Big Game Letdown: Wild Done in by Blackhawks

The Wild just didn’t have it tonight.

The Chicago Blackhawks came in to the Xcel Energy Center and pretty much dominated our favorite hockey team for two periods, building a 3-0 lead through 2. This was a big game in front of a big crowd, and the Wild were a step slower than the Hawks the whole night. And although they did rally in the 3rd, cutting it to 3-2 and getting a powerplay opportunity late in the game, you just kind of had the feeling that they weren’t going to have enough. Sure enough, they gave up a shortie on that powerplay. Rally: Dead.

My man crush on Pierre-Marc Bouchard also took a hit. He didn’t do much all night as the Hawks were tight on him all game. And you could make a case for pinning the back-breaking shorty on him too. He got a bit carried away in the furious effort to tie the game on the last powerplay, diving to keep the puck in the offensive zone. His weak attempt to get the puck deep into the zone (he was laying on his stomach, so you can’t blame him for that) led to a 2-on-1 Hawks goal from Marian Hossa. It was a play that I probably would have stood and applauded had it not gone the way it did, so  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The loss means the Hawks leapfrog the Wild in the standings and the Wild drop to 9th in the conference…yep…back on the outside looking in. They head out to the Big Apple to take on the hapless Islanders Wednesday and the mediocre (and likely Gabork-less) Rangers on Thursday. Gotta take at least 3 points out of those two games, IMHO.

Oh BTW…trade deadline? YAWN!!!

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Wild Back on Track?

After a week or two of losses where the Wild played decently but not good enough to win, they’ve suddenly strung together three big wins and are back to 4 points out. After losses to ANA, LA, NJ, and CHI, they’ve now beaten CAL, CHI, and PIT. After falling to 8 points out of a playoff spot, they’re back to within striking distance at 4 points back.

This current stretch looked to be the toughest of the season for the Wild. Although they probably should have beaten Anaheim and LA and looked pretty bad in Chicago, they played well v. New Jersey and in all 3 home wins in the current streak. The squad even pulled of the biggest comeback in franchise history (down 5-1 v. Chicago in the 3rd) and tonight beat the defending Cup champion Penguins.

This team trends a bit differently from last year’s team. When they needed wins, last year’s team would win 1, then lose the next, through the balance of the schedule. This year’s team goes on runs…runs of losses, then runs of wins. If it can have one more winning run than losing, we may still get to talk playoff hockey this season.

A lot of other interesting stuff has gone on in the last couple weeks.

  • Jacques Lemaire returned to the X behind the NJ Devil’s bench. He appeared to be moved by a nice reception from the Wild and Wild fans. Then he beat the Wild 4-3.
  • Petr Sykora is upset that he is a consistent healthy scratch, and his agent is tweeting mad about it.
  • Guillaume Latendresse is winning fans like mad with 15 points since the Benoit Pouliot trade.
  • Backup G Josh Harding was in danger of taking a loss in a game where he entered trailing 5-1.
  • Harding also unveiled a sweet new mask, paying homage to the team’s burned equipment van in Ottawa.
  • In that same game, Marty Havlat was not chosen to shoot during an 8-round shootout.
  • Two Minnesotans will be part of the core leadership for the US Olympic hockey team. Jamie Langenbrunner will serve as team captain and Zach Parise is one of 4 alternate captains.

All good stuff. The Wild will attempt to continue this run Wednesday at the X v. Vancouver Canucks.

Here’s a bonus for you: Latendresse’s game-winning goal from tonight’s game v. Pittsburgh. The goal was sweet, and so was how Kyle Brodziak created a sneaky 2 on 1. Great goal. Enjoy!

Sweet Revenge on the ‘Hawks

What a great win by the Wizzy win tonite. They rolled in to United Center and beat the resurgent Chicago Blackhawks – who are the new darlings of the NHL – and avenged a 4-1 drubbing at the X a couple weeks ago. Final was 4-1, with 2 powerplay goals from Marek Zidlicky, one from Mikko Koivu, and an empty netter from Cal Clutterbuck. Niklas Backstrom was solid with 40 saves, a few of them were very timely. The Wild penalty kill was also very good, especially with 3 minutes left when Chicago pulled their goalie to get a 6 on 4 advantage. The Hawks didn’t get much opportunity as the Wild broke up multiple cross-ice passes with nice stickwork.

Jots

  • James Sheppard played a pretty good game. He had a few good chances on ‘Hawks G Nikolai Khabibulin.
  • Andrew Brunette had one of his better games of late, registering 2 assists – one of them a pretty no-look pass to Zidlicky on his 2nd PP goal. He should go knees-first into the boards more often.
  • Brent Burns looked a little bit shaky at times. I remember a couple instances of “Burnsie whaddya doin” thru my mind. He’s still a stud tho.
  • Marek Zidlicky has 8 goals on the season and they’re all on the powerplay.

Next
The Wild return to the X tomorrow nite to take on the LA Kings. They need to start following up nice games like tonite with wins, so it is a big game. LA continues to be a bad team; the Wizzy had better take care of bidness.

New Year's Hockey Summary

Lots of fun hockey stuff to talk about from the New Year’s holiday. Let’s break it down, game summary-style.

1st Period – New Year’s Eve – Sharks @ Wild
I wasn’t able to watch this game. Not that I made an effort. We went to a friend’s house for the NYE so I was busy with various pre-party preparations. I did tune in Bob Kurtz a couple times in the car tho. While on our way to the party the Wild were up 2-1 and holding on for dear life. I have to give mad props to the crowd at the X Wednesday nite. With the Wizzy in free fall, sitting in last place in the Northwest division, the crowd came across super loud over the WCCO airwaves. I know a couple people that were there, so I give a shout out to them.

Unfortunately the Sharks tied the game with around 29 seconds left, but Brent Burns won the game for the Wild in OT. Great win over the Sharks who are virtually unbeatable this season. Could this game can be the harbinger for turning the season around? Goodness let’s hope so.

2nd Period – New Year’s Day – USA v. Canada
This 3rd game for each country in the World Junior Championships was actually played New Year’s Eve, but due to the party I watched it early New Year’s Day, with Baby Girl. If you had a chance to catch any of this game, what an atmosphere. This year’s WJC is being played in Ottawa, so naturally it is a very Canadian crowd. The fans were passing a huge Canadian flag all around the concourse, they were loud, and it was a fun game to watch. USA jumped out to a surprising 3-0 lead, but by the end of the 1st period it was tied. Ultimately Canada won the game 7-4, but they scored 2 empty net goals. The final score makes sense because earlier in the tournament Canada beat Kazakhstan 15-0, while the US was 3 goals off, beating the Kazakhstanis 12-0. Canada is the more-talented team, but if they meet again, USA could have a chance for an upset.

The US takes on Slovakia in the quarterfinals Friday at 2:30 CST. You can catch the game on the NHL Network.

3rd Period – New Year’s Day – NHL Winter Classic
This one was the main event of the holiday. The most hype as well as my most-anticipated. Add on fry bread and uff-da tacos and it was a great event in our house. Most of you know this, but this year’s Winter Classic was played in Chicago at Wrigley Field. The Detroit Red Wings beat the Blackhawks 6-4. For me the result wasn’t too big a deal; it was about the spectacle of a hockey game in a baseball stadium…in historic Wrigley Field. The aerial views were excellent. The fans were into it and loud, starting with the National Anthem. And it was a good game to boot.

However, I do have to say that the uniqueness of this event was lost on me a little bit. This was the 3rd outdoor game the NHL has put on, and this one was too soon. I know it is all about marketing the NHL and capitalizing on momentum, but I hope they take a year or two off before the next one. It will undoubtedly be in the Twin Cites eventually, but I hope it doesn’t happen for a while, so the event still seems like an event.

Overtime – Marian Gaborik
After the hockey New Year’s had wound down, a story appeared in my RSS reader from Michael Russo. No biggie I thought, because he is quite the blogger to go along with his Strib writing for the paper. But as I read on, it was not good news at all. It appears the Wild and Marian Gaborik are contemplating the possibility of surgery to repair a “deficiency” in his hip, which has been causing his groin problems this year. This surgery would likely be season ending. Now, this is not bad news because Gabby is a important cog on this team. Unfortunately that’s not his status anymore. But it is bad news because this team that can not score is losing the one guy that is dynamic enough to score, and now he is not tradable. We are looking at seeing the most talented player in Wild history leave the team at the end of the year and getting nothing in return. Quite the disastrous turn of events.

The Wild are back in action Saturday v. Detroit. Could be ugly for the Wizzy, but maybe this is the point in the season where it turns around.

Hey…New Years is a time for optimism afterall.

Wild v. Stars Tonite

Just a note to look for 2 recaps for tonite’s Wild v. Stars game…one from me and one from my crazy Stars-fan cousin.

Oh, and since I didn’t get a chance to recap the Wild v. Hawks from the other nite…nice win for the Wild, but we gotta stop letting teams back in to the game after being up early. It’s going to come back to haunt us eventually. Niklas Backstrom won that game for the Wild.

That said, 6-0-1 is a sweet record, and I am looking forward to tonite’s game to see how we play against one of the good teams in the Western Conference.

Wild v. Terry Sawchuk

Blackhawks @ Wild – 3-4-08 – View from the Couch
Uuuuuugh. Why does the Wild make every goalie we play look like a cross of Dominic Hasek, Patrick Roy, and Martin Brodeur? At least we could score on Roy. Seriously…we may just need to score a few more goals to make a run in the playoffs. Or to make the playoffs.

Ok, maybe I’ve gotten the frustration out of my system. Wild lose to the Blackhawks again, this time 4-2. First win at the X for the Blackhawks since 2002. They ‘Hawks are playing do or die right now, trying to get back in the playoff picture, so you expected a hard-fought game. Wild played decent. Really can’t fault them on 2 of the goals I guess. One was a deflection. Another was a nice mid-air tip that almost was a high-stick. Still, the big problem here is goal scoring. Again the Wild out-chanced the opposing team but can not bury anything. Pavol Demitra’s goal in the 1st was good…a pretty cross-ice pass from Gabby. The other goal was pretty nice too…Kim Johnsson cut through the ‘Hawks defense and Stephane Veilleux cleaned it up. Still, 2 goals won’t get the job done.

They had so many chances. Gabby and Demo had a 2 on 0 they couldn’t put in. They crashed the net nicely in the 3rd. But it’s just not goin’ in right now. That trend needs to change now.

Jots

  • Wild played an inspired first 6 minutes of the 1st. Nice departure from the uninspiring 1st periods we’ve seen of late.
  • Eric Belanger got a goal. For the ‘Hawks…What if he would have had his stick on the ice for Gabby’s dish with 15 seconds left?
  • Good to see Johnsson figure in the offense.
  • How come I’ve never heard of Chicago F Dustin Byfuglien? He’s from Roseau. He’s 6’3″. He’s 250 lbs. He’s got 14 goals this season. He also got the GW tonite. Go back to Roseau Dustin!
  • What’s Chris Simon adding to this team that Aaron Voros wasn’t?
  • Obviously I don’t know what Gabby said to the ref to get the unsportsmanlike penalty late in the game, but that’s the 2nd time he’s done that this season, at least. Not a great trait of a captain, especially late in the game when you’re pressing for a tying goal, to have your most offensive player in the box.

Fight to Hang the 1st Banner
Back to a tie for 1st in the NW. Calgary beat Columbus 1-0 and Colorado beat Vancouver 2-1. Colorado is now 3 pts behind us. BTW, Peter Forsberg made his 2008 debut tonite for Colorado.

Next on the Docket – Wild @ Hurricanes – Thurs 3-6-08
Carolina leads the Southeast division by 3 pts over Washington, so they’re a playoff team. They play at Atlanta tomorrow so it’ll be a back to back for them, but the Wild can’t win in that situation of late. Rod Brind’Amour is on the DL with knee surgery, but Eric Staal has 31 goals and Cam Ward is having a nice comeback year. Wild will need to play a quality game to get this one – maybe even score a few goals. Hurricanes 4 Wild 2

President's Cup Drama

I’m gonna make a bold prediction. Tonight I watched Blackhawks v. Stars on HD Net. I realize this was the 1st game with Brad Richards, but that’s why I think they’ll catch them. Richards had 4 assists, and they were all skill plays. Three of the assists were on goals by Niklas Hagman. They were all pretty passes, looked like he’d been playing with them all season. They’re only going to get better. Dallas is up 6-3 at time of this post.

Dallas is going to pass Detroit for the President’s Cup (best regular season record). With a win tonite Dallas will be 3 pts back of Detroit. The only chink in this predicition is that Detroit has 3 games in hand, but they are 1-7-2 in their last 10 games (and they’re old). Dallas is 8-2-0.

So Matt in TX, I think you’re team is sittin’ pretty.