(cue the acoustic guitar) “How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man? How many seas must the white dove sail, before she sleeps in the sand? Yes, how many times must the cannon balls fly, before they’re forever banned? The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind,” were the lyrics of Robert Allen Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan the Hibbing, Minnesota native who first performed this seminal tune in 1962. This peace-loving song was an anthem of Hippies throughout the turbulent 1960’s as it makes mention of the Civil Rights movement and the clashes taking place during the Cold War. Yet what does this have to do with the Wild? Many Wild fans are angry and upset over the horrendous performance on Tuesday night against Florida where Minnesota managed a franchise low of 11 shots on goal and squandered a 2-goal lead to lose in a shootout. Sure, that is a lot to be angry about, but perhaps what really got them riled up was a comment made by Wild Head Coach Todd Richards after the game where he was quoted as saying he felt the team played hard that night pointing out that the team’s blueline was playing with only 5 players as Shane Hnidy was felled by an ankle injury early in the game. To quote another line from Bob Dylan’s song, (cue the acoustic guitar) “Yes, how many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see?” Perhaps Todd Richards has a point, but why would you hold an optional practice the next day in what would be a critical game against a team you’re battling against for that dim chance at the playoffs and then not even show up to coach practice? (cue the acoustic guitar) “The answer my friend is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.” Its just as good an explanation for Richards’ actions as anything else right now as Minnesota finds its playoff hopes in critical condition as they attempt to climb a logjammed Western Conference. Just check out the standings and see for yourself.
8. Calgary Flames – 66GP (33-24-9) 75pts
9. Detroit Red Wings – 66GP (31-23-12) 74pts
10. Dallas Stars – 66GP (29-25-12) 70pts
11. St. Louis Blues – 65GP (30-26-9) 69pts
12. Minnesota Wild – 65GP (31-28-6) 68pts
13. Anaheim Ducks – 66GP (30-28-8) 68pts
Mathmatically speaking, the Wild have not been eliminated but just using 95 points as a reference point for the cutoff to make the playoffs would mean Minnesota would have to go 14-3 down the stretch. What indication is there that the Wild are going to go on a long run of victories? Perhaps Richards felt there was nothing to lose by not practicing since the chances of that are slim to none. Yet, he better hope his laissez-faire policy to practice after a terrible effort in the previous game pays off otherwise he’ll be hearing about it. So will Richards’ laid back attitude to practice pay off or will Detroit kick the Wild while its down? “The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
The Wild started the game with a very conservative approach as they were giving up a lot of ice to the Detroit Red Wings as they quickly retreated back to their own zone. Maybe it was an attempt by the Wild to circle the wagons around Josh Harding and hope to win a low-scoring battle with Detroit. Detroit was carrying the play early on; partly by the passive style of the Wild as Darren Helm picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and raced into the Minnesota zone as he fired a shot that was gloved by Harding. The Red Wings were controlling the play with signature puck control as they worked it out to the points where Johan Franzen wound up a hammered a slap shot that would pop up into the air and it fluttered into the goal, giving Detroit a 1-0 lead less than 3 minutes into the game. Minnesota was not only passive but they looked sloppy as they had against Florida on Tuesday. The Wild finally got some offensive pressure as the top line created some havoc down low, cycling the puck as Mikko Koivu showed good strength as he carried the puck behind the Detroit goal and brought out front for a wrap around that was stopped by Jimmy Howard. Moments later Andreas Lilja would trip up Owen Nolan and Kyle Brodziak would confront Lilja near his bench but Minnesota would end up on the power play. On the power play the Wild had a tremendous early opportunity on a point shot by Martin Havlat that missed wide but it would carom nicely out toward the Detroit crease and Antti Miettinen took a quick swing at the puck and it would slide across the crease to a wide open Mikko Koivu for an apparent easy goal but his shot would find the outside of the left post instead. A few seconds after Koivu’s missed opportunity, a lazy pass back by Koivu was stolen by Patrick Eaves and he would draw a penalty on the Wild captain. With the ice now a bit more open 4-on-4 both teams would exchange rushes against one another but nothing would come of it. The Wild tried to renew their attack in the Detroit zone as the 2nd line now created some havoc as Guillaume Latendresse and Andrew Ebbett peppered Howard with shots that the former Maine Black Bear stopped with ease. Detroit would assert itself offensively, cycling the puck along the boards and Mikko Koivu would be busted for hooking giving the Red Wings a power play. On the man advantage Detroit felt its heart skip a beat as Owen Nolan made a nice steal in the neutral zone but he would lose the handle on the puck. Moments later, Tomas Holmstrom would skate into the Wild zone and he’d unload a slapper that deflected off Nick Schultz and beating Backstrom high stick side to lift Detroit to a 2-0 lead. Not much long after Holmstrom’s goal, some good hustle by Detroit’s Patrick Eaves to carry the puck around down beneath the Wild goal and then he dished a backhanded pass to the top of the crease where a waiting Henrik Zetterberg banged a shot by Harding to give Detroit a 3-0 advantage. Detroit could sense an opportunity to finish the Wild off already and Darren Helm would dangle his way past a few would-be Wild defenders and he’d fling a shot on goal that Harding was just able to keep out with his leg pad and Minnesota scrambled to chip the puck out of the zone. The Red Wings continued to attack, as soem great little pass from the boards by Franzen to Holmstrom who skated in and fired a shot that was stopped by Harding and he’d end up snow angeling to stop the rebound. The Wild again would scramble about its zone as the Red Wings tried to set up Zetterberg and through luck and a good dose of desperation Minnesota was able to push the puck out of their end. A turnover near the Detroit blueline turned into a scoring chance as Andrew Ebbett set up Martin Havlat who flung a wrist shot wide of the goal. At this point the Wild seemed to be playing rope-a-dope and simply hoping to avoid giving up another Red Wings’ goal. Minnesota would again struggle as the Red Wings worked the puck down low along the boards and Marek Zidlicky chipped a puck over the glass for an automatic delay of game penalty giving Detroit a late-period power play. Detroit was very patient, and Minnesota would at least be aggressive enough to win some the battles for the puck and clear the zone never allowing the Red Wings to get set up. Detroit’s best chance came off the stick of Todd Bertuzzi who fired a shot against a well screened Harding but it never made it on goal and the Wild went on the counter attack and it was Chuck Kobasew making a nice individual play to have two shots on goal. Minnesota would attempt one last rush as Martin Havlat feinted at a shot and then passed it over to Andrew Ebbett who quickly snapped a centering pass towards Latendresse who was standing near the crease but it would go off the skate of Brad Stuart and by Howard cutting the Detroit lead to two, 3-1 with just 11 seconds left. The Wild had to feel good about the late tally but still had lots of work ahead.
Detroit tried to have a fast start by trying to get its forecheck and cycling game going early but Minnesota was hustling better and managed to outwork the Red Wings in a few battles along the boards. This did not mean the Wild were taking the play to Detroit, but rather they were able to disrupt the Red Wings with greater ease than they had in the 1st period. Minnesota was looking to counter punch but with their circle the wagons type committment to defense it would mean they struggled to go on the attack as Detroit had plenty of time to drop back and defend whenever the Wild tried to mount a rush. A few minutes later Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall caught Robbie Earl with his head down and the two players would collide in the neutral zone. Minnesota was struggling to put much offensive pressure on the Red Wings, and Andrew Ebbett would again be a catalyst when he fired a shot on goal that was stopped by Howard and the puck squirted out near the top of the crease where Latendresse reached and chipped a shot that was gloved by the Detroit netminder. The Wild started to find its legs and be on the attack, as John Scott found a small window and he’d pull the trigger on a wrist shot that was steered away by the Detroit goalie and Minnesota continued to persist and it was Mikko Koivu would pull off a toe drag move and he’d rip a wrist shot that was gloved by Howard. On the ensuing faceoff the Wild’s Guillaume Latendresse was chasing for the puck and Detroit’s Brian Rafalski swung his stick around and hit Latendresse in the back of the head. Latendresse would roll on the ice in discomfort as the team athletic trainer Don Fuller made his way out to see wounded wild winger. The Wild would get a power play, but it would be disjointed as they struggled to get set up in the offensive zone. It would not get any better as Cam Barker got caught pinching and Drew Miller pushed a pass up to Valteri Filppula who skated in and patiently tried to outwait Harding who didn’t bite on the initial deke and he’d lift a backhander that hit the Wild goalie and up into the air and the puck would hit Miller in the chest and into the goal to give Detroit a 4-1 lead on the shorthanded tally. After a fairly short review the goal was confirmed. A few minutes later, Cal Clutterbuck tried to spark his team as he took a long run at Brad Stuart and he’d side step the big hit as he crashed into the boards having missed his target. Minnesota would cycle the puck down low and get Detroit to scramble a bit in its own zone but despite the puck possession they didn’t have any shots to show for it and making matters worse James Sheppard would get the blade of his stick into the face of Brad Stuart giving the Red Wings a late-period power play. Detroit was again cautious and methodical on the man advantage as they looked to set up Franze in the slot but the centering feed would miss the mark and Minnesota would clear the zone. After a faceoff win, Henrik Zetterberg would fling a wrist shot that was juggled a bit by Harding before he grabbed it out of the air with his glove. Detroit would have one more great scoring chance as they peppered Harding with shots from close range but he was able to make the stops and the Wild were able to clear the zone. Just as was the case in the 1st period they would try to pour on the pressure late and a shot from the wall by Ebbett and Minnesota would crash the crease including Greg Zanon who just rumbled his way to the crease knocking down a bunch of players in the process but the Wild were unable to get that last shot on goal and Minnesota would trail by three going into the 3rd period.
Minnesota had some bad news to start the period as Guillaume Latendresse would not be returning for the rest of the game. Detroit would help the Wild cause early as Johan Franzen was tagged with delay of game penalty giving Minnesota a much-needed power play. Minnesota’s first quality chance as they set up Cam Barker for a blistering shot from the point that never made it on goal as the Red Wings were able to get a body on the loose puck. The Red Wings’ penalty kill unit was moving well giving the Wild little time and space to work with and they hurt their cause with bad passes as Minnesota was unable to generate shots on goal and they wouldn’t register a shot on the man advantage. A few minutes after the failed power play, the Wild would find itself on the penalty kill when Kyle Brodziak was given a minor for slashing as he broke a Red Wings’ stick in two for an easy call. The Red Wings again looked very relaxed as they hoped to pad their lead. Minnesota’s penalty killers were aggressive, challenging Detroit’s puck carriers well as Andrew Ebbett was dropping to the ice to block shots. The Wild would be scambling near its crease as Harding was able to make the initial stop but the rebounds were lying near his crease and his defenseman were able to tie up Detroit forwards from having uncontested 2nd chance opportunities and Minnesota was able to get the big kill. The Wild immediately tried to go on the attack and it was John Scott stepping into a slap shot that was directed just wide the mark. Minnesota continued to apply pressure as point shot by Jaime Sifers was knocked down by Chuck Kobasew and he turned and fired a quick shot as the Wild crashed the crease and looked to be on the verge of chipping in a goal on the sprawling Jimmy Howard when Darren Helm conveniently knocked the net off its moorings for a whistle. The Wild were hustling but Detroit was content to play keep away as they killed valuable seconds off the clock. Andrew Brunette would be called for interference giving Detroit another power play at the 9:12 mark of the period. Jason Williams would have a small scoring chance early on the man advantage as he tried to sneak a shot inside the post but Harding was covering it effectively and able to make the save. Minnesota’s penalty kill was solid, moving their feet well and they’d draw a hooking penalty on Valteri Filppula making it 4-on-4 for just over 20 seconds before turning into a Wild power play. The Wild were a bit too hesitant on the power play as Martin Havlat would cough the puck up at the point and Patrick Eaves would race down the ice as he fling a shot that was just directed aside by Harding. Minnesota again came up empty with no shots on goal. The missed opportunity would haunt the Wild as Johan Franzen made an outstanding effort to shoot a wrister between the legs of Jaime Sifers that beat Harding 5-hole giving Detroit a 5-1 lead. Minnesota looked desperate to create something positive before the end of this game as they were taking their chances on the forecheck and some outstanding individual hustle by Mikko Koivu, including a fantastic power move behind the goal for a wrap around that just didn’t quite curl enough was evidence of the Wild’s competitive fire. Koivu would draw a tripping penalty on Todd Bertuzzi giving Minnesota its 5th power play of the game. Detroit was still challenging Minnesota’s point shooters well and the Wild struggled to create true scoring chances. The Wild would again come up empty and would again feel the pain of a loss as the Red Wings prevail 5-1.
Its pretty tough to place a lot of blame on Josh Harding for the outcome in this game as he had 25 saves in the loss. The Red Wings got the right bounces and you must give Detroit credit for taking advantages of the opportunities that presented themselves. Whether it was a deflection off of a Wild player or one of their own those chances ended up in the back of the Minnesota net and they jumped out to a quick lead. Minnesota’s defense was ok on the man advantage, at least contesting the Detroit forwards like Tomas Holmstrom who loves to camp out and set screens.
Offensively the Wild were better at putting shots on goal, but they also were relatively unproductive on the man-advantage as they struggled to create offensive pressure especially after Guillaume Latendresse went down with an undisclosed head injury. Martin Havlat especially was guilty of being way too passive with the puck and on more than one occasion overhandled it and it gave the Red Wings a chance to force a turnover. A shorthanded goal, the 10th shorthanded goal Minnesota has allowed this season, really was devastating to the Wild who felt it had crawled back into the game. Andrew Ebbett certainly should be given kudos for his great hustle all game long. He was one of the few consistently assertive players for the Wild and was a bright spot in another game largely filled with disappointment. While it was nice to see Cal Clutterbuck trying to play, he was a shadow of himself and Chuck Kobasew doesn’t nearly seem to have the speed he had before his knee injury. Perhaps it would be best to start some kids from Houston and let Kobasew and Clutterbuck heal up.
The Wild’s playoff chances are effectively over at this point, it all becomes a battle to win jobs for next year. James Sheppard, while a player who I still believe does not belong in the NHL you have to admit he’s trying harder and attempting to be more active at both ends of the ice. For any player who is up to become a free agent of any kind really needs to show what they give the team now and perhaps that will bring out better play from them all. The Wild do not have much time to dwell on this loss as they board a plane to fly to Buffalo for a game tomorrow night. Wild Head Coach Todd Richards had this to say about tonight’s tilt, “Niklas (Backstrom) tweked has groin in the game against Florida so if Josh is ok he’ll be back between the pipes tomorrow. They (Wild) came off a tough loss and made some tough saves early but we were unlucky but that’s when you have to regroup.” Who knows if Latendresse will be ready, and just for old time’s sake (cue acoustic guitar) “the answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
~ Wild roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Owen Nolan, Antti Miettinen, Chuck Kobasew, James Sheppard, Andrew Ebbett, Robbie Earl, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Guillaume Latendresse, Jaime Sifers, John Scott, Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, Cam Barker and Greg Zanon. Niklas Backstrom backed up Josh Harding. Derek Boogaard was the lone healthy scratch. Brent Burns was out with a hip issue, while Shane Hnidy is out with an ankle injury. Pierre-Marc Bouchard is still out of the lineup with post-concussion symptoms.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Henrik Zetterberg, 2nd Star Johan Franzen, 3rd Star Brad Stuart
High School Hockey Report:
With the Minnesota Wild’s playoff hopes very much in doubt, it perhaps makes Minnesota hockey fans focus more on the outcome of the State Tournament which started yesterday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. So far my predictions are holding true, but my scores in all the games but one were a bit short of the actual difference. Here is a rundown of the Class ‘A’ quarterfinals results from yesterday’s games.
Class ‘A’ Quarterfinals
#2 Mahtomedi (24-5) 7, Alexandria (21-7-1) 1
Mahtomedi’s power play was so good (scoring 4 times) it even had Alexandria Head Coach Scott Woods saying, “How nice is that power play?” as he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Zephyr’s attack was simply way too much for the Cardinals to handle as senior forwards Brandon Zurn and Charlie Adams continue to lead the way for Mahtomedi. It was a 2nd period power play goal by Adams that Cardinals bench boss said turned the game around, “when our best player (Thomas Williams) doesn’t score and the other team transitions it and scores, I thought that was the turning point.” The tape-to-tape passing just never allowed Alexandria’s penalty kill to get set up properly and when the time came the Zephyrs were ready to bury the biscuit and they did. No doubt the efficiency of Mahtomedi’s power play will be on the mind of the Hermantown Hawks when they clash on Friday at 11AM.
#3 Hermantown (26-3) 2, Virginia/Mt.Iron-Buhl (18-8-3) 1
It was a northern schools slugfest in the 2nd game of the tournament where the two teams gave each other very little time and space. A classic sports cliche is about how championship teams get the best performances from their best players in big games and that was the case in this one as the highly touted (and UMD bound) Adam Krause netted the game winner on a blistering slap shot that clanked off the pipe and in to break a 1-1 tie and advance the Hawks to the semifinals. Travis Eddy had the lone goal for the Blue Devils who feel the pain of losing a a hard fought game as Virginia/Mt. Iron-Buhl had the misfortune of hitting the post a few times as Blue Devils Head Coach Keith Hendrickson told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, ” (Krause) just lasered one from 45 feet, it hit the post and went in,we hit a post in the second period and it went out. That’s a two-goal swing, and that’s the game of hockey.”
#1 Breck (27-2) 11, New Ulm (16-10-1) 1
After a slow start where the upstart, New Ulm Eagles managed to create a few scoring chances as well as hold down the incredibly potent offense of Breck the floodgates would open up in the second period. In the 2nd period, one of the most prolific scoring feats of any team in state history where the Mustangs lit the lamp 7 times as they used their advantages in speed and talent to overwhelm New Ulm. Mustang forwards Riley Borer and Mike Morin were the catalysts and the Eagles were completely dominated. The last 4 goals would come early in the 3rd and Mustang Head Coach Les Larson‘s squad coasted to an easy victory. New Ulm bench boss Erik Setterholm had a feeling it was too good to be true after his team managed to keep the game close in the first period and unfortunately he was right. He even went as far as saying that this was easily the most prolific attack his team had ever faced; as his team had played against Class ‘A’ perennial powerhouses Duluth Marshall and Rochester Lourdes saying that they were both “nothing like Breck” in terms of their talent and intensity. If Setterholm is right, Breck may just be too good not to repeat as State Champions.
#4 Warroad (25-4) 9, Rochester Lourdes (17-9-3) 0
Warroad was firing on all cylinders as the highly touted Brock Nelson (17th rated North American skater by Central Scouting) put on a show in the final game of Wednesday evening. The North Dakota-recruit dazzled with his sublime playmaking and also showed his tremendous ability to finish scoring chances as well. Nelson set up teammate Brett Hebel who scored the tournament’s first hat trick as the Warriors cruised to a 9-0 victory. Rochester Lourdes were much like the Wild were Tuesday night, with few scoring chances of any consequence and when the Eagles finally did manage to establish some pressure, Warroad’s Andy Foster was there to shut the door. Nelson continued to steal the show as he used his powerful 6’2″ frame to good use to win a battle near the boards and then dished a perfect pass as he set up Hebel’s final tally. Warroad’s coach, Albert Hasbargen was rather candid saying, “He (Nelson) is skilled, he makes me look like I’m a very good as a coach.” Without question, it should make for a thrilling showdown between Nelson and the Warriors and an efficient scoring machine that is Breck on Friday afternoon.