Two points. In regulation. That's a phrase the Minnesota Wild haven't heard much of in, say, about nine days.
Thanks to Owen Nolan, the 'Irish God of War', the phrase can be said this evening. The Wild took the game to the Detroit Red Wings, defeating the defending Stanley Cup champions 5-2 before a Saturday night 18,568 crowd at Xcel Energy Center.
Nolan scored the game's first two goals, both in the first period. Now, under normal circumstances, the lid would have blown off the place. But, this is the same way that last Saturday's fiasco vs. the Ottawa Senators started, so naturally, the natives were a little skeptic. Happy, yes, but skeptic.
The second period started with Detroit's Tomas Kopecky getting credit for the goal when Brent Burns' errant clearing pass deflected off the skate of Kopecky and past Niklas Backstrom, cutting the lead to 2-1. Pierre-Marc Bouchard then outskated Brian Rafalski and went in alone on Wings' third-string goalie Jimmy Howard, called up just for tonight from Detroit's AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids. PMB toasted Howard, going seven-hole and it was 3-1.
And then, 90 seconds later, came the real shocker; Martin Skoula -- yes, THAT Martin Skoula -- snuck in behind the Detroit defense from the left point and connected on a Mikko Koivu pass, putting the Wild ahead by 4-1 after two periods. Even Marty couldn't believe it; he was still grinning ear-to-ear after the game being interviewed by FSNorth for their post-game show.
The third period was huge for the Wild. They didn't play the 'Hockey Prevent' defense like they did last Saturday. Did 'da boys' actually LEARN something? Or were they just teasing the crowd?
They weren't teasing. They actually played to win, instead of not to lose. It was refreshing to see, save for the redirection in front of a Rafalski shot by Ville Leino at 14:45 which made the score 4-2. For the next five minutes, the Wild were on their horse, as the Red Wings came at them time and again, the Wild content with skating the puck out of their zone, one pass then down the ice after crossing the center line. Even in the last minute, as the Red Wings were controlling the offensive zone, the Wild did not crack under the relentless pressure, until the issue was decided when Stephane Veilleux's shot from center found the empty Detroit net with less than 2 seconds left in the game.
The crowd went home satisfied, at least for one night.
OK, Assembled Multitude, quit pitching pennies into those giveaway coffee mugs:
Chicken Little: Andrew Brunette was a scratch, breaking his 'Iron Man' streak at 509 games. No Boogaard, either. Thank heavens Craig Weller was able to return, or we'd have been really screwed.
Pollyanna: Jacques said afterwards that if he could get that effort every night, they'd be in every game. Great effort tonight by everyone! (Well, almost...see 'Dud'.)
Bottom Line: Wild were in really deep doo-doo if they didn't start piling up points in regulation. No more 'loser points'; you need wins, and lots of 'em. Efforts like tonight's are how you get them. Keeping it up now, with 7 of their next 8 on the road, will be the key to their season...and, possibly for some, it may make the difference in whether they stay here, or whether they go somewhere else if the Wild start losing again, and the brain trust decides to blow it all to hell and start over.
Stud: On a night where there were candidates a-plenty, 'IGoW' stands out. Two goals, one assist, a plus 2 for the night. Owen Nolan shows again he was a quality addition to the roster. But, one stood out even better than that.
A lot of you know that I cannot stand Martin Skoula's play. I've railed about it all season (and even worse before Nick invited me on here, on Russo's Rants) and when he has that next Grade 'A' brain fart, I'll be all over him again. But he really stood out tonight, and not just for the goal. In the closing minutes of the game, when Detroit crashed the net, there he was, calmly moving the play away from in front of the net. He led all players in time on ice, and in a big game like this one, that's important. So for the sake of fairness, let's admit the fact; the blind squirrel indeed found the nut tonight. Skoula for Stud.
Dud: Burns. On the ice for all seven goals scored in this game. Plus-minus or not, that's too many. Should have had an assist on Detroit's first goal (after all, his clearing attempt was what wound up in his own net). The Wild need you, Burnsie. Time to snap out of the funk.
Next: at Chicago, Sunday (tomorrow!), 6:00 PM Central Time, United Center. (TV: FSNorth, Comcast SportsNet Chicago (in HD), NHL Network--Canada; XM Home Ice Ch. 204)
Personal Note: Yes, I will attempt again to attend tomorrow night at United Center. Hopefully, I will be blogging after tomorrow's game from the Windy City.
Wish me luck (I need it.) -- WRT