I used to frequent a wide variety of message boards back in the day, one of the best was good ol' Fanhome. Fanhome was a site that had mini-message boards for all 30 of the league's teams and each board had a tight knit group of posters and some forums were more friendly than others. One team I must admit I have a weakness for is the Nashville Predators. I guess when the NHL's most recent surge of expansion hit in the late 1990's and early 2000's the excitement was over getting a new club of our own that I began to follow the league with a little more passion and the first franchise of the most 'recent' growth was Nashville. The Predators, a team that personifies two things. A non-traditional market and a small market that has shown tremendous resourcefulness. In those halcyon days back in 1998, even Predators' Head Coach Barry Trotz understood he was coaching a team that played in an area that had little understanding of the game. But that was 15 years ago and the crowds that used to cheer icing calls because they didn't know what was going on now appreciates the subtle plays the same way most traditional markets do. Going back to my point about the message boards, I used to frequent the Predators' board over on Fanhome. When the Wild made the playoffs in 2003, the Predators were still waiting for the post-season, their owner at the time (and current Wild majority share holder) Craig Leipold tried to make a promise to the fans that Nashville would be in the playoffs soon or he'd even payback some of the money they paid out on season tickets. That season the Predators again missed the post-season and Leipold stood to his word and refunded some of the money that was paid out by his loyal base of season ticket holders. During this time, there was a poster over on the Predators board called "The Fang" and I guess you could say we didn't see eye to eye. Even though I didn't really antagonize him, he resented the Wild's success and he'd unleash a tirade towards me without fail. Being the hockey fan I am, I'd fire back. He always ended his posts with a sort of signature by simply saying "Regards, the Fang!" This is my ode to you ol' buddy!
Wild owner Craig Leipold & Ryan Suter
It is a day that will long be remembered in Nashville
Of their former glory days where they called themselves Smashville,
But on July 4th everything changed,
Their future became uncertain, a long-time friendship became estranged,
Luckily for them Shea Weber did not leave as well,
Who knows how many Predators fans could've handled that sort of hell,
A few days later Ryan Suter donned a Wild sweater instead of the normal blue and gold,
On that day a new hatred of their former defenseman, calling for revenge both brutal and cold,
Their hero had defected for a team because he felt had a better chance at winning there,
Predators fans did not believe this, they said Suter lied and did not care
That it was only the big money that brought him here.
So when the Wild play the Predators, in your honor may we all tip our glass,
As the Wild's newest defenseman helps kick Nashville's ass.
We're not expecting any love returned, we're aware of how much you hate,
We have your former owner, and now your defenseman an apology would be too late.
Not that we were going to offer one anyways, I hope you understand
Afterall its our way of simply saying Regards, Wild fans!
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1st Period Thoughts: The ice looked a bit rough to start the game as the puck was bouncing a bit early. Nashville would have the first quality chance of the game on a long range shot by Nick Spaling that was just steered away by Niklas Backstrom. The sparks didn't take long to emerge as Ryan Clune dropped the gloves with Zenon Konopka and the Wild tough guy stood tall and did a nice job of taking control of the fight early. He stood Clune off with good barrage of right handed jabs, but nothing with enough power to really devastate Clune, but I think the purpose was to put the 30-stitch cut at more of a distance from the Predators' pugilist. Clune would rally back with a few lefts but none did any major damage and the officials stepped in and the fight was over. Minnesota would go back on the attack and a point shot by Justin Falk was redirected by Mikael Granlund but Chris Mason was able to make the stop and Granlund would try to jam it by Mason but he was able to steer it out of harm's way. A few moments later the top line had a tremendous shift where they outworked the Predators for the loose puck. Dany Heatley just missed connecting on a nice pass from behind the goal by Mikko Koivu. Nashville tried to clear the puck, but Zach Parise and Koivu would hold the zone and the puck ended up on the stick of Heatley who wound up and fired a slapper that fluttered towards the goal before it hit the glove of Kevin Klein and beat Mason cleanly to make it 1-0 Wild. The goal would be reviewed but the replay clearly demonstrated no high stick was involved and Zach Parise ended up being credited with the goal but it looked to me as though Parise never made contact so this one may be given back to Heatley. Nashville would try to answer back but the Wild were responsible defensively and did a nice job at keeping the Predators' at bey. The Preds came close to tying the game as Martin Erat set up Mike Fisher for a back door tap in but Backstrom was able to knock it away with his glove before a sliding Clayton Stoner came careening into him. Minnesota would go on the power play as Nick Spaling tripped up Jared Spurgeon. On the power play the Wild set up Dany Heatley from the slot that he partially fanned on but Minnesota would gather up the loose puck and move it back out to the point where Ryan Suter stepped into a slapper that was held onto by Mason. The Wild's power play again did a great job at moving the puck quickly to generate a quality shot, this time from Tom Gilbert who put it on goal that Mason knocked down and Parise went to work trying to chip it by Mason but the goalie would win this battle and Minnesota came up empty on the man advantage. Just after the Wild had their penalty killed off they came dangerously close to creating a beauty of a scoring chance as Mikael Granlund had his pocket picked by a great backchecking effort by Mike Fisher. The Predators would catch the Wild on a bad change and David Legwand threaded a long pass to Gabriel Bourque who found himself all alone behind the Wild's defense and he'd move in an try to beat Backstrom with a backhander but the Wild goalie stayed square and stopped the shot before Bourque collided with him pushing Backstrom and the net back. Backstrom would lobby the officials for a goaltender interference call but to no avail. The Predators continued to attack and Nick Spaling would pick up a rebound after a big point shot by Kevin Klein that was blocked painfully by Spurgeon and Spaling fired it by Backstrom to tie the game at 1-1. The Predators kept attacking and nearly cashed in again as Erat tried to set up another back door pass to Fisher that Backstrom was just able to kick away. The physical fireworks also continued as Patric Hornqvist would get into a shoving match with Koivu as he tried to go to the Wild bench and this led to a shoving match with Kyle Brodziak. While Shea Weber tried to check Cal Clutterbuck into the Predators' bench. Koivu and Hornqvist would start the 2nd period from the penalty box with matching roughing minors. A good first period for the Wild, but you had to sense they took their foot off the gas a bit and that is what the Predators used to get back into the game. I liked the way the Wild looked on the power play and the top line continues to do the right things offensively by doing their part to keep firing shots on goal. The Wild held a 12-5 edge in shots on goal.
2nd Period Thoughts: Jared Spurgeon would not come back out of the locker room to start the 2nd, while both clubs were at 4-on-4 because of the lingering penalties to Koivu and Hornqvist. Mikael Granlund would center the top line and Parise would fire a hard shot that was gloved by Mason. The Predators would answer with a quality scoring chance of their own as Scott Hannan pinched down low found himself alone underneath the left faceoff circle and he fired a quick shot that was knocked down by Backstrom and the puck was eventually swept aside by Zenon Konopka who carried it out of the zone. Minnesota would take a penalty where Darroll Powe would hold up a Predators forward and give the Predators' lethal power play an opportunity. The Wild's aggressive penalty kill would disrupt a pass and Zach Parise would draw a holding penalty on the Predators' power play ace Weber. The home team would race into the Predators zone where Koivu set up a trailing Tom Gilbert for a chance who lifted a shot that was just fought off by the outstretched arm of Mason and we'd go back to 4-on-4 hockey. Minnesota would take full advantage of the extra ice and the Wild nearly cashed in on a pretty tic-tac-toe play as Gilbert passed it up to Kyle Brodziak who carried it in and slid the puck to Heatley who dropped it back to Gilbert who threaeded it back to Brodziak for a quick shot that he drove just wide of the goal. The game would start to gain intensity, both in terms of the physical play and the assertiveness both clubs were showing in the offensive zone. Nashville would draw a power play as Justin Falk would earn an interference call for setting up a bit of a pick. On the power play the WIld did a fine job of keeping the puck to the perimeter and denying Weber from having a clean shooting lane. The Predators were forced to settle for a quicker less deadly shot and Minnesota would get another big kill. The Predators' best chance on the power play came off the stick of Hornqvist who was parked near the crease as he tried to chip a shot by Backstrom who stabbed the puck out of the air to keep the game tied. Minnesota would go back on the attack and the top two lines would create a little havoc in the Predators' zone with Parise, Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard all taking their chances to pull the trigger. The Wild's 4th line of Konopka, Powe and Torrey Mitchell caused some trouble for Nashville as the hard work of the group yielded a shot from the point for Gilbert that Mason kicked away towards Powe who thought he had a rebound chance before he was hauled down by Klein. Minnesota was pressing well, regularly sending all 3 of its forwards below the faceoff dots trying to dig out pucks along the boards in the offensive zone. When the Wild did this the Predators were quick to counter attack, and they would have a good chance off the rush as Erat fired a shot that Backstrom held onto. Nashville's Brandon Yip would take a late-period penalty as he elbowed Spurgeon with just 42 seconds left in the 2nd. Minnesota had one terrific scoring chance during this portion of the power play; as Mikko Koivu took a half swing slap pass to Parise waiting on the back side but he was unable to get much on it, and not enough to beat Mason and the period would end with both clubs still knotted at 1-1. The Predators outshot the Wild 10-7 in the period. I think the Wild need to go back to shooting the puck when the opportunity presents itself instead of waiting for the perfect play as they sometimes do when they're playing at home. Minnesota did have some pretty set ups, but pretty often doesn't win against a blue-collar team like the Predators.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota started the period on the power play, the Wild were able to set up a few blasts from the point but none seemed to go on goal. The best chance came on a close range shot by Matt Cullen that Mason stonewalled but none of his teammates were in position to pounce on the rebound and the Wild would come up empty on the man advantage. Cal Clutterbuck started to do his part by delivering big body checks as he lit up Colin Wilson, Matt Halischuk and Roman Josi as well. The physical play seemed to get Minnesota's legs moving a bit more and this extra boost nearly turned into a goal as Mikael Granlund fired a shot a little high as he one-timed a backhander on a strange carom off the boards. Neither team was taking a lot of risks in this tight hockey game. Nashville had a few chances where Backstrom gave up ugly rebounds in the slot but luckily for the Wild, the defense was able to clear away those pucks. Tempers would continue to flare as Hornqvist and Clutterbuck ended up in the box for a goaltender interference and hooking call respectively. This is the 2nd instance this season where I've seen a goaltender interference call was combined with a minor to the other team. Is this some stupid initiative the league is implementing? If so, its pretty damn lame. With the ice a little more wide open, the Wild tried to press for a goal. It would backfire horribly as Jared Spurgeon misjudged a pass that had a rolling puck moving towards the Wild zone and Niklas Backstrom tried to step out and play the puck before Erat could get there and he'd win the race but he wasn't able to pass it away from Erat who then gathered it up and shoveled it in on an easy empty net goal, 2-1 Predators. A bad play fed by a terrible one gave Nashville the easy goal. Minnesota tried to rally back, and the top line looked equal parts hungry and determined as they nearly cashed in as Koivu fed Heatley who tried to backhand it around Mason who was there with the leg pad to make the big stop. A few moments later the top line again threw itself at the Predators as Heatley again was stopped at point-blank range but he'd track down the puck and fling a backhanded pass towards the crease that was somehow controlled by Parise who chipped a rolling puck on goal that Mason barely stopped with a toe save and then Parise gathered the puck to feed a pass back to Koivu who fanned on the shot. A great series of opportunities for the Wild. After the failed chance the Predators' forecheck started to frustrate the Wild a bit; as the 2-1-2 was giving Minnesota fits on moving the puck through the neutral zone and Nashville was more than content to just dump it deep and force Minnesota to chase and lug it back up the full length of the ice. Minnesota would attempt one last push, pulling Backstrom for an extra attacker but as they swarmed into the Predators' zone, Bouchard would get tagged with a slashing call. It was a legit call, he clearly hacked the gloves of Roman Josi. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo would call a timeout, but it was all for not. Tom Gilbert would cough up the puck and Niklas Backstrom would help Nashville's cause again as he let in another goal from Legwand to seal a 3-1 victory for the Predators. Yuck.
Backstrom's misplay of the puck was an exposure of his average to below average puck handling skills. The Wild got caught pinching both of its defenseman and the result was a goal. While Minnesota's defense has done their part to put pucks on goal you are going to get burnt from time to time when you are pinching as often as the Wild do.
Offensively, the Wild were able to create some tremendous chances but Mason was up to the task to shut them down. He had some terrific stops at close range and I thought Heatley had a great game. He was getting all kinds of quality chances. The one line that was not as much of a factor was the 2nd line of Cullen, Setoguchi and Granlund. While Granlund had few potential chances, this line generated too few shots on goal. Setoguchi especially needs to start registering some more shots because the Wild need to be more than a one-line team. The 1st line had 14 shots tonight out of the 30 fired on goal. That's good for that top line but the other lines can't just be passengers either.
The Wild will face a very hungry Detroit team who lost 2-1 to Dallas tonight. They can expect another battle on their hands. However if they attack offensively I think they will get their chances against a much softer defensive corps the Red Wings currently have.
~ Wild roster tonight was as follows: Kyle Brodziak, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Cal Clutterbuck, Zach Parise, Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Mikael Granlund, Torrey Mitchell, Darroll Powe, Zenon Konopka, Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk, Nate Prosser and Tom Gilbert. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Matt Dumba and Matt Kassian were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Chris Mason, 2nd Star Dany Heatley, 3rd Star Zach Parise
~ Attendance was 17,540 at Xcel Energy Center.