The Minnesota Wild made sure that if they weren't going to get to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and if some members of the current playing (and coaching) roster weren't sure of their immediate futures, that they sure would send the 'Team of 18,000' off into the summer with a bang. They did tonight, as the Wild ended their home schedule for 2008-09 with a rollicking, resounding extinction of the Nashville Predators, 8-4, at Xcel Energy Center.
Seven different Wild players gained two points tonight, as the Wild closed out their season schedule at home with a 23-11-7 record in front of the home folks. Unfortunately, both St. Louis and Anaheim, as was expected, won tonight, which means that the Wild and the Predators are both officially eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The win was the by the largest numbers ever scored by the Wild at home, which set a new team record.
Updated Saturday, April 11
The Wild came out with not the amount of effort you would have expected at first for a team which was battling for a playoff spot. However, after Jason Arnott scored Nashville's first goal, the mood of the team -- and the crowd -- changed dramatically. The Wild led 2-1 at the first intermission, thanks to Dan Fritsche's 5th (and final, more later) goal, and Andrew Brunette's rebound of a James Sheppard shot. In the second, goals by MAB bookended the period, as the Wild scored three against Nashville rookie goalie Pekka Rinne. In the third, the period was highlighted by Mikko Koivu's steal of the puck at center and subsequent shorthanded goal. Two empty net goals (by Cal Clutterbuck and Marek Zidlicky) finished off the Preds, knocking them officially out of playoff contention.
Then, after the final horn sounded, came the real strange part of the evening, as the players tossed autographed pucks into the crowd. The last one to do so was Marian Gaborik, skating around the entire rink, waving his arms as if to say, 'Stand up! Say good-bye to ME! I'm done here' as he passed several pucks into the seats. Gaborik, who had two assists on the night, played his 500th NHL game in a Wild uniform. Game 501 is tonight's season finale at Nationwide Arena vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets. Will there be a Game no. 502 in a Wild sweater?
I kind of doubt it, myself...
Let's get the multitude assembled one last time, shall we?
Chicken Little: Why didn't they play like this the last five weeks? Could have been a playoff team if they had shown this level of desperation sooner!
Pollyanna: Hey, they came within a game of making it, despite Gaborik not playing for 2/3rds of the season. Also, three of your top players (Burns, PMB, Schultz) all out with concussions? Talk about the 'Bells of St. Mary's', they still almost did it!
Bottom Line: If the Wild had to miss the playoffs, this game was the way to go. Not quite the season ending Wild fans wanted, but better than being an Islanders (or, Avs' ) fan. This Wild team needs some remodelling. Those teams (and some others) need to be totally rebuilt. It will be up to Doug Risebrough to show the fan base what mettle he is made of. Otherwise, it's time to show DR the door. More than likely, we also saw Jacques Lemaire's last game as head coach at home. Too bad he couldn't go out with better on-ice playing talent to work with.
Stud: There are many candidates, but here's ours: Cal Clutterbuck. Drew two Nashville penalties, and just incensed the 'Little Ball of Hate', Nashville's instigator-in-chief Jordin Tootoo, into nearly getting his head knocked clean off by John Scott. Now that's what I call getting under a team's skin.
Dud: Just to remind us that he will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, Martin Skoula still wound up a -1 for the night. Made a few good plays, but got burned several times. Dud-ism can be practiced anywhere, Marty. (Get the hint?)
Next: at Columbus, 6 PM Central (7 PM Eastern) time, Nationwide Arena. (TV: FSNorth, FSOhio; XM Ch. 208)