Monday, April 21, 2008
The idea is that every season we get treated to a hard working, honest team that shows slow-yet-measurable evolution towards the perennial "evergreen" contender status enjoyed by the true heavyweights in the league. I would guess Detroit fits that mold. Maybe Ottawa.
This means we might not get a look at Lord Stanley's mug for a while but, when we do get to the point where we're legitimately in the running for it, we should be able to sustain that for a long time/ever.
So my expectation for this season was to see an improvement over last year's one win in the playoffs.
Seriously, though, I think the team definitely showed some improvement. I think they wrestled with trying to be more offensive and tougher all season, and with obvious growing pains along the way. They definitely stayed more healthy than in the past (Mikko's leg notwithstanding). True, they were not as defensively sound as in years past, but when you're trying to push more on offense, you're bound to give up more (and more quality) chances. This also leads to more pressure on the goalies - neither of whom is all-world at this point - and when they give up more goals (or goals at crucial times) it appears as though they are not as good as they were before.
That all being said, there are still big holes on the team. The largest, in my opinion, is the clear lack of impact leadership. I am willing to say that they are "grooming" the leaders of tomorrow - who will, presumably, blossom around the same time as the team reaches evergreen contender status. But after Walz skated off into the sunset, it was clear that they did not have a viable "grab 'em by the short hairs and demand accountability" guy in the room.
Would it have mattered in the playoffs? Maybe not. To be honest, I wasn't too disappointed with their play against Colorado. I thought they did a good job of controlling the play, certainly out-chanced the Avalanche and might have won but for Theodore's brilliance.
I did feel as though JL got outcoached by Quenneville - even in St. Paul - which is a little alarming. It just always seemed like Colorado was okay with the matchups they got. Maybe that's because they're just a good team. There is some grumbling about whether or not he lost the team this season, which is, to me, an extension of the question of whether or not JL is the coach to take this team to the next level. It is widely held that he is a master at teaching the game to the younger players, but if the idea is that the Wild is ready to take the next step towards legitimacy, then maybe that's moving outside his realm?
There will be time for breaking down the team in the days/weeks/months (sigh) to come between now and the draft. So, for now, I will close with two points.
First, and most importantly, thank you for reading this season. While I consider this to be more of a cathartic shunt than a voice for myself, it is humbling and thrilling to think that you at least take the time to pick your way through my ramblings.
Second, the Wild is going to be fine. They have a great core, and they're building in the right direction, in the right way. While it might take longer than we ALL want for that to pay dividends, only one team wins the Cup each season - and, to be honest, it probably wasn't ever going to be us this year.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
But even the return of Nick Schultz 12 days after emergency appendectomy surgery could not help the Minnesota Wild stave off elimination as the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Wild 2-1 to win the best-of-seven series 4 game to 2.
Schultz played over 16 minutes, nearly a normal game, but the ultimate undoing of the Wild was due to their continuing anemic offense, as three of their top 6 forwards -- Marian Gaborik, Pavol Demitra, and Eric Belanger -- combined for a grand total of one goal (by Demitra) and three assists (two by Demitra and one last night by Gaborik) over the six games of the series.
Ben Guite, young 3rd-line winger and veteran Ryan Smyth, a.k.a. 'Captain Canada' for his international play -- both found the twine for the Avs, who now wait to face either Detroit, San Jose or Dallas in the second round of the playoffs.
The Wild end the season as the only 2007-2008 division champion not to at least go to a Game 7 in their first round series; the Northwest Division winner has been eliminated in the first round in 4 of the last 5 seasons.
What will the future hold for the Wild? Nine current members of the roster (Carney, Hill, Nummelin, Simon, Demitra, Rolston, Radivojevic, Fedoruk, Voros) will all become unrestricted free agents on July 1st. Another (Pierre-Marc Bouchard) will become a restricted free agent (the kind that Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe loves to covet), so there will be a significant overhaul of the playing roster during the summer. But, the largest key to the player puzzle will be the upcoming final season of Marian Gaborik's contract in 2008-09; he could come with upwards of a $10 Million/year price tag, and the Wild need to ask themselves: Do they want to possibly get into a Kevin Garnett-esque situation, having a significant portion of their salary cap tied to one player?
All we as fans can do is sit back and watch what happens.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Friday, April 18, 2008
With two very ill-advised turnovers in the third period, the Colorado Avalanche moved to within one game of advancing in the NHL Western Conference playoffs by defeating the Minnesota Wild 3-2 Thursday night before 19,364 loud Wild fans at Xcel Energy Center. Colorado now leads the series 3 games to 2.
The Wild will face elimination on Saturday evening at Pepsi Center, Denver (8 PM MDT: Versus, CBC, Altitude, FSN North) and from what I saw tonight, there's little reason to expect otherwise.
The 'Marian Gaborik watch' continues, as he has not scored a single point in this series. The Wild captain is so gripped by this drought, he has, IMO, stopped effectively skating altogether. Despite scoring a goal in game 2, Pavol Demitra has virtually done nothing else. Eric Belanger? Qui? The Wild offense is being carried by Brian Rolston and Mikko Koivu, and precious little else.
The defense is operating short-handed, with 2 good defensemen (Johnsson, Burns), 2 bad defensemen (Hill, Nummelin) and two defensemen who leave a lot to be desired (Carney, Skoula). Yes, I know Skoula is having the series of his Wild lifetime, but with two top-6 defensemen out (Foster, Schultz) you can't keep up with Forsberg, Sakic & Co. for long.
It is sad to think that a Wild season which started out in September with so much promise could possibly end in this crash-and-burn style. One would surmise that this Wild team needs an overhaul; get rid of the prima donnas that this team has been hiding from public view most of the season and build on the solid foundation that you have already in place. Continue the development of young guns like Pouliot and Sheppard. Let Foster heal; he's earned a spot as a 5th-6th defenseman. Get rid of the dead wood and sign hungry, young talent that will respond better to Jacques' coaching. Make decisions on Rolston, Demitra (you can't have both). Dump Skoula and, if anyone will have him, Johnsson (his contract may be hard to take.) Make a decision on who will be No. 1 in goal long-term -- Backstrom or Harding -- and stick with it. But most of all, get rid of the 'country club' atmosphere which permeates the locker room. You want men's salaries; play like it, every game, no matter what. No nights off.
Beacuse that's what good teams do.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Suffice it to say that for the Wild to advance to the next round, they cannot under any circumstances have another night like that one. No defense, no discipline, no offense to speak of (Marian Gaborik, where the f**k are you?) and no help from the officials, who saw Av after Av pull, prod, poke and push Wild players and get away with more than your average stockyard worker ever could.
At least the Wild came out of the Rockies with home-ice advantage back. And after last night, that's saying a lot.
Chicken Little says: What the hell happened to our defense? When did Skoula think he was back in an Avalanche jersey?
Pollyanna says: Not much, but Mikko Koivu did score in his fourth straight game!
Bottom Line: Wild did what they needed to do in Game 3. They took the night off, and got roasted. Game 5 will be different. It has to be.
Stud: Mikko Koivu. The only bright spot in a very dark Denver evening for 'da boys'.
Dud: Did we go to the Rocky Mountain arsenal or what? So many duds, so little time (Hmmm...didn't I use that a few weeks ago, in Deadmonton?) Sean Hill was the worst of a very bad bunch last night, although Petteri Nummelin sure came close, imitating Filip Kuba's 'Pylon' act in the first period especially. Hill couldn't stand on his own two skates a good part of the evening, and even allowed Peter 'Floppa' Forsberg to show once again why they call the Avs the 'Divealanche', drawing a penalty against Hill. Hopefuly Erik Reitz (called up from Houston last week) will dress and at least make an effort. His fresh legs will help immensely.
Next Game: Thursday, April 17th, 8:00 PM CDT (KSTC-45, Altitude, TSN HD)
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I consider myself a relatively savvy hockey consumer, and yet I have to admit I've been on the edge of my seat in each of these games. That old, familiar clenching of the gut. Imagine what it's like down on the benches?
Anyway, the script is familiar to those of you who have been following this series. Solid action back and forth, Avs score first, both goalies playing well, Wild mount a 3rd period, OT ensues.
There were a couple wrinkles in this one, such as Rolston's shorty that temporarily gave the Wild the lead in the 3rd. Then Voros (who was maybe a tad overzealous on a few occasions last night) knocked Brunette into Backstrom and Sakic (who else?) tied it for Colorado. Frankly I was surprised that Voros saw ice again in the game, and I suspect he might not have had it been a regular season game.
The Wild is using a holistic, comprehensive, team approach to pissing off Forsberg, and it seems to be working. I mean, anytime Sean Hill gets Foppa in the box it's a win for the Wild.
The other major story line is Gaborik's continued absence from the score sheet. But, while he didn't register an assist or a goal last night, he WAS a factor - particularly in overtime when he was buzzing. To the extent that draws attention from the Avs, one can certainly make the case that he is contributing to the overall effort...though it would obviously be nicer if he contributed on the score sheet as well.
So, the empty, used banana bags lie discarded in a heap on the dressing room floor, and these two teams - so evenly matched - prepare to rush once more unto the breach, dear friends, this evening.
CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Gotta put one away in regulation and save some energy!
POLLYANNA SAYS: Playoffs? Overtime?? Not much better in sports.
BOTTOM LINE: The Wild put themselves in a great position here. Now they just have to take advantage of it.
STUD: Mikko is just incredible. He's doing everything, at both ends of the rink, and doing it with aplomb.
DUD: Hard to point to one, but I would like to see more from SRV in general.
Monday, April 14, 2008
*I have to say, and I realize this may be flirting with disaster, but I am still pretty positive about the Wild in this series. I don't think the two comebacks have looked like desperation so much as a good team staying confident and focused. Lets put it this way: I'd be more concerned about giving up the lead like Colorado has than the Wild getting behind and having to come back. Schultz is practicing and that alone is a terrific thing. If Lemaire can turn game three into a master class on coaching on the road...
*I'm surprised at the apparent ease with which Dallas swept Anaheim - in Anaheim - in games 1 and 2.
*The Flames have made a habit of those inspiring wins all season (starting with handing the Wild their first regulation loss way back in October). That team is maddeningly inconsistent, but they sure have the ability to catch lightning in a bottle.
*Wings/Preds...I don't want to say "I told you so..."
*The story out of Ottawa this season is just awful. Obviously the league has to be happy with the maturation of its anointed king (Crosby), but the slow death implosion of a hockey team (the Sens) is almost hard to watch.
*Okay, we knew the Habs weren't going to go 12-0 against the Bs this year, right? Right?
*Good on Philly for getting back to Flyers hockey in squaring that series.
*I'm sorry, but I find the Rangers/Devils to be the least-compelling series in the playoffs right now. Well, maybe a close tie with Wings/Preds.
Finally, I have a bonafide rant, and I apologize for turning the blog into a Bully Pulpit.
I blew an aneurysm the other night, when Versus - as (one of the) national television partners of the NHL - picked up game 2 of the Wild/Avs series as a back end of a double header Friday night.
This produced two side effects:
1) as the scheduled start time was only 2 hours after the scheduled start time of the preceding Caps/Flyers game the Wild/Avs game was to be joined in progress (hereafter: JIP).
B) it blacked out the game on Center Ice.
My initial beef was that this arrangement alienated some of the painfully small number of people who WOULD watch the game, right off the bat.
It’s asinine to think that ANY hockey game, much less a playoff game (which could go on all night) will be concluded in 2 hours. So it is obvious that they ASSUMED we wouldn’t see the beginning of the Wild/Avs game. Thus, the league at least tacitly agreed to it - at the expense of some of the most loyal fans the league has.
But, and here’s my problem with Versus specifically, when the game finally did end (well after the opening faceoff of the Wild game) they first let the PBP guy do a lengthy “well this was a great first game in this series, pretty much what we expected…” exit statement thing and THEN they proceeded to show not-one-but SEVEN commercials.
So Versus is either too dependent on the (meager, considering how low viewership is) ad dollars from the three saps they boondoggle into buying advertising from them to tell them “sorry, if it’s a JIP situation our product comes first and we’ll either squeeze your ad in or refund you the difference”, OR Vs. has zero clout and can’t drive these advertising contracts at all.
Making matters (much) worse, the final TWO ads were for…VERSUS! Well that was just a slap in the face. They’d rather TELL me they have the playoffs than SHOW me the actual thing?! That’s a joke.
And that’s where I started to really get steamed at Versus specifically.
Because after the parade of ads, THEY CUT TO THE STUDIO FOR A RECAP OF THE CAPS/FLYERS GAME!
It’s not bad enough I have to sit there and watch the end of another game - when the product I HAVE PAID FOR is blacked out by it - and it’s not bad enough they make me listen to the jaggoff tell me how great that game was when it’s finally over, and it’s not bad enough they then show me seven commercials (two of which were for themself), but now I have to listen to your blow dried mouthpieces re-hash that preceding game?!
I’m sorry, but that takes it out of the realm of “sad little Versus has no control over their own fate” to “you know what, Versus, you can kiss my butt. You clearly have no idea how to handle this as a product if you think that NHL playoff hockey needs anything more than to just be shown on the screen to be a viable “product”.
So I really haven’t been in the “get back on ESPN or the league will die” bandwagon (mostly because I think ESPN is a joke)…but now I’m pretty much off the Vs. bandwagon too.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
As a Wild fan, may we ALL hope that he is proven wrong. If this did anything for the team, all the better! (Read the accompanying comments for my response, farther down in the blog entry).
Have an enjoyable Sunday, everyone!
Saturday, April 12, 2008
We have ourselves a series! A gut-bustin', mother-lovin' real playoff series!
Keith Carney's OT goal 1:14 into OT off the skate of Colorado's Ruslan Salei allowed the Minnesota Wild to even their Western Conference Quarterfinal series with the Avalanche at one-game each with a 3-2 OT win at Xcel Energy Center Friday night.
Carney's goal sent the overflow crowd of 19,360 into the night with chants of "Let's Go Wild!!" roaring thru their heads. Such was almost not meant to be as two goals were scored in the last two nminutes of regulation time, the second Colorado goal coming just 51 seconds away from the end of game time, after a cheap holding penalty against Minnesota'a Kim Johnsson (who was called for a hold against Ryan Smith of the Avs, while Smith was doing his best 'Divealanche' imitation of teammate Peter Forsberg) was assessed.
Mikko Koivu sent what was otherwise a somewhat weak shot past Avs goalie Jose Theodore with 1:51 left on the game clock to put the Wild seemingly in front for good.
Forsberg (a.k.a. 'Floppa') started the scoring late in the first as he banked a shot off the crossbar and into the net, folling Wild goalie Nik Backstrom in the process. It was the first goal of the series for Forsberg.
Pavol Demitra scored early in the third period on the power-play for the Wild, who now travel to Denver for a Monday night matchup in Game 3 (9 PM CDT, 8 PM MDT: KSTC-45, Altitude TV) which will be very interesting, to say the least.
The Wild are now 4-8 all time at home in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (.333).
We managed to find the assembled multitude being dragged out after the game. They enjoyed themselves so much they didn't want to go home. We asked 'em before they were punted across the street into Rice Park:
Chicken Little says: All's fair in love and war. This sure wasn't love tonight. This was war. Now we have to go to Denver and wage it there.
Pollyanna says: True, we have to play like we did tonight, but we knew the boys had it in 'em. Just keep doing it like that and the Wild advance.
Bottom Line: Wild had to have tonight's game. Forsberg almost took it away from them single-handedly. Only some excellent defensive work and timely puck luck pulled this one out. The luck you can control with hard work. The Wild need to do more of it to win out this series.
Stud: I never thought I'd say this (especially those of you who read me on the Russo Rants blog at StarTribune. com):
MARTIN SKOULA. That's right, folks. 'Bad Marty' became 'Super Marty' tonight. he was all over the place -- in control, making the right play, blocking shots, checking (REALLY checking, not just stop and let their guy hit you checking). Good puck handling, not being out of position, the guy really looked like he was All-World out there. One time in the third period he stopped Milan Hedjuk cold on a lone rush in his tracks. Is this the start of the Martin Skoula contract drive?
Dud: Marian Gaborik. For what this guy has done -- and what this guy CAN do -- he has effectively been shut down as much by his own bad positioning as by anything the Avs threw at him. He should have scored 2-3 goals tonight had he been in the right place when the puck came thru. No such luck.
Sleep tight, blog fans. Your Wild are back in it, for now.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Martin Skoula is officially listed as questionable due to taking a puck off his left leg in the OT wednesday night in Game 1. It turned out that he actually WAS trying to make a play on the puck, had it hit off his leg and go directly to Joe Sakic for the game winner, his 8th playoff game winner overall, tops among active NHL players.
Erik Reitz has been called up on emergency recall from Houston and practiced with the team today. He will be available if necessary for Game 2 Friday night.
Craig Leipold (pronounced 'LEY-pold') officially received the final clearance to take over Minnesota Sports & Entertainment (the parent company of the Wild) this morning. He also assumes control of the St. Paul Arena Co., Minnesota Swarm, Wildside Catering and 317 on the Park, the former Minnesota Club which is the Wild's headquarters building.
Leipold announced Thursday that he plans no changes in Wild hockey operations personnel.
A late winter snowstorm (supposed to be producing 3-5" of snow) has forced the Wild to cancel their pre-game pep rally across the street from the RiverCentre in rice park, it was announced this evening. The rally was to have started at 5 PM Friday, 3 hours prior to Game 2.
That's it for tonight.
1. If they can get any more intense, I really don't see how. Up-and-down hockey all night long. It looks like a war of attrition, and with Minnesota's Mark Parrish now day-to-day with a head injury suffered in the second period of tonight's game, that's 3 Wild players (Foster and Schultz the other two) who need replacement. Would it hurt to put Aaron Voros in there for Game 2?
2. How good did Boogaard look as an actual hockey forward tonight. He even spent some time on the power play. You try to move 6'7", 270 Lbs. sometime from in front of your net. Good luck to you.
3. This team misses Nick Schultz. Period.
4. Wes Walz did the 'Let's Play Hockey' chant tonight before the opening face-off. I hope he went downstairs and chewed out the boys after that horrid second period. A few more stretches like that and I won't have to worry about my remaining playoff ticket payments due after this round of games is over.
5. Both Brent Burns and Kim Johnsson played over 30 minutes each tonight -- each of them played more than Keith Carney and Sean Hill combined. That cannot be allowed to continue. In order for the Wild to be successful, we need three sets of 'D', old or otherwise.
6. Niklas Backstrom was stellar tonight in the nets, when he really needed to be. Too bad Skoula wasn't as aware of what was behind him (namely, Joe Sakic) on that last goal.
7. Let's talk about Skoula. He was as good as I have ever seen him until the start of the overtime. By that time, he had racked up about 25 minutes TOI. In the OT, he started to revert to 'Bad Marty' that we've all come to expect. No major losses of focus, just lapses of concentration. Martin cannot be expected to double-shift in an OT period, no matter what the situation. The Wild have, unfortunately, used two of their allotted 4 call-ups from Houston already (in case you didn't hear, Steve Kelly was sent back down earlier Wednesday.) Doug Risebrough, realizing that the Aeros are in a playoff race of their own, is hesitant to call anyone else up (not that he HAS anyone ready for the NHL level down there now) unless there is a dire (read: Goalie) need.
So that brings us back to Martin Skoula. I know we are all supposed to forgive him for previous brain cramps, but how in the hell can you do that when his play quality diminshes?
Oh, and for the record: The 'Team of 18,000' was actually the 'Team of 19,391' tonight. The place was packed, boisterous, and LOUD. Let's hope the fans bring it for Game 2 on Friday night.
Let's hope the Wild do as well. G'night, folks...
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Joining me was JDog from View From Sec. 216, Maggie from No More Minnesota Nice, Kirsten from Land of Lakes and Hockey and Paul from Cup Crazy NHL Blog.
We ran down each of the first round series and spent some extra time on the Wild/Avs series at the end.
Check it out!
(There's a permanent link in the upper right corner of the blog.)
Monday, April 7, 2008
This is extremely bad news.
The war of attrition has started, and the Wild just lost a Knight on the first move.
*Harding looked pretty good early, and then leveled off as the game progressed (and the Avs really started pressing). Wonder if Backstrom reacted to Josh's shootout issues with a little fist pump?
*It was nice to see Nummelin back on the ice. I honestly don't have a big problem with him, and I like what he can bring offensively off the rush. If Statler and Waldorf can't go, or are exposed as just too decrepit, then I would personally not have a problem seeing Nummy get some TOI.
*Huge goal for Parrish. A notoriously streaky scorer who has been firmly ensconced in JL's dog house of late, hopefully he can get a chance to actually go on a streak here in the playoffs.
CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Hard to be happy about a loss, but it served it's purpose.
POLLYANNA SAYS: No one got hurt (bad)!
BOTTOM LINE: They'll never say it, but this is probably the outcome the Wild preferred.
STUD: Father Time/Statler/Carney scores a goal, he gets the stud.
DUD: Wild shootout shooters. From going away from money moves to outright shanking, the Wild were terrible in the shootout this season.
Friday, April 4, 2008
Great work by my partner in blog below.
First, the particulars.CHICKEN LITTLE SAYS: Er...that fog horn can get pretty loud...??
POLLYANNA SAYS: I always knew this day would come.
BOTTOM LINE: The Minnesota Wild is the Northwest Division champions. More importantly, they secured home ice advantage through at least the first round.
STUD: Gaborik did his best Kirby Puckett impersonation last night. He has had his critics (myself included) but he seems to be rising to the challenge of being a leader and go-to player on this team - at exactly the right time.
DUD: Tell you what, you hold famed Wild killer Jarome Iginla at bay, exorcise the demons of a team that has OWNED you for a long, long time and win your first division banner all in the same night - no duds.
- Russo has some great notes in his blog about Simon and Fridge stepping up to keep the guys focused on the bench after the "Think Method" rule was invoked on the Gaby's no-goal in the third. Frankly, if Simon can fill the leadership void on the team in this way, I almost don't care how many minutes he gets, and I certainly don't care how many fights he gets into.
"Lemaire credited Fedoruk and Chris Simon for keeping things cool. Fedoruk and Simon started screaming along the bench to stay calm.
'We just wanted to reinforce that we had a 2-1 lead and not to get distracted,' Simon said. 'It'd be easy to start pointing fingers, but we had a lot of work to do.'"
- Backstrom was steady, made the (few) big saves we needed him to make, and did not give up the bad goal. We all know that hot goaltending can cover up a lot of warts in the playoffs - and Nik is doing EXACTLY what we need him to do right now.
- I have never been a huge proponent of the Captain of the Month thing. I didn't really have a problem with it, per se, especially in the nascent years. But, as I have thought the team was lacking in leadership as they've grown into a perennial playoff team (and the "Contender" label continues to inch closer and closer), it had started to seem more like an admission that they DON'T have a clear leader. I am prepared to change that opinion. Both Nick Schultz and now Gaborik, yes, Gaborik, have really blossomed under the yoke of the "C". Perhaps this is exactly the kind of shot in the arm that key members of the young nucleus of a blossoming team needs. (And perhaps I should shut up and let the guys with all the Stanley Cup rings run the team?!)
- I said this on the Wild blogger podcast, but the team is currently playing like it learned a lesson from the last time they were up by six points on the division and promptly shat the bed. Watching the game last night, my initial reaction was that they were playing tentative, then I realized that it was classic Wild "play at home like you're on the road" type patient, solid hockey. And it works. Maybe not the flashiest, but you can't argue with results.
- It's great to see Radio find a niche. And he is definitely thriving in it. He, SRV and Koivu have the look of a clutch, dependable shut down line right now - and boy are we going to need that in the playoffs.
Should be fun, but last night - and this post - is all about the Wild playing well enough to earn that first division banner.
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...
(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...
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Feel free to check it out, by clicking this link, and then clicking on the TS-104301.mp3 file.
Or by clicking on this link, and either downloading the file and listening to it, or clicking on the green play button to listen to it.
I'd love to hear your feedback.