At first impulse if someone were to ask me if I’m superstitious I’d probably say no. Yet upon further reflection I kind of am. I do my best to avoid wearing any team colors of teams the Minnesota Wild may be facing that night. I have a ‘lucky’ shirt I wear under my polos on Wild game nights and I try my best to avoid typing ‘Wild win’ on Twitter before time expires but I have a bit of a confession to make. On Monday, March 19th at approximately a little past 9:30PM I posted the following tweet.
I didn’t say the Wild won the game, but considering there was about a minute left I felt confident in tossing out this celebratory video in honor of Joel Eriksson Ek‘s go-ahead goal. As soon as I pushed it out there I had a bad feeling I had jinxed the team and not even 20 seconds later the Kings tie the game up and eventually win in overtime. So if you have to be angry about Monday’s game folks, blame me. Well, please don’t, since I’m not the one getting paid millions of dollars to play hockey.
So now fans and players have had a few days to stew over the Wild’s overtime loss. Meanwhile the Predators just keep right on winning.
1st Period Thoughts: Watching the opening moments of this game, I just worry that this will turn into a horror movie early. You know that Geico commercial where they troll horror movies, like not going in the barn with all the hanging, rusty knives and blades? That’s how I feel about playing Nashville these days. It’s just something where when you know better, you just don’t do it. However unlike the characters in a horror movie, the Minnesota Wild really don’t have a choice about this game. But they do have a choice about how they play and the effort they put forth. I know we frequently rag on Mikko Koivu here, but I have to applaud his chance on goal. While the puck didn’t go in, it proved that Pekka Rinne isn’t invincible as he had no idea where that puck went. He doesn’t have many of those moments, so it’s imperative to take advantage of them. While not much is really happening through the midway point of the period, I can’t really criticize the Wild too much. I’m liking that they’re getting the puck into the offensive zone and getting shots on Rinne. The key to this game is going to be remaining calm in defensive zone. For the first half of the period, it seemed like the Wild were accomplishing that. The skaters were controlling Devan Dubnyk’s rebounds and getting the puck out of the zone. However Ryan Johansen played a calm game of his own. He got a shot on Dubnyk that bounced back to him, and while Dubnyk was down, pounced on his own rebound and got it past Dubnyk. Now we need to see the Wild not play a panicked game yet it still needs to have intention. And I can’t always say that’s something this team does well. Either they’ll get a lead and then play the lazy game and allow the opposition back into the game or they get down and wait too long to try and get back into it. Plus, the Wild can’t claim they’re tired as they’ve had a bunch of days off. As this game goes into the second half of the opening period, the Wild are struggling getting past the neutral zone. The next real scoring chance came by none other than Eric Staal. So while that line has showed up (to a degree as it took about 15 minutes), you have to wonder where everyone else is. However that shift seems to have inspired the 4th line to get some zone time and shots as well. When you get a couple of decent shifts, you would think that would inspire the Wild to continue to push. Nope, instead Charlie Coyle takes a tripping penalty. I’m not a big fan of penalties late in the period, but I really dislike them against a team like Nashville. Thankfully this would be a killed penalty, now what they do will be telling. Will they use it as momentum or will they sit back? Clearly Jason Zucker was looking for the puck in front of Rinne and took some punishment for it. Now that the Wild have gotten out of this period just down 1-0, they need to get their feet moving and figure out how to get more zone time and shots. I would venture that the first two minutes of the 2nd period will tell us how the rest of this game will go.
2nd Period Thoughts: This is a weird world we live in. We are one of the few teams with a winning record against Nashville. Not to mention we’re the only (I believe) who swept their season series against the Vegas Golden Knights. Crazy how you can beat two of the best teams in the league, but then you struggle against Arizona. Early in the period, Ryan Murphy would get a nice blast on Rinne. I have to say I like the effort that players like Murphy and Nick Seeler have shown in their few appearances this season. And it’s those lesser players including the hard work with Daniel Winnik and Marcus Foligno that created the frenzy in front of and behind Rinne that gave Joel Eriksson Ek that space to tie up the game. Not only did the 4th line get the Wild on the score board, but they also drew their first penalty with Filip Forsberg going to the box for cross checking. Can I say how refreshing it is to see the Wild’s top line on the ice for the power play? I’ve gotten pretty jaded when it comes to this team’s power play, as I expect to see Koivu, Zach Parise, and Nino Niederreiter or Coyle. Watching them on the power play pretty much triggers some epic narcolepsy. It wasn’t a great power play, but it wasn’t the worst we’ve seen this season. There’s been some questionable officiating this game. Things on both sides that should have been called but wasn’t just makes you shake your head. Tyler Ennis had a great break away but had his legs taken out from him by Viktor Arvidsson and there was no call. Sure, you don’t want referees to dictate the game, but there are certain things that need to be called. The Wild would head back to the power play with Johansen getting called for slashing. Remember my discussion about narcolepsy and the Wild power play? Yeah, well looks like the Koivu power play unit is going to get the entire two minutes, which pretty much means a waste of power play time. If all we’re going to do is play that line, I’d rather not be on the power play. After Nashville easily killed the penalty, Murphy comes up big with his hard work and getting the puck to Niederreiter, whose hard work of his own gave the Wild the go-ahead goal. Tonight’s sub-story is going to be the hard work of the 4th line. As the period heads into its final few minutes, I have to wonder what is going on. I have never seen so many bad back-to-back passes, and on both sides. Yet it’s far more stressful when I see the bad passing by the Wild, especially in their own zone. With 1 minute and 21 seconds remaining in the period, Nashville would be called for too many men. At least this power play is starting with players not named Parise or Koivu. Sadly the bad passing would continue into the power play. The stretch of bad passing needs to end if they want any chance of extending the lead and have any hope of coming out on top in this one.
3rd Period Thoughts: Well that was a waste of the remaining 39 seconds of the power play. You need to apply pressure against teams like Nashville. But instead it felt pretty passive. Of course once that power play ended it allowed other players to take to the ice and apply the much needed pressure. That pressure became goal number 30 for Zucker. I feel a little better with a two goal lead, but just minimally, because as the old saying goes, the 2 goal lead is the worst lead in hockey. If we don’t see a major push by the Predators in the next couple of minutes, I’d be shocked. Instead, we’re seeing a push by Minnesota, with another great chance by Coyle on Rinne. And then we had a skating clinic by Zucker that put Rinne on the defensive. But then we’re again seeing some of that sloppy play by the Wild. However, it’s the Predators sloppy play which included a delay of game penalty by Roman Josi that would put the Wild back on the power play. Now for the average team when they get this many power play opportunities, you would think they would cash in at least now and then. I swear the Wild’s sponsor for the power play should be Unisom or Z-Quil. Perhaps if the power play was sponsored by say Ex Lax, they might have an little more urgency. Of course that just might cause bigger problems than just a boring power play. As we head into the second half of the third period I expect to see Nashville turn up both the offense and the physical side of the game. We’ve seen Niederreiter get tied up in some after the whistle antics, but so far he’s avoided the stuff that sends players to the penalty box. Foligno has also gotten involved with some of the scrums as well. If the Wild can avoid getting drawn into taking penalties, Minnesota has a chance in this one. The moments of sloppy passes is as undisciplined that this team can afford to get. And just as I’m talking about staying disciplined, Dubnyk would get called for delay of game. Now is the time for smart, defensive play. The first half of the kill showed just that, with deep, well time clearing of the puck. They also had some offensive chances which were really more used to eat up time. With just over four minutes remaining in regulation both Seeler (roughing) and Hartell (boarding) would go to the box. In a strange turn of events Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette was ejected for the game after his relentless badgering of referee Gord Dwyer after the call on Hartnell. I honestly can’t remember the last time a coach was ejected in any game or in any game involving the Wild. I’m sure Jacques Lemaire came close, but it was more his style to complain about the officials after the game and then get fined for it. I mean coaches get hot during games, but Laviolette really had to unleash on Dwyer to get himself booted from the game. The Predators would pull Rinne in an attempt to attempt a chance at overtime. It would cost them with Parise scoring an empty net goal. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting this outcome against the Predators. I really was expecting the horror show. I’ll take this kind of game. Now we just need to lather, rinse, repeat against Boston tomorrow night and then Tuesday night in Nashville.
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Eric Staal, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Matt Cullen, Daniel Winnik, Nino Niederreiter, Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Foligno, Tyler Ennis, Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Ryan Murphy, Nate Prosser and Nick Seeler. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Gustav Olofsson and Zack Mitchell were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star, Jason Zucker; 2nd Star Nino Niederreiter; 3rd Star, Marcus Foligno.
~ Attendance was 19,303 at Xcel Energy Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Jacob Golden (London, OHL) ~ he may have had just two goals during the regular season but the former Harvard commit had a goal in London’s 5-4 loss to Owen Sound on Thursday. The Attack have a 1-0 lead in the series.
RW – Dmitry Sokolov (Barrie, OHL) ~ the talented winger had an assist and 6 shots on goal in Barrie’s 6-2 loss to Mississauga on Thursday. The Steelheads have a 1-0 series lead on the Colts.
RW – Kirill Kaprizov (CSKA Moscow, KHL) ~ the talented winger had a goal in CSKA Moscow’s heartbreaking 2-1 FIVE overtime loss to Jokerit on Thursday night. He then had an assist in CSKA Moscow’s 4-3 series clinching victory. Kaprizov has a goal, 6 points, 4 PIM’s and is a +3 in 10 playoff games.
RW – Nick Swaney (Minnesota-Duluth, NCHC) ~ the freshman scored the game-tying goal as Minnesota-Duluth rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 in overtime against in-state rival Minnesota State in the NCAA West Regional. Swaney has 6 goals, 22 points, 6 PIM’s and is a +9 in 32 games.