"Happy days are here again, the skies above are clear again, so let's sing a song of cheer again, altogether shout it now, there's no one, who can doubt it now, so let's tell the world about it now, happy days are here again," this was Milton Ager and Jack Yellen's song Happy Days Are Here Again and was the anthem of America after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. I think its a bit early to say the Wild are going to be free of set backs or bad times (knock on wood) but I think any Wild fan would have to admit its been a wonderful last two weeks. A six game winning streak, ending long droughts of futility in Detroit and Dallas respectively and an offense which seems to have found itself in a major way (knock on wood) have been pleasant signs this team is living up to the potential of its roster. Its been a while since the Wild's fanbase has felt so confident from night to night that its team had a better chance of winning than losing. That is part of being a Minnesota sports fan in general where the mantra is always, "We'll believe it when we see it." We're no strangers to disappointment after expectations have been raised. From the Vikings, to the Twins and even to the lowly Timberwolves, Minnesota fans know to temper their excitement in the midst of good times because when it all comes crashing down the fall doesn't hurt as much.
So can the Wild keep their winning streak going? Can the offense continue to light the lamp with regularity? Can the fans allow themselves to get carried up in the good times and actually believe that happy days are here again? Maybe. The Phoenix Coyotes love the role of spoiler and with a season that as of right now has them looking on the outside of the playoff window they would love to leave Wild fans with a sour taste in their mouth. The good times have been fun, but sports fans memories are always short and its all about what have you done for me lately. If the Wild want to really show they're 'for real' another victory is needed this evening. Will Minnesota have its fans cheering or howling mad tonight?
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1st Period Thoughts: The Wild had great jump to start the game, as the top line would draw a penalty on their first shift as Martin Hanzal tripped up Mikko Koivu. On the power play the Wild had a little trouble getting much going against a somewhat aggressive Phoenix penalty kill. The 1st unit would go on the ice for the 2nd half of the power play and they set up a beauty of a chance for Zach Parise as Koivu made pretty backhanded pass to him on the back door but he pushed his shot just wide of the mark. A few moments after that Koivu would rifle a slap shot that was gloved by Jason LaBarbera and the Wild would come up empty on the man advantage. Tempers would flare a bit as the physicality of the game started to intensify as Justin Falk leveled David Moss with a clean hit, and Moss wanted to 'talk' to Falk about and the two would drop the gloves. It wasn't much of a contest as Moss would lose his footing early but that may have been fortunate for him as Falk seemed to be far more ready to start throwing haymakers. With both Falk and Moss in the box the game would revert to sort of a chess match as the Coyotes were quick to retreat defensively and the Wild were left trying to win a territorial battle by working the puck deep and trying to get their forecheck going. Phoenix was trying to counter punch when they could and Mikkel Boedker set up Hanzal in the slot only to be denied by the quick glove of Niklas Backstrom. The Wild had a hard time trying to solve the Coyotes defensive style and Phoenix would have a few more quality scoring chances as Boedker and Antoine Vermette had some good opportunities to fire the biscuit. As if on cue the Wild would go on the attack and it was their 3rd line of Dany Heatley, Kyle Brodziak and some good work by defenseman including Falk and Ryan Suter to turn the Coyotes' zone into a bit of a shooting gallery as Falk hammered a shot that was stopped by LaBarbera and then Brodziak's rebound chance was denied. The Wild's persistence would pay off as Mike Rupp fired a heavy wrist shot that created a big rebound off the leg pad of LaBarbera and the stick of Zenon Konopka and Torrrey Mitchell was there to fire it home to make it 1-0 Wild. A nice, ugly goal which was made by a club which has been crashing the crease so well lately. The Coyotes would go on the attack with some good hustle and forechecking of their own, forcing the Wild to settle for area passes that were easy turnovers and it kept Minnesota pinned in its own end but to the Wild's credit that zone domination was not yielding much in the way of shots on goal. The period would end with the Wild holding a 1-0 lead after being outshot 10-8. Not a great period, but one where Backstrom came up with some big saves to bail his team out when it had a few defensive lapses. This is not the kind of team you want to let hang around with just a 1-goal lead and hopefully they re-focus. The area passes from the defensive zone are not a good idea against anyone let alone the Coyotes. Tape to tape passes is the way to go.
2nd Period Thoughts: A scary moment right from the opening faceoff as Steve Sullivan would get tangled up with Charlie Coyle and the veteran would lay on the ice a bit. On the replay, Coyle fell forward and his skate came up and hit Sullivan's face. Sullivan was clearly cut but luckily it was not too serious (ala. Clint Malarchuk or Richard Zednik). The initial spark for the Wild offensively in the period would come from the 4th line whose hustle and resulted in some good scoring opportunities as Mike Rupp hammered a shot on goal that was kicked away by LaBarbera and Torrey Mitchell almost was able to pounce on that one. The line used their bodies well to protetct the puck and cause some havoc. The Coyotes were standing and watching the Wild's 3rd line working the cycle with impunity. The Wild kept at it and a poor decision by LaBarbera to try to pass the puck out of the zone was intercepted by Matt Cullen who put it into an empty net to give Minnesota 2-0 lead. Predictably the Coyotes lack of energy meant someone on their team was going to try to provoke a response and this time it was Kyle Chipchura who dropped the gloves with Zenon Konopka. Chipchura really wanted to get going early but Konopka did a nice job of tying up Chipchura and then biding his time and working to get the Coyotes' pugilists' helmet off to get an advantage. Then Konopka started firing some jabs and hooks while Chipchura tried to fire a few uppercuts. The fight traveled quite a wys, from the benches all the way down to the Coyotes goal before Chipchura finally got tired out with Konopka clearly in control. Nice win for Konopka. Minnesota would then get an elbowing call on Justin Falk giving the Coyotes a power play. Minnesota's penalty killers did a nice job of getting sticks into passing lanes and helping sweep away rebounds to keep the Coyotes' at bey. The Wild would get a little more help in the form of a weak goaltender interference call as Shane Doan charged the net and then barely bumped into Backstrom who sold it pretty well. With the Coyotes' power play negated the Wild would have a short power play but they did little with it as they were guilty of being a little too fancy with the puck and another opportunity on the man advantage would go by the wayside. Minnesota tried to work the stretch pass and Pierre-Marc Bouchard picked up a long pass and move in on a break away but he was stonewalled by LaBarbera. The Coyotes would catch the Wild sleeping a bit in their own and as a point shot by Michael Stone fired a shot on goal that was stopped by Backstrom and the puck would move out into the slot where it was picked up by Rob Klinkhammer who would get off a sneaky wrist shot as he was falling to the ice that found the back of the net and this cut the Minnesota lead in half, 2-1. The Wild's issues would continue as they were tagged with consecutive icing calls and the Coyotes would stike again as Keith Yandle fired a sharp angle shot from the boards that was deflected by Boyd Gordon and snuck by Backstrom to make it 2-2. Not a good goal, but the kind of soft goal that a team like the Coyotes can take full advantage of. The goal would stir a little fire in the Wild and Zach Parise would get a little space where he ripped a shot on goal and then tried to follow it up and he was ridden off the play by Rostislav Klesla and drawing an interference penalty in the process. On the power play the Wild were again too fancy with the puck, passing up chances to shoot as they looked for the perfect shot. The best chance came off a great pass by Koivu to Suter for a one-timer that was snagged out of the air by LaBarbera. After the big kill the Coyotes would jump all over the Wild's 4th line as Phoenix came dangerously close to earning the go-ahead goal as Raffi Torres just missed as he crashed the net only to have his shot partially deflected by the stick of Clayton Stoner. Moments after that it was Backstrom coming up with a save with his skate blade on Martin Hanzal. The Wild were really scrambling in their own end. Minnesota would try to press late as Jonas Brodin would join the rush but his cross-ice pass failed to connect and the Coyotes would go on a 3-on-1 of their own where Backstrom came up with a big save and the Wild had to have felt lucky to be still be tied. I hope the Wild realize thay are not good enough to take their foot off the gas and expect to win games.
3rd Period Thoughts: As expected, Phoenix had great intensity to go on the attack right away and it was Shane Doan moving off the wing where he got Backstrom to drop as he fell to his backside and as the puck kicked back out Stone blasted it into a fairly open net as Backstrom was slow to recover. 3-2 Coyotes. A painfully predictable goal, and the kind of goal you get when you stop anticipating and are just reacting to the play. Minnesota's top line tried to answer back with some good pressure as Zach Parise took it upon himself to pull the trigger after a good shot from the point by Brodin that caused LaBabera to sprawl to cover up the puck. The Wild were also guilty of using area passes in its own end and the Coyotes were able to win the race to the puck and force it deep and keep Minnesota more or less bottled up in its own end. The 2nd line would create a good chance off some good work along the boards by Bouchard and Cullen as the Wild winger tried to wrap a backhand around near the left post that was stopped by LaBabera. The Wild tried to work their way back in the game but a tripping penalty by Tom Gilbert gave the Coyotes a chance to add to their lead. Minnesota's penalty kill did a nice job of keeping Phoenix to the perimeter forcing the Coyotes to settle long range shots. While Backstrom did have some traffic, the shots would miss wide and Minnesota wold come up with a huge kill to keep their hopes alive. The Coyotes were doing an excellent job of working the puck deep and then mucking along the boards to kill valuable seconds off the clock in the closing minutes. The Wild would look to have a golden opportunity as Cullen made a little move to earn a 2-on-1 in the Coyotes zone and as Oliver Ekman-Larsson dropped to the ice but Cullen waited hoping to set up Devin Setoguchi for an easy goal but by the time he had an opening Larsson was able to get a stick on the puck and nothing came of the chance. A few minutes later the 2nd line had another great opportunity as a shot from the point by Jared Spurgeon was redirected perfectly by Boucahrd but LaBabera was able to make the stop and unfortunately for the Wild no one was able to pounce on the rebound. It was desperation time so the Wild would pull Niklas Backstrom for an extra attacker. The Wild dump it into the zone and Zach Parise would muscle Derek Morris off the dump in and the puck was swept up by Mikko Koivu who moved behind the goal and then made a no look backhanded pass to the point where Spurgeon dished it back to Suter who beat LaBabera on a sneaky wrist shot that the Coyotes' goalie clearly did not see to tie the game at 3-3 and this one was going to overtime.
Overtime Thoughts: Minnesota had a good chance early in overtime as Kyle Brodziak stole a puck near the Phoenix blueline he moved in and swung a shot on goal that LaBarbera stopped but Cal Clutterbuck was tied up by Ekman-Larsson so he was unable to do anything on the rebound and the Coyotes' goaltender was able to cover it up. The Wild's pressure early would yield a cross-checking penalty on Vermette as he sent Spurgeon careening into the boards. On the power play the Wild moved the puck well as they set up Suter for a quick shto that was stopped by LaBabera and as the Wild crashed the crease Koivu fired the rebound just wide of the mark. The 2nd unit tried to set up Setoguchi for a one-timer but the Coyotes were smart to cheat towards him and deny a clean pass and Cullen settled for a quick redirect from the slot by Dany Heatley that was held onto by LaBarbera. The power play would expire but the Wild try to take advantage of the closing moments of the man advantage as Mikko Koivu would take the puck to the slot and he'd fire a quick shot by LaBarbera to give Minnesota a 4-3 victory.
Niklas Backstrom was a little better this time, making 24 saves in the victory. He came up with some big saves when the Wild needed him but still gave up a soft one as well as another goal due to his slow recovery time. Whenever Backstrom leaves his skates he seems to take alot longer to get back up and squared to the shooter than in previous seasons. I also noticed that tonight he was flopping around a lot more in his crease which was the way he was playing at the beginning of the season. It wasn't horrible but I think he needs a rest. Defensively I thought Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon played well. Ryan Suter is a fantastic workhorse and I thought Brodin rebounded nicely after a rough game in Dallas. The penalty kill again was a source of strength.
Offensively I thought the Wild's 4th line was the team's best line through the first half of the game. Rupp, Mitchell and Konopka broght energy and grit and it was good to see them be rewarded with a goal. Unfortunately I think the Wild were guilty of being too confident as they avoided the simple plays and they tried one more pass which often foiled a potential scoring chance. The Wild were lucky LaBarbera spotted the them a cheap goal as they took their good fortune for granted as they eased up and the Coyotes outworked the Wild and probably deserved a better fate. The Wild, to their credit was able to find enough goals to get the big win and re-take Northwest Division lead.
Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo summed it up pretty well, "We have to be better and our guys know that." He also admitted the confidence level of the team affected their will to come back as he acknowledged, "I'm not sure we would've had that response at the beginning of the season." I'd agree with that. I also feel the team was more lucky than good tonight thay cannot expect to earn many wins in that fashion. The Wild will have to be better, and know they will be playing a determined Dallas team on Friday and then a surging Los Angeles Kings squad on Saturday.
~ Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Dany Heatley, Kyle Brodziak, Dany Heatley, Zenon Konopka, Mike Rupp, Torrey Mitchell, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Tom Gilbert, Clayton Stoner and Justin Falk. Darcy Kuemper backed up Niklas Backstrom. Nate Prosser, Brett Clark and Jake Dowell were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by the fans were: 1st Star Ryan Suter, Torrey Mitchell, 3rd Star Mikko Koivu
~ Attendance was 19,076 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ The Houston Aeros had their own crazy game on Tuesday night against in-state rival Texas Stars. The Aeros would take a 1-0 lead on a power play goal by Jason Zucker. The Stars would answer right back with a goal of their own at 1-1 when Justin Dowling scored off a nice pass by Reilly Smith. Texas would then take the lead on a laser of a shot taken off a faceoff to make it 2-1 going into the 2nd period. The Stars would add to their lead in the 2nd with a goal by former Aeros defenseman Maxime Fortunus. Houston would try to answer back as Steven Kampfer found the twine behind Jack Cambell. Reilly Smith would score late in the period to make it 4-2 Texas going into the 2nd intermission. In the 3rd period the Aeros would strike three times in quick succession as Justin Fontaine lit the lamp and then Brett Bulmer scored on a penalty shot to tie the game. A few minutes after that, David McIntyre would give Houston the go-head goal but the good feelings would not last long as Texas would strike twice in less than 30 seconds. First it was Dowling with his 2nd goal of the game and then Tyler Sloan notched another to make it 6-5 Stars. Houston wasn't done yet and Mikael Granlund would tie the game on a deflection with just 52 seconds left in regulation. The game would go ot overtime, but Texas would score about 2 minutes in as Alex Chiasson found the net behind Matt Hackett to give Texas a 7-6 overtime victory. Hackett had 24 saves in the loss.
2013 NCAA Men's Hockey Tournament Game Previews:
Quinnipiac (ECAC, 27-7-5) vs. Canisius (Atlantic, 19-18-5) ~ It is uncharted territory for both of these schools as they meet in the 1st round of the NCAA Tourney. Quinnipiac finished atop the Pairwise rankings and earns them the #1 seed. The Bobcats have two fairly even scoring lines led by seniors Jeremy Langlois (12 goals) and Jordan Samuels-Thomas (14 goals). The Golden Griffins are the true Cinderella of the tournament after finishing just 7th in the Atlantic Hockey Conference but a strong showing in the Cinference tourament helped seal a bid. Canisius will be leaning heavily on a 1-2 punch of Kyle Gibbons (20 goals) and Preston Shupe (16 goals) because beyond them they lack a lot of fire power which means one can expect the Griffins to play a defensive style. Between the pipes, White Bear Lake-native Erik Hartzell will be carrying the load for the Bobcats while Tony Capobianco will hope to keep it close.
Union (ECAC, 21-12-5) vs. Boston College (H-East, 22-11-4) ~ The champions of the ECAC tournament face off against the defending national champion Boston College. The Dutchman have a solid attack led by senior Wayne Simpson (16 goals) and set up man Kyle Bodie (9 goals). Union also has one of the better power play quarterbacks in the NCAA in sophomore blueliner Shane Gostisbehere (7 goals) who is used pressure packed situations after helping Team USA win a Gold Medal. However, Union certainly does not hold a monopoly of big time players from the successful WJC tournament, as Boston College has one of the most dynamic players in college hockey in 'Johnny Hockey' John Gaudreau (20 goals) along with senior Steven Whitney (26 goals) who seems to have been there forever. Power forward Bill Arnold (17 goals) and Pat Mullane (16 goals) give Boston College the kind of scoring depth few other teams possess and what makes them a very dangerous opponent. Between the pipes, Union will hope Troy Grosenick can shut the door on Boston College while Union will try its best to solve senior goalie Parker Milner.
Wisconsin (WCHA, 22-12-7) vs. UMass-Lowell (H-East, 26-12-2) ~ UMass-Lowell surprised many last season by going as far as they did in the NCAA tournament last year but the Riverhawks followed it up by winning the Hockey East Tournament this year. Wisconsin had a miserable start to the season but rallied back to win the WCHA tournament last week. Both clubs are not going to 'wow' you on paper and its no surprise both teams play a defensive style that keeps games low scoring but they have the potential to beat anyone. Wisconsin is led by Los Angeles Kings' prospect Michael Mersch (23 goals) as well as Burnsville-native Tyler Barnes (15 goals) who plays big in important games. The Riverhawks are more of a scoring by committee type of team as Joe Petenza (13 goals), Scott Wilson (15 goals) and Riley Wetmore (15 goals) mean UMass-Lowell is tough to match up against because you're forced to pick your poison. On the blueline, the Badgers are led by senior John Ramage who provides offense and strong physical play in the defensive zone where the Riverhawks look to Joe Ruhwedel to be the catalyst to get UMass-Lowell on the offensive. Between the pipes, Joe Rumpel emerged as the top goalie for the Badgers while freshman Connor Hellebucyk has been outstanding this season.
Niagara (Atlantic, 23-9-5) vs. North Dakota (WCHA, 21-12-7) ~ The Purple Eagles have been one of the stronger programs in the Atlantic Conference since joining from the defunct College Hockey America. Meanwhile North Dakota continues to be one of the most dominant programs in the nation even though being beaten in the WCHA semifinals by Colorado College who failed to qualify for the tournament. Niagara is led by one of the more explosive players in college hockey in senior Giancarlo Iuorio (21 goals) and set up man Ryan Murphy (15 goals) while North Dakota brings some heavy firepower of its own as seniors Danny Kristo (25 goals) and Corban Knight (15 goals) as well as freshman Rocco Grimaldi (13 goals) will be quite a test for the Purple Eagles to stop. Tasked with doing just that for Niagara will be Carsen Chubak who has been outstanding this season who comes into the tournament with a .938% save percentage while former Alabama-Huntsville netminder Clarke Saunders carries the mail for North Dakota.
Denver (WCHA, 20-13-5) vs. New Hampshire (H-East, 19-11-7) ~ Denver has been amongst the top teams in the WCHA this season but a disappointing 1st round exit to in-state rival Colorado College has the Pioneers wanting more while New Hampshire brings another strong team to the tournament which should benefit from a home-ice advantage since its being held in Manchester, NH. The Pioneers have a fair amount of scoring depth as Nick Shore (14 goals), Shawn Ostrow (15 goals) as well as one of the most gifted offensive defenseman in the tournament in Joey LaLeggia (11 goals). The Wildcats will try to answer back with its own balanced attack led by senior John Henrion (14 goals), sophomore Grayson Downing (15 goals) and their own offensive defenseman in Trevor Van Reimsdyk (7 goals). In the crease the Pioneers will lean on sophomore Juho Olkinuora and the Wildcats will look to its own sophomore goalie in Casey DeSmith. This could be the most even 1st round match up of the tournament.
St. Cloud State (WCHA, 23-15-1) vs. Notre Dame (CCHA, 25-12-3) ~ The Huskies had a chance to win the WCHA regular season crown outright but they were unable win sweep their last series against Wisconsin. Notre Dame won the last ever CCHA tournament with a one-goal win over Michigan. St. Cloud State has an excellent balance of scoring which is among the best of the tournament field led by senior and Wild prospect camp tryout Drew LeBlanc (13 goals), junior Nic Dowd (14 goals) and freshman phenom Johnny Brodzinski (21 goals). The Huskies also have a pair of talented offensive defenseman in Nick Jensen and Andrew Prochno which make St. Cloud very dangerous, especially on the power play. The Fighting Irish also have good scoring depth led by Edina-native Anders Lee (20 goals), fellow junior Bryan Rust (15 goals) and Wild prospect Mario Lucia (12 goals). Throughout the season the Fighting Irish have been a bit more feast or famine than the Huskies so they will need tremendous goaltending from junior goalie Steven Summerhays while sophomore Ryan Faragher will look to shut Notre Dame down.
Minnesota State (WCHA, 24-13-3) vs. Miami (CCHA, 24-11-5) ~ Both of these clubs had high hopes going into their end of the season tournament but it didn't quite end where they hoped. Minnesota State has modest attack that has balance and is led by sophomore Matt Leitner and senior power forward and LeCrescent, Minnesota-native Eriah Hayes as well as offensive blueliner in South St. Paul's Zack Palmquist (7 goals). The Redhawks, like Wisconsin had a rough start to the season but recovered rather nicely. They have a talented squad led by freshman Riley Barber (15 goals) and sophomore Austin Czarnik (14 goals) but scoring has been an issue for Miami throughout the season. The Redhawks have a virtual split between a pair of freshman goaltenders in Jay Williams and Ryan McKay with nearly identical records so Miami could really go with either goalie and feel comfortable. The Mavericks will go with freshman sensation Stephon Williams in the blue paint where they hope he can lead Minnesota State on a nice post-season run.
Yale (ECAC, 18-12-3) vs. Minnesota (WCHA, 26-8-5) ~ Yale has to feel fortunate to have qualified for the tournament after an up and down season, while the Golden Gophers are coming off a disappointing finish in the WCHA tournament after sharing a portion of the regular season crown. The Bulldogs are led by its top line which features a trio of seniors in Kenny Agostino (15 goals), Andrew Miller (16 goals) and Antoine Langinere (14 goals). The Golden Gophers are one of most talented teams in the tournament led by Wild prospect Erik Haula (16 goals), and a pair of Florida Panthers' prospects in Nick Bjugstad (21 goals) and Kyle Rau (15 goals). On the blueline the Gophers have perhaps the best two way defenseman in the nation in Nate Schmidt (8 goals). No team in the tournament has more NHL drafted talent than do the Golden Gophers but that is all window dressing unless it produces results. Yale will look to senior goaltender Jeff Malcolm to stop the Golden Gophers' potent offense while Minnesota looks to freshman wunderkind Adam Wilcox to continue his solid play.
Wild Prospect Report:
D - Mathew Dumba (Red Deer, WHL) ~ Dumba and the Rebels are rolling along as they took a convincing 3-0 series lead after a 3-1 victory on Tuesday. The Calgary-native did his part by chipping in 2 assists in the win. Dumba has 1 goal and 4 points in 3 playoff games thus far.
C - Tyler Graovac (Belleville, OHL) ~ After a 2-0 start for Belleville they've found themselves in a real dogfight as Mississauga has won the last two games to even the series after a 5-2 win last night. Graovac contributed an assist but it wasn't enough. So far Graovac has 2 goals and 7 points in 4 playoff games.