I think everyone knew the Wild was going to find itself tested in a way it hasn’t throughout most of this season playing against a determined if little ornery Colorado squad. The pace to start the game was predictably fast and furious while the Wild were doing what they could to slow them down with some physical play and then take their chances to go on the attack. It was kind of like watching a high speed chess match of punch and counter punch, and Wild Head Coach Dean Evason was savvy with his line changes. He knew that to stop the Colorado top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog it was best to have the Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Kevin Fiala line out there. He did not want to put the red-hot line of Mats Zuccarello, Victor Rask and Kirill Kaprizov was not well suited to trying to defend against that top unit.
After a back and forth first 10 minutes, the Wild would strike first as Kaprizov poked a puck behind Colorado’s defense to create a 2-on-1 with Zuccarello which eventually turned into a 3-on-1 as Rask hustled into the play and they capitalized on a pretty tic-tac-toe play with Zuccarello netting his 3rd goal in 5 games on a sharp angle shot that beat Philipp Grubauer. This line continued to cause fits in the offensive zone for Colorado who couldn’t seem to get the puck away from Zuccarello and Kaprizov. Yet give credit to the Wild’s 4th line whose collection of 6’2″+ bodies did a great job of denying time and space and asserting their size and strength along the boards. This helped neutralize some of Colorado’s speed and prevented them from working pucks to the middle of the ice. The Avalanche still had some close chances as Nazem Kadri moved in all alone and rang a shot off the post late in the period. But give Kaapo Kahkonen as he denied Valeri Nichushkin on attempt from the top of the crease with a big leg pad save. Colorado pressed hard in the closing minute, but Kahkonen and some good urgency defensively helped Minnesota carry a 1-0 lead into the 1st intermission.
In the 2nd period, the Avalanche had nearly back-to-back power plays to start the period. Minnesota’s penalty killers were timely with their poke checks and Kaapo Kahkonen was poised as he stopped Colorado’s shooters from in close or from long range to preserve the Wild lead. Jonas Brodin Eriksson Ek and Kahkonen were especially impressive on the penalty kill. Yet the Avalanche are still speedy and dangerous and the Kaprizov-Zuccarello line would get caught deep in the Colorado zone and they counter attack with speed as J.T. Compher sniped a one-timer to tie the game at 1-1. Minnesota seemed to be less assertive as they sat back more and allowing the Avalanche to build up speed through the neutral zone. Minnesota didn’t register a shot until almost 10 minutes into the 2nd period.
The Wild’s next shot would be more important as Matt Dumba pulled the trigger from the point that was redirected by Zach Parise to make it 2-1 Minnesota on Parise’s 800th point of his NHL career. Both teams would take penalties just seconds a part to make it 4-on-4 hockey for almost 2 minutes. One would think this would suit a faster club like Colorado, instead we would be treated to the Kirill Kaprizov show. Kaprizov put on a clinic as he handled the puck and just kept his feet moving as he circled multiple times in the Colorado zone as he kept trying to set up teammates for scoring chances until he was finally denied on a wrap around opportunity himself. The strong shift seemed to give the Wild some momentum and they’d strike as Ryan Hartman fetched a puck below the goal line of the Colorado zone and he’d set up Marcus Foligno for a shorthanded goal to put Minnesota up 3-1. The Avalanche would again try to press the attack to try to cut into that lead and again Kahkonen and the Wild’s team defense was able to keep Colorado at bey and Minnesota’s two-goal lead intact.
The 3rd period would start with some shenanigans as the arena horn at Ball Arena sounded on a few occasions stopping play as the officials tried to figure out what was going wrong. A holding call on Ian Cole would prove costly early in the period as the Avalanche would set up Kadri from the slot that beat Kahkonen to cut the Wild lead to one, 3-2. At this point the Wild were playing rope-a-dope as they were chipping pucks out of the zone and more or less just giving it away. The Wild would start to tighten up defensively, and slowly but surely Minnesota would begin to take back momentum. It all started with a great effort by Kaprizov to win a battle along the wall and he’d turn away from an Avalanche defender and then he’d swing a pass towards the goal where he found Hartman for pretty goal from in close. 4-2 Wild. With Colorado still stunned from Hartman’s tally, the Wild would strike again as Nick Bjugstad found Nico Sturm behind the defense and he’d race in on a breakaway before beating Grubauer 5-hole. 5-2 Wild to astonishment from the Avalanche bench. Minnesota continued to circle the wagons around Kahkonen as Colorado tried to cut into the Wild’s lead by throwing every puck they could towards the goal and hoping for the best. Colorado would pull Grubauer for an extra attacker with about 3 minutes left in regulation. Kadri looked poised to score on a yawning net but Bjugstad would poke the puck away at the last moment, and instead it was Nico Sturm burying an empty netter (his 2nd goal of the game) to seal a 6-2 victory. Kaapo Kahkonen was again rock solid making timely saves to prevent Colorado from clawing their way back into the game by piling up 30 saves tonight.
What did you think of the Minnesota Wild’s performance tonight? Tell us on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist!
Mats Zuccarello making up for lost time
I will admit, I haven’t always been the most kind to Mats Zuccarello. I wasn’t a (and to be honest I still am not) a fan of his contract he was given by former General Manager Paul Fenton shortly into free agency back in the summer of 2019. I thought the Wild gave him too much term (5 years) at too high of a price ($6 million per season), but the no movement clause for the first few years of the deal really annoyed me the most given there is a fair possibility the organization will have to protect him in the Seattle expansion draft. Having to protect just about any player over the age of 30 makes me cringe, especially if it means being forced to part ways with a younger player.
So enough about that, its all about the now for the top scoring Norwegian-born player in NHL history. After coming off of wrist surgery that had him miss the start of the 2021 NHL season, he’s been piling up the points the last few games. Playing along side Victor Rask (who is making his own case for his own comeback kind of story these days) and Kirill Kaprizov, he seems to have developed some chemistry and has looked perhaps the most comfortable we’ve seen since the team acquired him a season ago.
Perhaps a big reason for that comfort is finally feeling healthy. He revealed to the media at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season that he was struggling with a wrist injury all season long and didn’t feel normal since he arrived to the team. So perhaps its just the restored confidence of not worrying about injuring his wrist further that has allowed him to elevate his game back to what we saw when he played with the New York Rangers. With 3 goals and 9 points in just 5 games this season he’s already put himself on the Wild’s top 5 list of scorers this season and hopefully he continues to play well!
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Andrei Svetlakov (CSKA Moscow, KHL) ~ The 4th liner keeps plugging away for CSKA Moscow as he had an assist on 1 shot and went 8-for-12 on his draws in a shade under 13 minutes of ice time in their 3-0 win over Severstal Cherepovets on Tuesday. Svetlakov has a career-high 7 goals, 20 points, 34 PIM’s and is a +11 in 46 games.
D – Brennan Menell (Dinamo Minsk, KHL) ~ The ‘Woodbury Workhorse’ had a secondary assist on 8 shots on goal and was a -2 with 26:05 of ice time in Dinamo Minsk’s 6-5 overtime loss to Amur Khabarovsk. Menell has 5 goals, 38 points, 58 PIM’s and is a +6 in 46 games.
G – Filip Lindberg (UMass, H-East) ~ The Finnish-born goaltender’s strong season continued on Tuesday when he made 30 saves in UMass’ 8-1 rout of Providence. Lindberg has a 3-1-3 record, 1.39GAA and a .947%SP with 2 shutouts.
High School Hockey Report:
Here are your Girls Hockey Top 10 Rankings from Let’s Play Hockey for both Class A and Class AA as of today, February 24th, 2021.
#1 Chisago Lakes
#3 Proctor / Hermantown
#4 Mound Westonka
#6 Gentry Academy
#7 South St. Paul
#9 River Lakes
#4 Benilde-St. Margaret’s
#7 Lakeville South
#9 Maple Grove
#10 Brainerd / Little Falls