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Persistent Wild overcome mid-game let down to stun the Red Wings in 4-3 overtime thriller

Consider this an official warning but I am about to get on my soap box.  Now while that may not seem all that unusual for a hockey blog, but this normal set up is going to stray a little bit from tonight’s game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Minnesota Wild.  So anyways, here we go. 

I was randomly checking out Yahoo! hockey blogger ‘Puck Daddy’ Greg Wyshynski and I noticed an article of his pertaining to the recent withdrawal of press credentials by the New York Islanders to long-time hockey writer / blogger Chris Botta.  You can see ‘Puck Daddy’s’ article here

This may not seem all that noteable but as a person who blogs as well as really has been wanting for that elusive opportunity of press credentials it sort of struck a chord.  While the NHL has no universal policy regarding bloggers as it has left that decision up to the league’s 30 teams and I can assure you each team handles bloggers very differently.  Some teams are extremely open to bloggers while others treat them like 2nd class people.  Teams certainly hold the right to give credentials to those journalists and bloggers they wish, and in all honesty I don’t have a big problem with that whole idea, yet it seems a bit weak that a team would suddenly revoke any journalist / bloggers credentials simply because they wrote a few unflattering articles about their organization.  Afterall, is a journalist supposed to have integrity and report what they see with a level of objectivity?  Apparently this is not the case on Long Island and that is very disturbing.  The New York Islanders are currently at the bottom of the NHL’s standings, just fired their head coach Scott Gordon and look to be spiraling towards another abysmal season.  That wouldn’t be so bad but this team has been bad for quite a while and it help doesn’t appear to be right around the corner either.  Islanders General Manager Garth Snow seems to be on the hot seat and now the team axes the credentials of its most notable team-focused blogger.  Botta is not your typical A blogger who actually used to be officially sponsored by the team as well as being a former member of the team’s management for nearly 2 decades so you can see how this move is both surprising as well as coming off as rather harsh.  Hockey fans are passionate people, but they also respect honesty no matter how brutal it may be towards their favorite team.   I understand every team has its share of ‘homers’ too, but I think its wrong to revoke a writer / blogger’s press credentials just because they’re not writing glowing articles about your organization.  Honestly, when the team’s record is 4-11-3 as the Islanders currently stand how much positive things are really left to say? 

Fans like Botta and myself spend lots and lots time attempting to provide frequent entries for fellow fans to digrest and with the exception of a very few, for virtually no compensation other than the love of the game.  This is no slight to Bloguin, Most Valuable Network or even Yahoo!, but most bloggers make nothing at all, and they provide plenty of insight that often many mainstream media sources often utilize or reference.  We’re not martyrs to our sport, but there is certainly a significant comitment  of time and energy.  I am not trying to say anything as grandiose that we’re necessary for the league, but the NHL could use all the media coverage it can get, whether on the blogosphere or otherwise.  Yet like any journalist, most bloggers tend to call things as they see them.  I must admit, I too temper some of my opinions to a degree to not come off as some sort of message board rant but I still will not hesitate to criticize or give credit to those that deserve it.  However, the Islanders apparently do not want that type of writer to cover their team.  No fan wants to bash their favorite team yet if the team is performing poorly on the ice, front office, etc what sort of fan would they be if they did not call them out on it?  If that writer / blogger continues to walk the company line and write only favorable articles they would be labeled a “Kool Aid” drinker and few would take them seriously because they can’t be objective enough to say something is wrong or needs to be fixed.  The same could be said of the fan who constantly is negative and eventually their message is lost because people see them as a ‘hater’ which means there has to be a balance.  So with all that being said, is the Islanders position so fragile that they fear a blogger may poke holes in their practices or do they have the cajones as an organization to withstand that?  Clearly the Islanders chose the former and for that they have pushed away a fairly well-respected member of their fanbase.  So what if he’s being critical, so what if he’s asking tough questions, but what did the Islanders expect this guy to do?  To back down or beg for his credentials back.  Now that he’s back on the “comfort of his couch” he has nothing else to do but needle this organization even more vociferously than before.  Does a team that has amongst the worst attendance in the league wish to push any of its fans farther away than it already has with its string of horrible seasons?  Apparently Islanders owner Charles Wang does, apparently GM Garth Snow does.  While they certainly can stymie Botta’s access they can’t stymie his blogs followers and they may start something far more intense and pointed than a few questions from a blogger or writer.  At least its something you hope they considered before making the move that they did.  End of rant…

Pheew, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest a few quick notes about tonight’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.  It marks the return of Brent Burns to the Wild’s lineup after a two game suspension for breaking Florida’s Steve Bernier‘s orbital bone in a stupid stick to the face that has already prompted a roster move in the reassignment of Justin Falk to the Houston Aeros.  Marco Scandella, who certainly possesses a bit better puck skills than the more seasoned Falk has played well as of late and will very much be tested tonight against Detroit who again looks like an elite team.  The Red Wings have that lethal combination of a prolific and balanced offense and a stingy defense which really puts a ton of pressure on their opponents to decide which poison is the more palatable one.  The Wild are still amongst one of the league’s lowest scoring teams, but they’ve had success against some of the best teams in the league thus far.  Traditionally the Wild have not fared well at Joe Louis Arena, but who knows, this team seems to have the ability to surprise as of late.  So will they surprise us with a win tonight?   

The game would start with a very slow and cautious pace as Detroit was in no hurry to play run and gun as they went about their methodical puck possession type of game.  The Wild tried to counterpunch early as Martin Havlat stole a puck and tried a long diagonal pass to Matt Cullen that just did not settle for him to get a shot on goal.  The Red Wings steadily started to ramp up their pressure and Jose Theodore was forced to make a few stops near his crease of Detroit’s attempts to use their lively boards to good use.  Minnesota was playing a patient, safe game but they were also moving their feet well and pressing offensively at the right time as Eric Nystrom dove to reach a puck as it slid into the Detroit zone before sliding into Jimmy Howard who gave him a shove in retribution.  Fortunately for Nystrom and the Wild, the officials chose not to give him a goaltender interference penalty.  The Wild would get an early opportunity to go on the power play when Henrik Zetterberg reached out and hooked Greg Zanon.  On the power play Minnesota tried to get the Red Wings moving, and then pass it back across the grain but the puck just wasn’t settling for the Wild.  The Red Wings were challenging well enough not giving the Wild a lot of time to think and make a play, but in the closing seconds of the power play Martin Havlat fired a wrist shot on goal that skittered through the crease and off the boards which was picked up by Brent Burns who let loose with a wrister of his own that found its way through the legs of a screening Eric Nystrom and by Jimmy Howard to give the State of Hockey a 1-0 lead.  The Red Wings tried to take back the lead and a pass by Mike Modano to Niklas Kronwall was turned into a nice scoring chance but Krownall’s backhanded bid missed wide left.  The Wild seemed content to sit back and play a 1-2-2 and the Red Wings were more than happy to take advantage of the extra time and space to generate speed through the neutral zone and try to create offense off the rush.  Minnesota would get a rare chance off a careless turnover in the Detroit zone as Casey Wellman rang a shot off the pipe, and a few moments later the Wild had another great scoring chance when Antti Miettinen drove a slapper on goal that was steered aside by Howard.  Miettinen would follow up his shot and carry it beneath the goal line and pass it out to the slot narrowly missing fellow Finnish countryman Mikko Koivu but the puck woudl find Marek Zidlicky who dragged it over to his left before unloading a slapper that was turned aside by Howard.  Minnesota would retreat back defensively but their strategy appeared to be working as Justin Abdelkader, perhaps a bit frustrated by the gritty play of the Wild would hook Scandella to give the State of Hockey another power play.  On the man advantage the Red Wings were much more passive, but they were solid positionally and the Wild were unable to create much pressure offensively.  At times the Wild were being a little too passive, and this led to a few shorthanded rushes for the Red Wings that were thwarted by a fine defensive play by Burns and a nice save by Theodore.  At the end of the power play, Cam Barker would race into the Red Wings zone and rifle a heavy wrister that forced a big rebound from Howard that went right to Nystrom who one-timed a shot that Howard was just able to reach with his paddle to keep his team down only by 1-0 going to the 2nd. 

The Wild were forechecking well early to start the 2nd, as they forced the puck deep and then chased it into the zone.  Minnesota was also trying the long outlet pass and Cal Clutterbuck would win a race for the loose biscuit and he’d fire a sharp angle wrist shot that seemed to sneak through the leg pad of Jimmy Howard and into the goal.  The goal would be reviewed to see if it somehow snuck in through the side of the goal, but the replay clearly demonstrated it snuck in around the post and in and the goal stood to give the Wild a 2-0 lead to a shocked Joe Louis crowd.  The Red Wings tried to get back into the game and they nearly cut into the Wild’s lead as Pavel Datsyuk stripped the puck from Mikko Koivu and he dished a pass to a wide open Zetterberg who dangled around an exhausted Greg Zanon and into the slot where he snapped a shot high and wide of the goal.  Minnesota would counter attack and Havlat found Nystrom with a nice saucer pass and he got a quick shot off that was shut down by Howard.  You could sense the Red Wings frustration was building as Niklas Kronwall tried to run Brad Staubitz that nearly caught him, but the Wild pugilist stayed calm and Minnesota went back on the attack.  Some more nice hustle by Robbie Earl freed some space for Koivu who fired a shot on goal that was followed up by Earl who tapped at Howard for a rebound before it was frozen for a whistle.  The Red Wings were just trying to put any shot they could on Theodore as Ruslan Salei, Modano, and Brad Stuart blasting slap shots that was directed aside by the Wild goaltender.  Detroit’s pressure finally drew a hooking on Casey Wellman putting the Red Wings on the power play for the first time in the game.  As the Red Wings went on the power play, they were able to draw another penalty as Pavel Datsyuk demonstrated remarkable balance as he skated through a hook of Nystrom and Minnesota scrambled for the touchup as the Red Wings would enjoy a long 5-on-3 man advantage.  On the 5-on-3 the Wild were playing a nice tight triangle, taking away shooting lanes and forcing the Red Wings to settle for point shots and the pucks were missing the net as Theodore was moving efficiently between the pipes.  A nice play by Greg Zanon with about 23 seconds in the man advantage where he denied a cross-ice pass and then was able to flip the puck up and out of the defensive zone was huge.  Wellman would return giving the Red Wings 20 seconds of 5-on-4 play as they continued to make quick passes but Minnesota’s hustle was again good enough to kill off the remainder of Nystrom’s penalty and another Zanon clearing attempt caromed off of Modano and into the crowd for a key stoppage.  The Red Wings had a great initial chance after the killed power plays as Brad Stuart connected with Todd Bertuzzi for a nice bang-bang play but his shot would hit the side of the goal.  Detroit would go back on the power play a few moments later as Matt Cullen was jobbed by a pretty dive by Darren Helm.  The Red Wings set up a point shot for Nicklas Lidstrom that Theodore absorbed.  The Wild’s penalty kill was playing very well postionally, and Theodore was poised as ever.  Minnesota was anticipating well and not chasing and their active sticks would further serve to frustrate the Red Wings’ power play as they managed to kill off another one.  The Wild would start to assert itself a bit more offensively as Eric Nystrom would start to battle down low after nearly connecting on a nice bang-bang play by Cullen that just failed to click.  However it was Detroit that would find the back of the net late in the period as some great work down behind the Wild goal by Patrick Eaves who moved it to Abdelkader who gathered it up and moved towards the front of the goal for what looked like a wrap around but was instead a cross-crease pass to Helm for an easy tap in goal to cut the Minnesota lead in half, 2-1.  Minnesota would have one last scoring chance late in the period as Robbie Earl chipped a puck to himself and then chased it down before threading a perfect saucer pass to a crashing John Madden who just pushed a shot wide of the goal and the Wild would take its one-goal lead into the 3rd despite being outshot 18 to 3 in the period. 

In the 3rd period the Red Wings started to really pressure early, and Detroit would be given another ‘gift’ penalty when Matt Cullen was tagged with a weak hooking call that he protested all the way until he sat in the sin bin.  Detroit would move the puck down low with Johan Franzen who moved out towards the front of the goal as he was shadowed by Zanon and his shot would deflect off the Wild blueliner and then float underneath the arm of Theodore who had left his post anticipating the quick post to post pass to a waiting Tomas Holmstrom.  A few minutes later after the Red Wings would win the draw and pull it back to Brian Rafalski who flung a wrister that was stopped by Theodore and Patrick Eaves would jam at the puck, but Theodore would sprawl to make the stop and then Eaves gathered up the loose biscuit and beat the Wild goalie on the wrap around to give Detroit a 3-2 lead.  At this point it appeared as though the Wild were toast, because they had to work so hard to create even a single shot on goal as they struggled to deal with Detroit’s superior speed.  Minnesota would move their defenseman up and pinch whenever it was possible, but at times this nearly cost them as Detroit was quick to chip it out of the zone and catch Minnesota shorthanded.  Mikko Koivu would draw a penalty with some good hustle, and on the delayed penalty Minnesota pulled Theodore for an extra attacker and Minnesota began firing slap shots on net, including a cannon of a slapper by Marco Scandella as the Joe Louis crowd boo’d over the lack of a whistle as Detroit did manage to touch the puck a few times before they finally got the officials to stop the play.  On the power play the Wild struggled to get set up in the offensive zone.  The Wild were still pinching and as they tried to draw a puck back to the point to a waiting Brent Burns he’d get jammed near his skates and Darren Helm looked to be going off to the races and a sprawling Burns managed to swing his stick and push the puck down the ice to Theodore and prevent what would’ve been a breakaway opportunity.  Minnesota would come up empty on the power play and you could sense the level of anxiety increasing for the Wild.  Detroit seemed content to defend its lead but Minnesota was persistent.  With just under two minutes left to play, Nick Schultz took the initiative to carry the puck into the zone where he’d fire a backhander on goal that was kicked out into the slot by Howard and Mikko Koivu was right in the slot to bury it to tie the game at 3-3.  The stunned boo’s were priceless.  Minnesota would press the issue in the closing minute and a half, mounting rush after rush as Miettinen, Koivu and company would take their shots on goal forcing Howard to make fairly easy stops as the horn sounded sending the game to overtime. 

In overtime, the action would be back and forth with the Wild showing more assertiveness than the Red Wings who appeared content to wait it out for a shoout.  The Wild were taking every oppportunity to start the rush as Brent Burns was really showcasing his skill as he went on an end to end rush dangling around defenders and carrying the puck down low where he slid a pass out front that was nearly pounded in by Martin Havlat who was shut down by Howard.  Minnesota was undaunted and it was some tremendous effort by Marek Zidlicky who helped his forwards Madden and Havlat down low by picking up the loose biscuit and then buying some time by turning sharply in the corner as he was shadowed by Zetterberg.  Zidlicky then flung a shot on goal that Martin Havlat tried to jam home but Howard would make the stop but was unable to control the rebound and John Madden would move in and tap it into the back of the net for the game winner. 

Jose Theodore was outstanding, making 41 saves in the victory.  While the Wild did a pretty good job the first period and a half at keeping the Red Wings’ opportunities at a distance he still made a number of quality saves from close range to give Minnesota a chance to win this game.  He was tremendously poised and the goals he did allow you could hardly fault Theodore for.  Defensively the Wild were fairly solid, but part of the problem was Minnesota was more or less daring the Red Wings to go on the attack for much of the game.  The Wild’s blueline performed fairly well tonight, helping support the play at both ends of the ice.  Burns really is showing he is an elite defender, establishing that balance as a responsible defenseman with the ability to turn up the offense when his team needs him to. 

Offensively the Wild were not able to get much going on the power play but they showed good resiliency by activating its defense to get the goals it needed to get this game to overtime.  It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t need to be.  Clutterbuck’s goal was a great example of what can happen when you simply put a shot on net and hope for the best.  The Wild could learn a lot from that.  Even during the 3rd period when they were trailing, they were at times waiting for the perfect shot when the right answer is just blast a shot on goal and maybe you’ll get lucky.  The Red Wings did precisely that when Minnesota had Detroit confounded throughout most of the 1st period.  You could sense a huge sense of relief from Mikko Koivu when he finally managed to find the net at even strength when he notched the game tying goal. 

Before I talk about the Wild’s next game against the New York Rangers tomorrow night, there is one other thing I have to address.  I was watching this game on NHL Center Ice and I had to watch the Fox Sports Net Detroit feed, with play-by-play man Ken Daniels and former player and Red Wings’ analyst Mickey Redmond were absolutely obnoixous all game long as they whined and complained about the Wild’s style of play.  I have to admit, when we had Jacques Lemaire here Daniels and Redmond’s commentary was very similar and annoying.  “Its as fun as watching paint dry” blah blah blah, chuckling about what would be more fun to watch than watching the Wild.  Well, the allegedly ‘boring’ team won tonight, and perhaps they ought to think about the incredible amount of interference Detroit Head Coach Mike Babcock‘s system creates.  The near constant interference by Red Wings blueliners that disrupts the flow of the game, but there is no whining about that.  Or how about they criticize the skillful diving of players like Darren Helm that disrupts the flow with ludicrous penalties?  Why?  Because that would require objectivity and the homercast of Daniels and Redmond couldn’t handle that with their diminishing fanbase finding reasons not to come to games as it is. 

Minnesota has another tough challenge as they return to the friendly confines of Xcel Energy Center as they face the New York Rangers who have been playing fairly well as of late.  Sure, the Rangers got slammed 4-0 by the Colorado Avalanche this evening, but the good thing is they too will be playing their 2nd game of a back-to-back like the Wild will.  As tough as it may be, after such a hard-fought emotional win they need to push that to the back of their minds and do whatever they can to earn another 2 points tomorrow night. 

Wild Notes:

~ Wild roster for tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen, Martin Havlat, Matt Cullen, John Madden, Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Wellman, Brad Staubitz, Robbie Earl, Kyle Brodziak, Eric Nystrom, Brent Burns, Cam Barker, Greg Zanon, Marco Scandella and Nick Schultz.  Niklas Backstrom backed up Jose Theodore between the pipes for the Wild.  Clayton Stoner was the lone healthy scratch while Chuck Kobasew and Guillaume Latendresse are still battling groin injuries.  Meanwhile Pierre-Marc Bouchard pledges to return soon but we’ve been hearing that for months I don’t know about you but I’ll believe it when I see it. 

~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Patrick Eaves, 2nd Star Darren Helm, 3rd Star Mikko Koivu.  It is ridiculous that Jose Theodore did not earn a star in this game, same for Brent Burns who was fantastic all game long. 

~ The attendance for tonight’s game was 20,066, which I don’t believe for one second.  There were far less than 20,000 at this game. 

~ The State of Hockey News would like to send our most sincere condolences to the family of long-time NHL coach Pat Burns who passed away today at the age of 58 after battling Colon, Liver and Lung Cancer respectively.  Burns, was an intense coach who always seemed to create success anywhere he went.  Many felt Pat Burns was cheated out of a spot in this year’s Hall of Fame class and I’d have to agree.  While I advocated strongly the last few years for Dino Ciccarelli to be apart of this year’s class, its too bad Burns wasn’t also included as his all time coaching record 501-353-165 of which included winning a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2003 and three Jack Adams awards as the league’s best coach with 3 different teams (Montreal ’89, Toronto ’93, Boston ’98).  His sense of humor, his knowledge and his generosity will certainly be missed.  This Labatt is for you Pat!!!

~ The Houston Aeros would also be successful against the Red Wings’ affiliate this evening in a convincing 5-0 rout.  Maxim Noreau scored twice on the man advantage as the team’s leading scorer Jarod Palmer would add a 3rd power play tally as they frustrated the Griffins all night long.  Jon DiSalvatore had a 1 goal, 2 assist night while Joel Broda, Jean-Michel Daoust, Jared Spurgeon and Brock McBride contributed all contributed helpers.  Anton Khudobin was perfect, making 27 saves in the shutout.  

Houston Aeros Report:

2010-11 Record: (8-6-1-2)  19pts  5th West Division

The Houston Aeros seem to be finding their groove despite having to deal with some call ups that has forced the team to call up guys like Brock McBride and Chris Freidheim from the ECHL.  The Aeros have adopted a style of game very similar to the Wild as they forecheck but stay responsible defensively grinding out 1-goal games.  The Aeros won their most recent game, a 3-2 win over rival Chicago, who is having one of its worst years since joining the AHL back in 2002.  Just like its parent club, the Aeros do not have one standout offensive player but rather takes a scoring by committee approach where almost any player on the roster could be the hero for the night.  Perhaps one side effect of all the call ups is that it has given increased ice time to role players who so far have stepped up their game nicely this season.  A perfect example of this has been the strong play of Carson McMillan who in just 17 games has already scored more points (9) than he did all of last season when he played 56 games (just 8 points).  While you will never mistake his production for some budding elite scorer, his ability to chip in offensively this season has been crucial to the Aeros early success.  McMillan was an above-average scorer in junior, has managed to add some points while still playing a physical, gritty style which was the reason the Wild drafted him back in 2007 (7th round, 200th Overall).  Houston Head Coach Mike Yeo has to also be very pleased by the play of 1st year pro, Fridley, Minnesota-native Jarod Palmer who leads the team in points (10) and a nice +6 rating.  Defensively, the Aeros should get a boost from the return of Justin Falk who looked fairly capable in his stint with the Wild showing confidence beyond his years.  While I am sure getting sent down was disappointing, he certainly opened a lot of eyes by his steady play.  I really believe Marco Scandella’s strong play the last two games really has management wondering if they have a young force on its defense and are hoping to see if he can continue to make the most of his opportunity.  The Aeros have also been the benificiary of some great play between the pipes by both of its goaltenders, Anton Khudobin and Matthew Hackett.  For the most part they have split the duties making 9 and 8 starts respectively, with Khudobin leading the way with a wickedly low 2.07 goals against average and a gawdy .934 save percentage.  While the Wild play Detroit, the Aeros will be battling the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate as they travel to Grand Rapids to take on another old IHL rival, the Griffins who currently sit in 4th place in the West Division.  The Aeros then travel back to Chicago Saturday for a rematch of Wednesday’s game and then back to Houston for a game against in-state rival Texas on Sunday afternoon.