After an emotional video tribute by the San Jose Sharks to ‘Mr. Shark’ Patrick Marleau as they celebrated the fact he broke the NHL games played record you have to wonder if his team was a little distracted by the emotional moment. Minnesota would strike just 19 seconds into the game as Ryan Suter took a shot off the rush that beat Martin Jones way too easily. 1-0 Wild. The Wild continued to dominate most of the period, as the Sharks seemed to be unprepared mentally and physically to play.
Minnesota would add to its lead as Joel Eriksson Ek would race into the San Jose zone and he’d feed a puck near the top of the crease where Marcus Foligno where Joachim Blichfield was unable to slow him and he would be there to tip a shot by Jones to put the Wild up 2-0. The Sharks just didn’t seem to have a lot of pushback to their game and Kaapo Kahkonen wasn’t tested all that much. The Wild would add a goal late as Jared Spurgeon would score off the rush on another goal that should’ve been stopped by Jones as Minnesota took a 3-0 lead into the 1st intermission.
Predictably, Sharks’ bench boss Bob Boughner swapped out Jones for Josef Korenar. Minnesota wasn’t quite as aggressive as they carried a 3-goal lead but they were not giving up much in the way of scoring chances to the Sharks either. It made sense to play conservatively at this point as a victory would clinch a spot in the post-season. Minnesota would add to their lead late in the period as Marcus Johansson would send a shot on goal that would be stopped by Korenar but the puck would bounce up into the air where it was batted into the net by an alert Kevin Fiala to give the Wild a 4-0 advantage going into the 3rd.
The 3rd period was probably one that will gnaw at Wild Head Coach Dean Evason‘s patience as the team got a bit loose defensively and I think one can argue the goaltending also was a bit suspect as well. The Sharks would cut the Wild lead back to 3 as a shot by Timo Meier would be stopped by Kahkonen but he was out of position as Logan Couture crashed the net and was able to shovel the puck from his knees into the back of the net. 4-1 Wild. Minnesota would answer back on the power play as Fiala would draw a few Sharks’ defenders towards him and he’d send a pass into the slot to a wide open Kirill Kaprizov and the rookie would wire a shot by Korenar to make it 5-1 Wild.
The Sharks would answer back less than 20 seconds later as Evander Kane would find the back of the net to cut the Wild lead back to three, 5-2. San Jose would would add another a little less than 2 minutes later as Joachim Blichfield scored off the rush, beating Kahkonen top shelf, glove-side to cut the Wild lead to 5-3. Minnesota would regroup and go back to defending with a greater attention to detail and pretty soon the Sharks’ scoring chances were few and far between. The Wild would add an empty net goal late as Nick Bonino found the back of the net to seal a 6-3 victory. Kahkonen had 27 saves in the win.
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Nico Sturm Finds Another Gear
When the Wild signed Nico Sturm as a college free agent in 2019 it was understandable that fans were hesitant to get too excited about the German-born player. Afterall the team had been there before as the team once signed highly-touted college free agent Casey Wellman and he never really took off as many expected after his days at the University of Massachusetts. I think part of that disappointment were the expectations placed upon Wellman where Wild fans were expecting to see a plug-and-play player that would provide instant offense and it didn’t happen.
Nico Sturm was one of the top college free agents available, where he was team captain and workhorse for Clarkson University. He was lauded for his outstanding work ethic on and off the ice and his leadership; while they mentioned he had some skill to go with his skating and strength he wasn’t expected to be big time scorer. That helped temper expectations but he looked good in his initial NHL debut.
Then he spent a good portion of last year biding his time in Iowa where he played on either of the team’s top two lines. He continued to impress team management with his commitment to fitness and his outstanding effort. He worked his way onto the 4th line and he has played well. But it hasn’t been without some setbacks. He was benched for a short time as the team was unhappy over the fact he wasn’t finishing his checks.
Sturm took those lessons to heart and has been outstanding in his return as he has developed great chemistry with linemates Nick Bonino and Zach Parise as the so-called 4th line has been factoring in offensively. That has been important in Minnesota being able to pull away from the pack and stay with the top 3 clubs of the West Division. It is great testament to his character to see that he’s learned from that lesson and continues to progress in his development.
Iowa 3, Rockford 2
The game started with a bad turnover a little over 3 minutes into the period by Matt Boldy which resulted in an easy goal for Rockford’s Chris Wilkie to give the Ice Hogs a 1-0 advantage. Iowa would answer back as Boldy would redeem himself by applying pressure on the forecheck that caused a turnover that Gerald Mayhew was able to pounce on to make it 1-1. However, the good feelings would be short-lived as Rockford would re-take the lead just a minute later as Garrett Mitchell beat Dereck Baribeau just a minute after Mayhew’s goal to give the Ice Hogs a 2-1 advantage. In the last minute of the period, Wilkie would get a 5-minute major for elbowing that gave Iowa a power play going into the 2nd.
Perhaps sensing his team needed to change things up mentally, Wild Head Coach Tim Army would swap out goaltender Baribeau for Hunter Jones to start the period. Iowa would capitalize on the man advantage as Connor Dewar ripped a from above the left faceoff circle to tie the game at 2-2. Jones was very sharp, stopping all 12 shots he faced in the period. Iowa would get the go ahead goal with 5 minutes left in the period as Brandon Duhaime would score off the rush off a nice pass by Gabriel Dumont to give the Wild a 3-2 lead going into the 3rd.
In the 3rd period, Iowa would try to lock things down defensively and Jones again provided the stability needed between the pipes as his rebound control was excellent and the Ice Hogs were not able to gain any real momentum. The Wild would earn a 3-2 victory and Jones stopped all 20 shots he faced in the latter two periods of play. The win puts Iowa in 4th place in the AHL’s Central Division based on their win percentage (.538).
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Adam Beckman (Spokane, WHL) ~ The Chiefs struggled mightily against in-state rival Everett as they were outscored 11-1 in two games including a 6-1 loss on Friday night. The Wild prospect had an assist on 5 shots in Friday’s loss. Beckman has 9 goals, 17 points, 2PIM’s and is a -5 in 14 games.
C – Andrei Svetlakov (CSKA Moscow) ~ The 4th line center did not have a good day on his draws as he went 4-for-14 but he was making his presence felt as he dished out 5 hits and one blocked shot in CSKA Moscow’s 2-1 win over Avangard Omsk on Thursday. On Saturday it was a different story as he only recorded 2 hits and went 7-for-17 on his draws in CSKA’s 4-3 OT loss to Avangard Omsk. CSKA Moscow are tied in their Gagarin Cup series 2-2. Svetlakov has a goal, 4 points, 10 PIM’s and is an ‘even’ in 21 playoff games.