Maybe this was just a big plot by DR and JL all along. You know, the old "they peaked way too early last season and were dogmeat in the playoffs so we're going to keep a firm grip on them this season and only unleash them the last 15 games or so" routine. As Machiavellian as those two are, I wouldn't put it past them. The only thing I can't figure out is how they paid off Ohlund to assault Koivu.
Anyhoo, the Wild played one of their better games of the whole season last night, and earned a tiny bit of breathing room atop the ridiculous mess that is the Northwest Division right now.
The checkers were a main story line for the third game in a row, with Radio and SRV both scoring, and helping out defensively as well. Last year in the playoffs, the Fowl got a huge boost from their checking line (Pahlsson/R. Niedermayer/a dude I don't remember). They got it done at both ends of the ice. If SRV and Radio (plus whoever is their third) can produce the same effort for the Wild it will be huge.
Brent Burns took a lazy DOG penalty for shooting the puck out of play that lead to a 5:3 for the Avs early in the game. The Wild killed it off - which was huge - and then Burnsie made up for it with his 14th goal of the season, and on the power play no less. He would later assist on Radio's GWG.
Among the more encouraging signs in this game was the team's overall grit and willingness to stick up for each other/protect Backstrom (who also had a very strong game - nothing he could have done on the one goal, and several big saves at key moments). The defense was engaged and effective all game I thought - and Skoula continued his strong play of late. Other than some early trouble, I thought they did a great job clearing the zone when they got in trouble, and that's my litmus test for how they're playing on a given night.
Pouliot looked pretty solid, if a little conservative, but earned his ice time the whole game. You can't really ask for much more than that at this point.
It was a satisfying effort - and a needed win as they head out on this big road trip.
Overall: Wild leads 4-2-0 (GF 16, GA 13)
In Minny: Wild leads 3-0-0 (GF 10, GA 4)
In Denver: Wild trails 1-2-0 (GF 6, GA 9)
CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: While you often need puck luck to win, you certainly can't count on it. The Wild got some breaks which helped immensely.
POLLYANNA SAYS: There's a feeling they are building toward something good - and at the right time of year, too!
BOTTOM LINE: Huge two points, in regulation (you're welcome Calgary and Vancouver), setting up a big road trip.
STUD: Backstrom was extremely solid - particularly in the third as the Avs mounted wave after wave of furious attack.
DUD: Demo was again a non-factor and even took a dumb penalty (which I thought was in the O-zone). We need him, and we need him NOW.
Up Next: The Wild heads out on the road for four games, starting Wednesday in San Jose. Then a brutal B2B Friday and Saturday in Vancouver and then Calgary.