While many hockey fans’ eyes might be fixated by high school hockey, the Minnesota Wild find itself in crucially important games. No easy task tonight as the Wild face the NHL’s best club (at least record-wise) in the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Wild are coming off at a home-at-home and now they’re in the 1st night of a back to back. The Lightning are rolling to the finish as they hold a 17-point lead over the nearest team in the league, let alone their division. Must be nice eh? The Wild have found ways to overcome teams at the top earlier this season, but can they shut down Tampa Bay tonight?
1st Period Thoughts: In less than 30 seconds, I’m already yelling at Ryan Suter. He could have easily kept the puck in the offensive zone, but no, he stands there watching the puck exit the zone. Tonight’s opponent is such that you can’t even give them an inch of latitude. I mean, the start to this game hasn’t been bad, especially the amazing chance early by Joel Eriksson Ek, but of course when you’re up against Andrei Vasilevskiy getting one past him is going to be tough. And on the other end of the ice, Devon Dubnyk will most likely find himself rather busy tonight. Unfortunately, we’ve seen some questionable non-calls already, most notably Ryan Donato taken down behind Vasilevskiy before the puck even got to him. I guess as long as the non-calls are even on both sides, I’ll deal with it, as will the players. With just over 13 minutes remaining in the period, Donato would draw the first penalty, sending Tyler Johnson to the box for holding. For the first half of the man-advantage, it definitely has looked like the power play we’re accustomed to, meaning they can’t get anything set up. The best chance would come from a Brad Hunt shot with an Eric Staal rebound, but Tampa would successfully kill the penalty. Finally, the Wild would get the first goal of the game with a beautiful rush and pass by Jason Zucker to Donato, who didn’t wait to shoot. The goal will either go to Donator or Zucker with a possible tip-in or deflection. The goal would be awarded to Zucker. I’ve been pleased to see that the Wild keep trying to score as well, which this is definitely a good sign. Again, you can’t give the Lightning too much room to breathe, so the more goals the Wild get on the board, the better. Even better, they’ve found a way so far to keep Tampa Bay to the perimeter, which is no easy feat. In the last five our so minutes, there seems to be a lot more time spent in the Minnesota end. Thankfully, the Wild are able to get to the loose pucks, block shots, and clear the zone. It also helps when Dubnyk is so far having a great game. I almost feel like we’re seeing a bit of the Dubnyk we met when he first came to Minnesota and was lights out. Another clear thing, is that Donato is very direct and efficient. He skates fast, hard, and generally in a straight line. He’s not going to slow down or meander on the ice waiting for reinforcements. If he skates into the zone and the puck is on his stick, he’s going to traverse the shortest distance between point A and point B and he’s going to get a quick shot on goal. It’s such a refreshing change, that I almost don’t know how to handle it. Going into this game, I certainly wasn’t expecting heading into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead. Now, we just need to figure out a way to keep this going.
2nd Period Thoughts: I’m hoping we don’t get our typical, disappointing second period. Within the first minute, Luke Kunin would get called for holding. It took a long time for Minnesota to gain possession, but eventually the whistle was blown. Now we get to see an explosive power play, and even worse, it doesn’t matter which of Tampa’s skaters are on the ice. Everyone and anyone is dangerous. With the less than spectacular (but better recently) penalty kill, you have to feel some trepidation. Minnesota would successfully kill the penalty. After the kill, Minnesota would again try to generate offense of their own. One thing that has been evident, is that more and more players are looking for the loose pucks, and players like Jordan Greenway are willing to use their bodies to do so. When you have young players stepping up pretty much every time you turn around, you see them trying to make a difference. However at the same time with them trying to make a difference, they also put themselves in dangerous situations. Kunin would be the next victim to be sent down the tunnel, after taking a hit by Cedric Paquette. As Derek said jokingly, looks like Matt Read will get called back up. There have been some almost deadly chances by Nikita Kucherov, and you have to think at some point either he, Viktor Hedman, or Steven Stamkos will get their team on the board. I have to say that tonight, and even in the two losses to Nashville, that I’ve truly enjoyed these games. We’re seeing a Wild team that we haven’t seen in a long time. Minnesota would head back to the power play thanks to Zucker skating hard and drawing the hooking penalty on Mathieu Joseph. I have to ask the obvious question here. Do we not have a better option than Pontus Aberg on the power play? Either Bruce Boudreau is being forced by Paul Fenton to play him for some ridiculous reason, or they’re only playing him to avoid over-playing other players. Heck, I would rather have Marcus Foligno on the power play than Aberg. Tampa would kill this penalty as well, however Minnesota did create a lot of traffic in the offensive zone, again another positive. Kevin Fiala is also trying to get the Wild another goal, he had a beautiful attempt on Vasilevskiy, which would be stopped and cleared. That clear sent a break away in the opposite direction by Anthony Cirelli and Dubnyk came up big. I believe ultimately what has happened here tonight, is that the Wild are preventing the Lightning from generating any sort of energy and flow. For an extremely offensive team like Tampa Bay, that is probably getting really frustrating. So heading back to the intermission, the Wild still have the 1-0 lead. It will be interesting to see how the Lightning come out for the third.
3rd Period Thoughts: Only 15 times this season, have the Lightning entered the third period trailing. In those 15 games, they have a record of 6-9-0. That’s certainly a sign that the Wild absolutely can’t rest on the few laurels they possess. And it will be even harder, as Minnesota is still without Kunin on the bench. I can’t express how nice it is to watch a game, where the Wild are moving their feet. During that extended stretch of many losses, it felt like night after night of watch players just standing there watching the puck. Even when the Wild find themselves trapped in their own zone, they still move their feet. This is also why they’re getting to the loose pucks that on many nights they failed to do so. This then allows the Wild to get the puck back into the Tampa zone. They would press and press and press, and it would become a goal by Eric Staal off of a Donato shot. It would be reviewed for batting it in with a high stick. The question would be if it was Staal or Zucker. After the review by the officials and by Toronto, it would be declared a good goal, and it was a goal by Zucker and not Staal. Minnesota would get another chance on the power play after Aberg was tackled by Kucherov. Even better, it was a long delayed penalty and the Wild were able to kill some time off of the clock. For the first minute, Tampa was able to keep Minnesota to the perimeter. With 38 seconds remaining in the power play, the Lightning would Paquette would be guilty of hooking Staal who was trying to get a shot on goal. Like most power plays, it takes Minnesota awhile to get set up, so the Lightning would be able to kill the first of the two penalties. Tampa would kill both penalties and get a great scoring chance by Stamkos, again however they were thwarted by Dubnyk. Greenway had an amazing shift with about six minutes remaining. His size and determination did a lot to take more time off the clock and to force the Lightning deep into their zone. Minnesota would unfortunately head back to the penalty kill after Jared Spurgeon was tagged for slashing. I have to say this penalty kill was one of the kills we saw earlier in the season when it was one of the best in the league. Skaters and goaltender working in seemingly perfect harmony. Even better was the shorthanded forecheck by Foligno which almost became a goal by Eric Fehr. With just under three minutes remaining, the Lightning would pull Vasilevskiy, and put their primary power play skaters on the ice. Zucker almost tucked away his third of the night on the empty net. Zucker would get another chance on the empty net after a back and forth with Staal, and make it 3-0 Minnesota. That would also end up being the final score, with Dubnyk definitely earning his second shutout of the season. So now, the Wild have beat the best team in the Western Conference on the road and the best team in the Eastern Conference on the road. If you had asked me to predict any of these scores last month, I would have laughed at you. I’m happy that is not the case now.
Wild Notes: ~ The Wild roster was as follows: Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Luke Kunin, Pontus Aberg, Kevin Fiala, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, Ryan Donato, Marcus Foligno, Eric Fehr, J.T. Brown, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Brad Hunt, Greg Pateryn and Nick Seeler.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star, Jason Zucker; 2nd Star, Devan Dubnyk; 3rd Star, Ryan Donato.
~ Attendance was 19,092 at Amalie Arena.
Wild Prospect Report: C – Alexander Khovanov (Moncton, QMJHL) ~ the shifty Russian has two helpers on two shots and went 9-for-16 on his draws in the Wildcats’ 4-3 shootout loss to Cape Breton. Khovanov has 24 goals, 67 points, 92 PIM’s and is a +6 in 59 games.
High School Hockey Report: (Spoiler Alert) The 2019 State Tournament began yesterday with Boys Class A action wrapping up. Here is a run quick down on the games from yesterday.
#2 St. Cloud Cathedral 7-0 def. North Branch ~ Nate Warner had a had trick as Cathedral rolled to an opening round victory. Noah Amundson had 15 saves in the win. Jake Turek had 36 saves in the loss for the Vikings.
#3 East Grand Forks 5-2 def. Minnesota River ~ Tanner Mack and Landon Parker both had two goals as the Green Wave rolled to a victory. Jade Reicks had both goals for the Bulldogs. Tucker Brown stopped 19 shots in the victory.
#1 Mahtomedi 6-0 def. New Ulm ~ Jack Raymond made 49 saves for the Eagles, but it still wasn’t enough as the Zephyrs overwhelmed New Ulm. J.D. Metz and Tom Paradise both had two goals each for Mahtomedi. Freshman goaltender Ben Dardis had just 7 saves through two and a 1/2 periods of work for Mahtomedi.
#4 Greenway 6-4 def. #5 Delano ~ the last game of Wednesday night certainly was the most exciting as Delano jumped out to a 3-1 lead after one, but Greenway would rally in the 2nd to make the game 3-3 going into the 3rd. Donte Lawson was everything as advertised as he had 2 goals and 2 helpers; while fellow Raider Christian Miller had two helpers as well as the game winning goal. Greenway was down 4-3 early in the 3rd and then rallied again with 3 goals to prevail 6-4. Delano’s Kory Dunnigan had 2 goals for the Tigers and Aaron Kruse had 33 saves in the loss.