CHICAGO -- There's an old saying that goes, 'Youth shall be served'.
The Minnesota Wild found that out first hand tonight, taking away a 2-1 victory against one of the NHL's toughest teams -- the Chicago Blackhawks -- in front of a raucous, sold-out United Center crowd of 22,443 in the NHL's biggest arena Sunday night.
Two of the Wild's 'young guns' -- Cal Clutterbuck and Peter Olvecky -- combined their efforts with Josh Harding's spectacular goaltending to get the Wild their second win in as many nights. The Wild conclude the season series with Chicago, winning 3 of the 4 games played.
The evening started crazily enough, as ex-Blackhawk (and Red Wings) enforcer Bob Probert was honored prior to the start of the game. What made things stranger, however, was who took part in the ceremonial face-off at the end of it: Not the teams' captains, but their enforcers -- Derek Boogaard for Minnesota and Ben Eager for Chicago. Neither wanted to touch the puck.
Clutterbuck hit anything that moved -- and sometimes, things that didn't, like when Brent Seabrook dispatched Cal in the second period with a vicious check of his own -- for which Cal lost his lid, but just skated away, showing the maturity of a seasoned NHL veteran.
Olvecky snapped a laser past Chicago goaltender Cristobal Huet 3:30 into the third period, and then the Wild, showing the same kind of pluck that allowed them to defeat Detroit at home Saturday night, proceeded to hang on and defend the one-goal lead the rest of the evening, even after Mikko Koivu was called for holding with 10.5 seconds left in the third period. Olvecky's goal was assisted by Martin Skoula, who now -- believe it or not -- is on a two-game point streak, against two of the top 4 teams in the Western Conference, nevertheless. Skoula played in his 700th NHL game tonight.
Harding played like a man who really is ready to step up to a No. 1 position, as he turned away 44 of 45 shots against him by the Hawks, including several spectacular saves in the second period, which sent the referees scrambling to the Toronto 'War Room' for confirmation of their correct no-goal calls. The Chicago media named Harding No. 1 star for his efforts.
We managed to save the assembled multitude by literally throwing them under the bus...the CTA #19 United Center Express, that is...
Chicken Little: Burns still scares me. He's just not into the game like the rest of the top 4 'D' are right now.
Pollyanna: Martin Skoula! Martin Skoula! Martin Skoula! Whee!!
Bottom Line: No one of the Wild fan contingent expected this game to turn out this way. Harding's stand-on-his-head goaltending was the difference in this game. You need everyone contributing in the stretch drive, and tonight, the third and fourth lines did. If they keep this kind of good play up, someone else will be on the outside looking in, and the Wild will actually make the playoffs...something most in the Wild Blogosphere said would not be done, as little as eight days ago.
Stud: Harding. 44 saves are more than enough reason. Honorable mention: Clutterbuck, Dan Fritsche (he really stepped up after Nolan was lost to a 'lower body injury' early in the second period) and Nick Schultz, who did yeoman duty on the blue line tonight.
Dud: This is getting to be like a broken record. Burnsie, you gotta get off the schneid. Get into a fight, score a goal, crush someone into the boards, do something to pull out of the funk. Please. Your team needs you. (And so do their fans.)
Next: vs. Los Angeles, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 7:00 PM Central (5 PM Pacific), Xcel Energy Center. (TV: KSTC-45, FSWest, XM Ch. 238)
WRT (happy to return home tomorrow with the 'W')