If you’ve been a fan of Minnesota professional sports in the past, you knew that you could always take solace in the fact that your teams were consistent—consistently mediocre. That’s changing drastically in the State of Hockey.
Last night, the Minnesota Wild found themselves down a goal three different times in their matchup with the “old team”, the Dallas Stars. It wasn’t that Minnesota’s defense or goaltending was terrible; Dallas had some lucky breaks, and the NHL’s second star of the week (Niklas Backstrom) was lagging after starting 11 straight games in net for Minnesota. However, the Wild offense wouldn’t quit, tying the game four different times and scoring the eventual game-winner via a Kyle Brodziak shorthanded goal on a Mike Rupp four-minute penalty late in the game. Dany Heatley and Pierre-Marc Bouchard sealed the win—Minnesota’s first in Dallas in over 10 years—with two more to make it a 7-4 victory.
Not only did Minnesota break an incredibly long losing streak, but it was the third losing streak they have broken in two weeks. On March 18th, the Wild broke their winless streak in Vancouver (dating back to 2009) with a 3-1 victory. Then, two nights later, they broke their regulation winless streak in Detroit (dating back to 2006) with a 4-2 win. In the process, Minnesota set a franchise record with their first ever six game regulation win streak, and now lead the Northwest Division with a 19-10-2 record. Last night’s win also gives Minnesota a five game win streak on the road, and improves their road record to 8-7-1.
Earlier this month, I was a guest on NHL On the Ice Radio, talking some Minnesota Wild hockey. One of the questions I was asked is whether Minnesota is a playoff team. Looking at their upcoming schedule, I wasn’t convinced at the time and told them to ask me after this month. Monday is April 1st and, with three more games to go this month, Minnesota has been an impressive 9-3-0 in March, with their only losses coming at the hands of the Blackhawks and Ducks. Simply incredible.
I can honestly say, as a Minnesota Wild fan (and writer), I have never been more proud of this team than I was last night. This team is resilient, and that speaks to the system Head Coach Mike Yeo is using with his extremely talented squad. This team would not die, and proved it with every equalizing goal, and by capitalizing on the shorthanded chance late in the game when it looked like Dallas had the perfect opportunity to put the game to bed with Rupp’s four-minute penalty. Simply put, this team expects to win.
I couldn’t help but think last night that Todd Richards’ Minnesota Wild team would’ve packed up shop and given up when Jaromir Jagr scored an easy one on the penalty to Jonas Brodin, or when Trevor Daly sniped one over Backstrom’s shoulder on a Dallas 3-on-2 to take the lead. This team has character and guys that just will not quit.
The best part was that it showed just a glimpse of how deadly and deep this team is when everyone is clicking. Minnesota’s skaters fired an incredible 41 shots on net, and kept Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen quite busy throughout the night. Both Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu were on fire, helping Minnesota’s top-6 combine for five goals (one empty-netter) and five assists, while the third line chipped in another two goals and three assists. Minnesota’s defensive corps also added five assists and Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon both notched two assists and a plus-5 rating. Even Backstrom, who allowed four goals, was still solid, stopping 22 shots in the victory—his league best 17th of the year. You can bet he’ll get his well-deserved rest sometime this week as the team exercises rookie goalies Matt Hackett and Darcy Kuemper.
Two of Minnesota’s three remaining games this week will be played within the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center, where the Wild have notched a dominating 11-3-1 record in front of the residents of the State of Hockey. Minnesota certainly has a great chance of beating both the Coyotes and Kings at Xcel, while playing the Stars in Dallas one more time in between on Saturday night.
If Minnesota keeps playing like they have been, a deep playoff run is certainly not out of the picture for this team. Things finally seem to be clicking for the Wild. The defense is solid, the goaltending is strong and the offense is starting to explode. The days of mediocrity for the Minnesota Wild are long gone. This team is the real deal, folks; but, then again, Wild fans have known that all along.