Friday, April 4, 2008

Wild 3, Flames 1 (8/8)

At last.

That is the feeling across Minnesota tonight, as the Wild came up with their single best game, start to finish, of the season as they defeated the Calgary Flames 3-1 before a roaring, raucous sellout crowd of 18,568 Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center.

It was 'Fan Celebration Night' as well, as the Wild thanked the throng for their seventh straight year of home game sell-outs. every game ever played at the 'X' has been played in front of a full house.

The Flames did their best to douse the hopes of the party, as Damond Langkow did his best Jarome Iginla imitation to score all alone in front of an open net after Iginla fed him perfectly on the power play at 2:41 of the first period.

Just over three minutes later, Todd Fedoruk (voted 3rd star of the night) dropped one behind Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff after Pavol Demitra and Marian Gaborik did their best Slovakian give-and-go to tie the score at 1-1. The period was punctuated by Brent Burns as he and Calgary's Dion Phaneuf went toe-to-toe at 19:04, with Phaneuf tying up Burns early, but once Burnsie got loose of his jersey, Phaneuf was doomed.

The second period was an up-and-down affair, with both Kiprusoff and Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom stonewalling both opposition offenses. It was a fast second stanza, with a lot of close-checking action.

The third period was there for the taking, and the Wild struck first just over one minute in as Marian Gaborik scored his 41st goal of the season, a breakaway set up by Demitra's well-timed breakout pass ending with a sweet snap shot flying past Kipper's glove and into the net at 1:11.

About three minutes later, an uproar ensued after referee Chris Lee's ultra-fast whistle cost the Wild a Gaborik stuff-in goal as Kiprusoff failed to stop the puck and it cleared the goal line in Miikka's glove-side corner. The ensuing boos and verbal assault lasted virtually the rest of the evening, egged on by the many in-house replays of the incorrect call.

The Flames pressed the attack after that, with coach Mike Keenan not letting his fourth line see the ice at all in the third period. In fact, for a time Dion Phaneuf was used as a de facto fourth forward during the middle 10 minutes.

As a Cory Sarich tripping penalty was waning away midway thru the period, Gaborik wristed a centering pass softly past Kiprusoff at 13:11, 12 minutes after his first of the night. The wrister was Gabby's 42nd of the season, assisted by Kim Johnsson and Sean Hill.

Most of the last 2:30 had the fans on their feet as Calgary desperately tried to pull Kiprusoff for a sixth attacker; they finally succeeded at 18:57, but by then it was too late, as the Wild had the Flames figured out. The empty net, an inviting target at any time, was the target for several Wild shots in the waning seconds but none went in; all were brought out beyond the center line so icing would not be called.

The crowd, long known for their collective 'sit on your hands' attitude, was as loud as most have ever heard them as time expired and the Wild stood at center ice, saluting the crowd, as the crowd cheered loudly every time the phrase '2007-08 Northwest Division Champions' was heard... last.

(Note: I'll let Nick do the Stud & Dud, and the rest of the post-game stuff later.)

For this Wild fan, the day couldn't have ended better. From the home of your 2007-08 Northwest Division Champions, I wish you a pleasant good night...

No comments: