo should own up and admit he made a mistake in sending Zenon Konopka out to fight to start the game. This wasn't a game where the Wild needed to send a message to the Oilers the way a certain North Stars team did back in 1981 when they broke the then league record for penalty minutes in a single game in a fight filled loss to the Boston Bruins. Yes the Wild are still upset about the Taylor Hall knee to Cal Clutterbuck, but the best revenge would be to win on home ice and clinch a playoff spot. Minneapolis Star Tribune's Chip Scoggins accurately sums up the poor decision Yeo made as well as the incredible pressure this team faces in this article here. The fans wanted to celebrate with the team, but instead it keft ngry and embarassed. All Mike Yeo could do was yell at the Oilers' bench, he should've saved it for himself and his team. Now the team literally has just 'one shot' to make it. Will it hit or miss? We'll find out tomorrow.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Mike Rupp, Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell, Jake Dowell, Justin Falk, Clayton Stoner, Tom Gilbert, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Ryan Suter. Josh Harding shared duties between the pipes with Niklas Backstrom. Nate Prosser, Brett Clark and Jason Pominville were the 'healthy' scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Jordan Eberle, 2nd Star Taylor Hall, 3rd Star Corey Potter
~ Attendance was 19,090 at Xcel Energy Center.
Houston 3, Grand Rapids 0
The Houston Aeros got their post season off to a good start as they took game one 3-0. After an intense 1st period the Aeros would break the stalemate in the 2nd period on the Power Play as Erik Haula worked a puck to Zack Phillips whp set up Marco Scandella for a bomb from the point to make it 1-0. A few minutes later the Aeros would catch the Griffins on a bad change and Steven Kampfer gave a long outlet pass to Justin Fontaine who took off on a breakaway where he beat Petr Mrazek to make it 2-0. Fontaine would add an empty netter to seal the win. Mikael Grunlund had no points and had no shots on goal. Darcy Keumper was stellar in the shutout, making 36 saves in the victory.