A moment of tension deserves a little levity. A well-timed joke can ease the nerves and focus the mind on the task at hand instead of just worrying about the possible outcome. Any good locker room has a player or two that is capable of realizing that moment and then makes the correct remark to put the whole locker room in a more relaxed state. The Wild probably could use a well-timed joke about now. Maybe Zenon Konopka will be that guy to make his team laugh before they go in what will be the most tension-filled game they've dealt with thus far. A scenario where the team must win if it wants to punch a ticket to the playoffs. Its likely not going to be very easy as Colorado is going to want to do its best to spoil the Wild's hopes and after an embarassing 6-1 loss at home to lowly Edmonton the vultures have begun circling overhead. Vultures of course only show up when they think someone is going to die, in this case its the post-season chances which seem to be in a pretty tenuous state right now. So now for a little moment of macabre levity...
This of course is a scene from Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail where the residents of a medieval village are being asked to bring out their dead in an effort to reduce the spread of disease. One resident has a near-dead person and would like a little help so he can add that person to the cart. If the Wild were to lose this evening, they might be clearing the 'dead' throughout their organization and it could be swift and massive as they do so. Will the Colorado Avalanche finish off the Wild's flagging playoff hopes or will the Wild step up and earn a crucial victory that sends them to the post-season?
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1st Period Thoughts: Watching the first period, I have to admit there were times where I felt like we were going to get a repeat of last night. Now, that is a night that I never, ever want to think of ever again, but since the memory is so fresh, it's hard to put out of my mind. Just like last night, the Wild owned the Avalanche in the shot department. This was the case last night as well. Minnesota also had more scoring chances. But unlike last night, the Wild didn't give up a goal in the first 27 seconds, nor did they give up a second or a third in the first period. That alone is a gigantic step in the right direction. Even better, Minnesota was the team that scored first, a goal coming from Zach Parise. I know for me, it was a small sense of relief. The Wild also refused to back down after scoring that goal. They continued to force Colorado to ice the puck when things felt a little hot in their own zone. Another positive aspect to tonight's game, was the much improved play of Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi and Jason Zucker. Everyone knows, that if our second line starts scoring (and scoring on a regular basis), Minnesota can be dangerous. We saw that prior to the group of injuries that slowed the team down. The Wild also refused to back down to the more physical game tonight. Bodies are flying tonight, and Minnesota needs to be prepared for that, if they manage to make the playoffs. One concern I do have, is that while Minnesota has limited Colorado to just four shots this period, the Avalanche still managed to score a goal on those four shots. Ryan O'Reilly's goal I could see coming, as all the sudden there was a flurry of activity around Niklas Backstrom after a great scoring chance by Pierre-Marc Bouchard and the Wild were unable to get the puck out of the zone. Now, if we could find a way to keep this to the only Colorado goal tonight, life would be good.
2nd Period Thoughts: To say that the Wild did not come up with the same sense of urgency and energy for this period than they did for the first would be an understatement of almost epic proportions. For proof, all one needs to do is look at the shot totals for the period. Where the Wild clearly outshot the Avalanche in the first period, Colorado ended up outshooting Minnesota in the second. Now the totals weren't as lopsided, but it felt like Minnesota was giving the period to their opponent. There came a moment, where the collective breath of Wild fans was held where ever they live. It appeared that the Avalanche were going to get the go ahead goal on a Chuck Kobasew goal. However, after the puck crossed the line, Backstrom was yelling at the officials, claiming the puck was kicked in. The goal was reviewed, and it was determined by the War Room in Toronto, that Kobasew's trailing leg did indeed kick it in. Now, I was pretty sure the goal was going to count, but you can imagine my relief that it wasn't. That disallowed goal somewhat woke up Minnesota. In hockey, everyone always talks about "lucky bounces." That right there might end up being the luckiest of all bounces this season. Shortly after the midpoint of the period, Shane O'Brien would go to the box for slashing Charlie Coyle. I'll admit, I'm not overly enamored of Minnesota's power play, however, they have the third best power play on the road, while an abysmal 28th at home. That power play may also be the savior of the Minnesota Wild. Shortly before that power play was to end, Setoguchi would find the back of the net. Even after that goal however, Colorado was still able to control the puck in our zone. That is not a comfortable feeling for a team like Minnesota that absolutely needs the win. Thankfully, that control didn't really turn into great shots or scoring chances. However, if you continue to give them that control, they're bound to score. Every Wild fan should be thanking their lucky stars, that the second period would end with a 2-1 Minnesota lead. If the Wild do not come up with some fire in their bellies for the entire third period, this game might end without the desired result.
3rd Period Thoughts: If you needed someone to thank for this game, it's Ryan Suter. The Wild's best paid defenseman showed why he was so highly coveted when free agency opened up this past summer. Tonight, he was just always in the right place at the right time. He knew where to play the puck to keep it out of the hands of Colorado. He was able to clear it out of the zone, with a sense of calm and poise when a frantic play could have turned into utter disaster. While his contributions don't show up on the boxscore like goals and assists do, no one can downplay the important role he plays on this team. Nor do his efforts make him one of the three stars of the game. It's quite possible that tonight's game seals his quest for the Norris Trophy. The other theme for this game can be traced right back to the first period. That disallowed goal was critical. I have to wonder if we'll here some sort of anti-Blue Jackets conspiracy theories coming out of Columbus. They seriously believe that the National Hockey League is out to get them, and always at the benefit of the Minnesota Wild. There have been many interesting games between Minnesota and Columbus with crazy calls, usually that went against the Blue Jackets. My personal favorite was the goal scored by Wes Walz when the puck was stuck in the leg of his breezers. Well tonight, they missed a shot at their second playoff appearance possibly because of a waived off Colorado goal. If they're looking for the "Men in Black" in Columbus right now, it brings a smile to my face. With tonight's win, capped off by an empty net goal by Bouchard, Minnesota gets their spot on the post season dance card. The eighth spot now belongs to the Wild, which means a date with the President's Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks. While many fans think it will be a quick series, at least we won't be dealing with crazy time zone issues for once. And while I don't see it happening, it wouldn't be the first time that Minnesota knocked off a higher ranked opponent in the playoffs when no one said it could be done.
~ The Wild roster is as follows: Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi, Zach Parise, Jason Zucker, Torrey Mitchell, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck, Mike Rupp, Zenon Konopka, Charlie Coyle, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Clayton Stoner, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon, and Todd Gilbert. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star, Zach Parise; 2nd Star, Semyon Valamov; 3rd Star, Ryan O'Reilly.
~ Attendance was 17,731 at Pepsi Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
C - Tyler Graovac (Belleville, OHL) ~ The Belleville Bulls staved off elimination in a dramatic 3-1 victory Friday night over Barrie who still holds a 3-2 series lead. Graovac chipped in an assist in the effort. The lanky center continues to be a catalyst for the Bulls' offense as he has 5 goals, 21 points in 13 playoff games. UPDATE: The Bulls tied up the series on Saturday night with a big 3-1 win in Barrie. Graovac again was doing his part offensively, contributing an assist in the victory. The series is now tied at 3 games apiece.
LW - Raphael Bussieres (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) ~ There are different ways of contributing besides points as the rugged winger dishes out hits. Bussieres' physical play has kept a tough to play against Blainville-Bosbriand honest, and he registered another hit and was an even their larest victory, a 2-1 overtime win that gave Baie-Comeau a 3-2 series lead. The Longueuil, Quebec-native has 4 goals, 15 points in 13 games.