It has been since March that I last had a Minnesota Wild post-gamer prepped and ready to go for game night for a game that never happened against the Vegas Golden Knights. Little did I realize I’d be composing my next one in early August and somehow it is still the same season but that’s life in a Covid-19 world as the Wild faceoff against their old Northwest Division rival Vancouver Canucks at Edmonton’s Rogers Arena.
With the 4-month long hiatus, NHL teams have had a chance to heal up and after being put through their paces at their respective training camps now are ready for the grind of the post-season. So with the freshness that you’d normally see for the start of a new season, how did these players handle Game 1 of their best of 5 series?
1st Period Thoughts: Vancouver would pin Minnesota in its end early, with a strong forecheck as the Wild tried to deal with the Canucks’ superior team speed. Minnesota was able to chip the puck out of the zone for a line change but the Canucks were able to quickly gather up the puck and send it deep into the Wild zone. It was here where Matt Dumba would check Elias Pettersson aggresively along the wall that the Canucks would take exception to. On the next shift, right at the drop of the puck, Marcus Foligno would drop the gloves with Michael Ferland. Ferland was throwing big right handed hooks, but the taller Foligno was able to hold the Canucks tough guy at a distance to stay out of range of those bombs. Foligno then started throwing a few big punches of his own and would wrestle Ferland to the ice. I’d say the fight was a draw as both players headed to the penalty box for fighting. The fight seemed to get Minnesota more engaged and they’d go on the attack. While outhusling the Canucks in their own end, Ryan Donato would draw a penalty. Minnesota would cash in quickly on the man advantage as Kevin Fiala wired a slap shot that trickled through Jacob Markstrom and the Wild took a 1-0 lead.
Markstrom got a chunk, but not enough. pic.twitter.com/WhREkjiNZK— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) August 3, 2020
The Wild continued to attack and would draw another penalty as Zach Parise was tripped up as he nearly swept in a puck near the Canucks crease. Vancouver’s penalty kill was more aggressive this time around and Minnesota struggled to get established in the offensive zone and spent most of the power play chasing the puck around the ice. The Wild were finishing their checks consistently and making Vancouver pay a physical price everytime they chased to the corner to retrieve a puck. The hitting would start to cause the Canucks to move the puck a bit earlier than they wanted to and that led to some turnovers. Fiala would set up Jonas Brodin for a shot form the high slot that he sent on goal that was blocked but the puck bounced out towards Fiala who pounced on it for a quick shot that Markstrom fought off. The Canucks would try to answer back and Tyler Myers stepped into a slap shot that snagged out of the air by a nice glove save by Alex Stalock. Vancouver tried to raise their physical game, taking chances to staple Wild players to the boards whenever the opportunity presented itself. Ryan Hartman would get hit up high by Tyler Toffoli at mid-ice and this briefly gave the Canucks a 2-on-1 but Toffoli’s blast would miss high and wide of the goal. Minnesota seemed to be dictating the pace of play and not giving Vancouver much time and space to work with. Vancouver would get its top line trying to start a cycle in the Wild zone and Minnesota strugged to clear the zone. A long pass by Chris Tanev was gathered up by Jay Beagle who skated in and fired a slap shot that was knocked down and dove upon by Stalock. Zach Parise would get caught holding Alexander Edler, but the Canucks would get caught with ‘too many men’ making it 4-on-4 instead of a Vancouver power play. A fortunate break for the Wild. The game would open up a bit over the next two minutes of play. Brandon Sutter would strip Fiala of the puck and he’d go on a solo rush that nearly managed to sneak through Stalock, who was just able to direct the biscuit to the corner. The Wild would hold on to keep its 1-0 lead going into the 1st intermission with the Canucks outshooting Minnesota 14-12.
2nd Period Thoughts: The Canucks were dicating the pace of play to start the 2nd, as Minnesota did its best to keep a tight gap on Vancouver skaters. Both clubs were wary of giving up bad turnover in their respective offensive zone. The Canucks 4th line nearly cashed in as Beagle swung and fired a shot from the slot that was partially blocked but Sutter sent a quick shot on goal that was denied by the leg pad of Stalock. Minnesota would get caught pinching that nearly gave the Canucks a 3-on-2 as Pettersson tried to saucer a cross-ice pass only to be thwarted by a sprawling stick check by Jared Spurgeon. Stalock would later come up with a big glove save on a blast from the point by Troy Stecher as Minnesota tried to weather the storm. The long change was exposing a little bit of the Wild’s collective fatigue as a lethargic pass could turn into a shift spent trying to defend in your own end of the ice. Minnesota’s fatigue was also evident as the team seemed to stop skating or moving with as much pace which also played a role in the fact the Wild were spending so much time in their own zone. The Canucks were causing some significant havoc while Minnesota was caught watching Vancouver wheel and deal. Vancouver’s defense was stepping up and holding the offensive zone and Quinn Hughes‘ presence was more evident as he was taking any chance to pull the trigger. Tanner Pearson would give Minnesota another power play as he slashed Carson Soucy at the end of a nice shift by the Wild’s 3rd line. The Wild were again opportunistic on the amn advantage as Eric Staal skated the puck down low opening up a lane to feed a pass to Spurgeon who sniped a shot by Markstrom. 2-0 Wild.
GOAL. Eric Staal feeds Jared Spurgeon with a gorgeous pass and Spurgeon scores on the power play to double the Wild lead.— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) August 3, 2020
The goal seemed to stun the Canucks a bit as they were not playing with the same level of physicality they once were. Minnesota seemed to be frustrating the Canucks as the Wild were working pucks deep making their shifts long and exhausting. Hartman would lay out Tanev with a big hit along the dasher in the Canucks zone and the pace of play would start to ramp up a bit over the last few minutes of the period. Stalock at times looked like he was reaching or pawing at the puck on some long shots taken by Hughes. Minnesota was content to just play conservatively to preserve their two goal lead going into the 2nd intermssion. It may not be the prettiest hockey to watch, but Minnesota was defending the middle of the ice very well and playing smart, safe hockey.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Canucks would take an early penalty as Tanner Pearson slashed the back of Stalock’s leg as he left his crease to play the puck. Minnesota didn’t do much of anything through the first minute of the power play as they struggled to get set up in the offensive zone. Their best chance on the power play, was a shot from the slot by Luke Kunin that was fought off by Markstrom and the Wild power play came up empty. Minnesota was taking every chance to work pucks deep and then try to establish their forecheck. Vancouver was starting to pinch more with its defense and the Wild nearly caught the Canucks being a little too aggressive as Fiala pushed a puck up to Staal for a partial breakaway where he went forehand to backhand but his backhander was stopped by the toe of Markstrom. You started to see Canucks’ forwards try to solo rush their way through the Wild’s defense but Minnesota was staying home defensively with good gap control. The frustration of Vancouver woud continue to grow as Michael Ferland would finish a check on Marcus Foligno near the Wild bench, where his stick was held onto by Luke Kunin who was on the bench. Ferland was incensed by the hold and he’d spear Hartman who was sitting next to Kunin in frustration as the Wild bench exchanged words with the Vancouver agitator. In the end, Hartman would go for grabbing the stick and Ferland would be given a slashing minor making for 2 minutes of 4-on-4 hockey much to the chagrin of the Wild coaching staff.
Here's what started the commotion. Hartman grabbed Ferland's stick from the bench, then Ferland speared him. Both players go to the box. We get 4-on-4 hockey. pic.twitter.com/tvqos32pFO— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) August 3, 2020
Kunin 😂 pic.twitter.com/BymW7JX5Ew— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) August 3, 2020
Alex Galchenyuk would try to take the initiative offensively after the two minutes of 4-on-4 play went by very quickly as he made a nice little dangle around Tanev for a chance from in close that was dismissed by Markstrom. The Wild were playing tight defensively, challenging the Canucks’ zone entries and hoping to catch Vancouver pinching. Minnesota seemed to be gaining more energy as the game went on as they forced Vancouver to spend time defending in its own end. Then strangely as the puck was racing into the Wild zone, the lights kind of flashed blacked out momentarily and play was stopped. Mikko Koivu would get called for interference as he shoved down Toffoli in a race for the puck giving Vancouver its first power play of the game. Minnesota’s penalty kill had good active sticks and they swarmed puck carriers to force a turnover and were able to clear the zone. The Canucks’ frustration continued to build as Minnesota challenged Vancouver’s zone entries. Vancouver would pull Markstrom with about 2 minutes left to play, and Minnesota at times was a bit scrambly in its own end but they were getting sticks and bodies into shooting lanes. Pettersson thought he was set up for a one-timer but his stick would explode into splinters as he tried to pull the trigger. Minnesota flirted with an empty net goal, but just couldn’t get it to go. Vancouver would call a timeout with about 52 seconds left to formulate a strategy. It didn’t help as the Wild would get the faceoff and Spurgeon would send the puck the length of the ice into the empty net to seal a 3-0 victory. Stalock had 28 saves in the shutout. Markstom had 28 saves in the loss.
Minnesota’s game plan was methodical. Deny time and space from the Canucks’ top two lines and stay out of the penalty box. The Canucks’ top players like Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller found themselves being closely shadowed by Wild forwards and defenseman all game long. With the tight checking, the Canucks struggled to create much in the way of any sustained offensive pressure throughout the game. The Wild were apt to avoid most of the thuggish shenanigans the Canucks wanted to engage in. Minnesota would be wise to follow that same game plan in Game 2.
~ The Wild roster tonight was: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Mats Zuccarello, Alex Galchenyuk, Kevin Fiala, Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, Ryan Hartman, Marcus Foligno, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Matthew Dumba, Brad Hunt and Carson Soucy. Devan Dubnyk backed up Alex Stalock. Victor Rask, Nico Sturm, Luke Johnson, Gerald Mayhew, Kyle Rau, Matt Bartkowski, Louie Belpedio, Brennan Menell, Mat Robson and Kaapo Kahkonen were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Alex Stalock, 2nd Star Jared Spurgeon, 3rd Star Kevin Fiala