It was mid way through the second period, with the Minnesota Wild up 2-1 over the Red Wings, that rookie defenseman Jonas Brodin gathered up the puck and raced up the ice on a 2-on-1 with star forward Zach Parise. Brodin fired a low shot from the right of Wings netminder Jimmy Howard, which bounced behind the net to Parise, who passed it to rookie right wing Charlie Coyle, who then centered it to Koivu for a wrister from the slot that found its way past Howard into the back of the net. It was a brilliant play, and one of two goals that Brodin played a key part in setting up. In fact, if the NHL allowed three assists per goal, Brodin would have collected two on the night. Koivu’s goal would be the eventual game-winner, as Drew Miller would go on to score a second goal for the Wings with 14 seconds left in the game to make it 4-2.
With the win, Minnesota swept their three game road trip and improved to 17-10-2, including 7-7-1 on the road. Minnesota has gone 7-3-0 in their last ten games with 19 more to go in the regular season. The best part is, the secondary scoring has been coming along quite well, with Devin Setoguchi notching his second two goal game in three games and Pierre-Marc Bouchard extending his point streak to four (a goal and six assists). Matt Cullen (three goals, 11 assists and plus-8 in 14 games since February 21st) has been a genius playing between them and, as Minnesota’s success continues, this line just keeps rolling.
In addition to secondary scoring, the top line also found the score sheet tonight via the beauty by “Kaptain Koivu” mentioned above. Both Parise and top defenseman Ryan Suter notched assists tonight, but Koivu’s goal kept him tied with Suter for the team point scoring lead at 24 points in 29 games. Parise is only one point behind them, and Setoguchi and Cullen are tied for fourth with 20 points apiece. If the second line can keep producing, that race only gets tighter. Setoguchi is especially on a tear and, with his second goal of the night, tied Zach Parise for the goal scoring lead with 11 on the season. The best part is how spread out the scoring is in the lineup. Pure goal scorers Parise, Setoguchi and Dany Heatley patrol the ice on the first, second and third lines, respectively, and guys like Koivu, Cullen, Bouchard, Brodziak and rookies Coyle and Jason Zucker provide other great scoring opportunities, as well.
The defense is exceptional, as well. Head Coach Mike Yeo has felt so comfortable with his defensive corps of two veterans, four young guys and a rookie that he has yet to find a spot for recently acquired veteran defender Brett Clark in the lineup. There is a reason he should feel so comfortable—his defense is good. Sure, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk and Nate Prosser aren’t the biggest names in the game, but they get the job done. Both Ryan Suter and Tom Gilbert can munch a lot of minutes and definitely help stabilize the back end. Then there’s Swedish wunderkind Jonas Brodin, a young man who will likely go down in history as the best defenseman in Minnesota Wild history. Yes, Minnesota’s defense is more than able to hold its own.
Then there’s the goaltending—a position that can make or break a team. The goals are coming for Minnesota, and the defense is there, but they’re nothing without a solid goaltender. That goaltender’s name is Niklas Backstrom. The 35 year old undrafted goaltender is undoubtedly the best the franchise has seen in its short existence, and is quietly posting one of the best seasons of his career with a 15-7-2 record, .917 save percentage and 2.32 goals against average. With backup netminder Josh Harding out with issues relating to his MS, Backstrom has seen the lion’s share of starts for Minnesota. Both Darcy Kuemper and Matthew Hackett have seen time as his backup this season, but this is Backstrom’s net to lose for now. Considering goaltenders don’t usually reach their prime until their late 20s, his position within the Wild organization is likely secured for a while yet.
In a lockout shortened season, there are no easy games. Minnesota has 19 games left in the regular season and will face San Jose (3x), Dallas (2x), Phoenix, LA (3x), St. Louis (2x), Columbus (2x), Chicago, Calgary (2x), Edmonton (2x) and Colorado. Of those 19 games, five are against divisional rivals. Minnesota has to win on the road—their three game road sweep of Colorado, Vancouver and Detroit shows signs that they’re capable of doing that. Nor should they think home is to their advantage. While they do have a great 10-3-1 record at home, that could just as easily be ruined by visits from the Blues, Blackhawks, Kings and the surging Blue Jackets.
The Minnesota Wild are currently in third place in the Western Conference, six points ahead of the 8th and final spot. Can they keep up the pace they are currently on? Can they make the playoffs for the first time since 2008? Yes—they most certainly can. They just need to continue to buy into Mike Yeo’s system. He knows what he’s doing and there is no tougher team to play in the league than Minnesota when they stick to his system. It’s crunch time and Minnesota will either sink or swim, I have no doubt they’ll rise to the occasion and not only make it into the playoffs, but make a deep run of it. Now is the time for the Minnesota Wild; it’s time for them to go out there and take it.