The Minnesota Wild just keep on winning. Tonight Minnesota beat the Phoenix Coyotes in OT to run their winning streak to 7 games. It’s been a wild ride for the boys from St. Paul. It seems that every game a different player, a different line, a different way is found to win and keep picking up points. With tonight’s victory the Wild are once again the leader in the Northwest Division with 42 points. While they are tied with Vancouver in points, they have the division lead and the third spot in the Western Conference standings based on regulation and overtime wins (ROW) with 17 total. This wasn’t the prettiest win of the year but it was a win and that’s what counts. There are no style points in the NHL. Minnesota Captain Mikko Koivu summed it up after the game saying, “Good teams find ways to win and we did.” Mikko was outstanding late in the game and the overtime session. He had an assist on Ryan Suter‘s game tying goal with 55 seconds left in the 3rd period and scored the game winner 2:43 into overtime. His stats for the game read 1 goal, 1 assist, 4 shots, +2 with no penalties in 23:39 of ice time. It was just another day at the office for the Wild’s undisputed leader on and off the ice. Minnesota’s top line showed why they are #1, the top defensive pairing showed why they are #1. In the words of Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo after the game, “It’s a pretty simple story. We had a few individuals who said we’re not going to lose this game tonight.” Later he added “I just don’t think we played a very good game tonight from top to bottom, but we found a way to win.” Win, that’s what the Wild did tonight. When things looked bleak late in the 3rd period, after they coughed up a 2 goal lead and found them selves trailing with 1 minute left on the clock, they dug deep and found a way to win. That’s the difference between this season’s Minnesota Wild and the Minnesota Wild of seasons past. Some team’s found ways to win and other’s didn’t. The 2002-03 squad found ways to win as they became the most successful Wild team to date. Other teams in other years found ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Tonight the Wild were winners and everybody loves a winner, especially the 19,076 fans in attendance at the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild are hot right now and they plan to stay hot as they head back to Dallas to face the Stars for the second time in a week. This past Monday the Wild won in Dallas for the first time in 10 years. They will need to be firing on all cylinders and stay hot as they look to repeat that performance Friday night.
The Wild came out a little flat tonight as the puck dropped at 8pm. Maybe the guys thought this would be an easy task to beat the Coyotes who are tied for 12th in the Western Conference standings. Phoenix handed the Wild an opportunity right off the bat when Martin Hanzal took a tripping penalty just 30 seconds into the 1st period. After all Minnesota has scored a power play goal in 9 of their past 11 games many of those coming a critical junctures of those contests. No power play goal was to be had here or during any of the 4 power play opportunities the Wild had Wednesday night. Much of the 1st period was a rather lackluster effort by both teams. The Wild would eventually break through when the 4th line of Torrey Mitchell, Mike Rupp and Zenon Konopka would score at the 15:15 mark. Rupp fired off a good shot that Coyotes net minder Jason Labarbera couldn’t corral. The puck landed on the tape of Mitchell who came charging down the slot and snapped the rebound home to put the home team up by 1. That was the only goal of the 1st period by wither team. With 1 period in the books the Wild led 1-0 and in shots on goal 10-8.
The Wild would go up 2-0 5:29 into the second period when Phoenix goalie Labarbera gift wrapped an opportunity for Matt Cullen. While playing the puck behind his own net the Coyote goalie tried to send a pass up ice through the slot. BAD IDEA! The WIld’s Cullen knocked the puck out of the air, gathered it in when it hit the ice and flipped it into a wide open net before Labarbera or any other Coyotes could react. At this point is looked as though the Wild were on their way to an easy win on home ice with a sell put crowd roaring their approval. Not so fast Minnesota Wild fans. A hungry group of Coyotes were waiting for their turn to pounce on any chances the Wild would provide. Phoenix was looking for the chance to seize momentum at the first opportunity. Zenon Konopka and Kyle Chipchura dropped the gloves and engaged in a lengthy fight that started near the Wild’s blue line continued over the red line along the boards, then worked it’s way past the Coyotes blue line down the half wall into the corner and finally wound up by the Phoenix goal. It’s amazing how long Konopka can stretch out a fight, wearing down his opponent with his endurance. That tilt seemed to energize both benches. It was Phoenix who capitalized first as they cut the Wild’s lead in half with the first of two goals they would score in just 3 minutes and 15 seconds to even the score at 2 goals apiece. Rob Klinkhammer would score the first for the ‘Yotes at the 7:13 mark of the period. Keith Yandle would tie the score soon after quieting the noisy Xcel Energy Center crowd. This wasn’t how the game was supposed to go, the Wild were supposed to keep rolling and scoring. The script didn’t call for a tie game going into the third period. This just wasn’t right. Phoenix was spending a lot of time in the offensive zone while the Wild’s dump ins were going the other direction quickly and all to often without a shot on goal.
Just 1:52 had elapsed in the 3rd period when Michael Stone scored to give the Coyotes their first lead of the game and the potential game winner. The Wild seemed to be struggling throughout the night with inconsistent play, a lack of focus and little attention to detail. Those things have been key in building this 6-game win streak that was now in jeopardy. Not all the Wild were having an off night and even those who were had stretches of good play. One luxury Minnesota has this year is three solid scoring lines who can strike on any shift at any time. Some of the guys having a good night included Zach Parise who had 7 shots on goal and an assist on the night, Ryan Suter who put 6 shots on net and Captain Koivu.
The streak appeared to be headed toward a conclusion and two points headed to Phoenix with less than a minute to play and Niklas Backstrom on the bench for an extra skater. That’s when Zach Parise went to work battling for the puck behind the Phoenix goal and dishing it to Koivu. The Wild captain sent the puck to D-man Jared Spurgeon on the point who one-timed it to Suter. Suter skated in toward goalie Labarbera snapping off a shot that beat the Coyote’s goalie high on the right side tying the game at 3 goals a side and sending the game into OT. Through three periods the Wild out shot the Coyotes 32 to 27 with the best shot yet to come.
Phoenix quickly went a man down in the overtime session when Antoine Vermette took a dumb penalty just 35 seconds into OT. He cross checked Wild’s Jared Spurgeon in the low back knocking the diminutive D-man awkwardly into the boards face first. Luckily Spurgeon was not seriously injured and shook off the dangerous hit, staying in the game as Phoenix went a man down. The Coyotes managed to kill the 2 minutes of 4 on 3 hockey and a shootout was appearing on the horizon. Once again though Zach Parise went to work dishing a slick pass to Captain Koivu who deked the Coyote defenders and beat Labarbera for the game winner. The streak is intact at 7 games and Minnesota stole two points from the Coyotes. After the game Wild winger Cal Clutterbuck echoed the sentiments of Wild coaches and players saying, “I don’t think we were near good enough tonight.” “We’ve got to push the pace from the drop of the puck.” Good enough or not the Minnesota Wild won their 7th straight game tonight, took over the divisional lead, climbed into third in the tight Western Conference and scored 4 or more goals for the 7th time this month. During this 7 game win streak the Wild have averaged 4.42 goals scored, given up an average of 2.42 goals, gone 6 for 21 on the power play (28.6%), killed off 17 of 22 penalties (77.2%) and goal tender Backstrom has posted a .924 save percentage. Next up, the Dallas Stars for the second time this week. It’s a lot of fun to watch the Minnesota Wild and cover them for GonePuckWild.com, I’ll be back Friday morning with the Wild vs Stars game preview. Until then, this is Scott Drain proudly saying, LET’S GO WILD!!