The Minnesota Wild faced the L.A. Kings for the first of three meetings this season. If tonight was was any indicator the next two should be great games. The Wild and Kings were tied after regulation and five minutes of overtime. It took a shoot out to decide this one, with the Wild taking the extra point. Wild shooters Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Matt Cullen all scored against L.A. net minder Jamie Quick. The frustrated Kings goalie smashed his stick on the goal after Cullen scored, showing the underlying emotions the loss stirred up. Minnesota came back from a two goal deficit, down 3-1 halfway through the game, on goals by line mates Charlie Coyle and Zach Parise. Post game Parise talked about the job the Wild did tonight against the Kings, “They are a team you have to be patient against. They don’t give you a lot of good chances.” The Wild now have 44 points on a record of 21-11-2, they also have once again overtaken the Canucks for the Northwest Division lead and the third spot in the Western Conference. Vancouver lost to Edmonton tonight dropping them to 2nd in the division and 4th in the conference.
Every point is precious in this shortened 48 game season, that importance is magnified as the season passes the two thirds mark for the Wild. The Wild’s Head Coach Mike Yeo said after the game That the Wild showed, “Huge amounts of character by our team. Just a great job by our guys. We did a great job of managing our emotions.” Those emotions seemed to be well covered as the Wild got off to a slow start, perhaps due to playing last night and arriving back home rather late. There was no morning skate before the game just warmups. It was a that time the coaches learned that 4th line player, Torrey Mitchell was ill and couldn’t play. That necessitated the Wild inserting Nate Prosser back into the lineup and skating 7 defensemen and only 11 forwards. This was also the debut for Brett Clark a veteran free agent defenseman acquired recently. Coach Yeo didn’t want to disturb the lineup while Minnesota was on their 7 game winning streak. With the streak over it was time to shake things up defensively. Justin Falk was scratched tonight. Yeo praised the play of the Clark after the game saying, “I thought as the game went on he got stronger. You could really see what he could add, his poise, his execution helping us. I was very impressed.” Clark’s stat line on the night reads no goals or assists, 3 shots on goal, and 2 hits in 15:08 of ice time. I’d look for Clark to be in the lineup more than not over the last 14 games of the season.
Minnesota found them selves back on their heels as the Kings came out firing, out shooting the Wild 10-5 over the first half of the period. L.A. went up 1-0 on a power play goal by Dustin Brown with Clayton Stoner in the box for holding. A failed clearing attempt by the Wild directly led to the goal. There was a definate lack of sustained offensive pressure by Minnesota until Devin Setoguchi took a pass from Pierre-Marc Bouchard and found Matt Cullen streaking down the left side. Cullen beat Quick cleanly to tie the game at one. The goal gives Cullen a four game point streak and 19 points in his last 19 contests. The assists gave Setoguchi 21 points in his last 24 games while Bouchard has 10 points in his last 9 games.
The second period saw the Kings capitalize a second time on the power play. This time Cal Cluttterbusk was in the box for interference as Jeff Carter found the back of the net making the score 2-1. The Wild would go 0 for 2 on the penalty kill tonight. They have now allowed 5 power play goals over the last two games. Hopefully that is just an anomaly and not a trend for a usually effective Minnesota penalty kill unit. The Kings would make the score 3-1 on another mistake by Clayton Stoner. The Wild defenseman waited too long to unload a slap shot allowing Justin Williams to move into position to block it. Williams then quickly gathered the puck in, skated past Stoner, on a break away toward Niklas Backstrom. Williams fired a shot beating Backstrom easily for the goal. That would be the last goal for the Kings tonight. Stoner would finish the game with a -1 rating. The difference in the game to this point was the power play. L.A. was 2 for 2 while Minnesota was 0 for 2.
Now it was time for the Wild’s number one line to go to work. Rookie Charlie Coyle scored a beauty of a goal on a second effort. His initial shot was stopped by Quick but Coyle found the rebound and from his knees beat the Kings goalie with a back hander, down low, making the score 3-2. Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise picked up assists on the play. That line wasn’t done as they scored the equalizer on a power play at the 8:06 mark of the third period. With two Kings in the box and 59-seconds of two man advantage the Wild couldn’t let the opportunity slip away. Koivu took a pass from D-man Ryan Suter and found Parise all alone at the side of the Kings net’ Parise fired the puck home and the sellout crowd at the Xcel energy Center erupted. That was the final goal to be scored by wither team in regulation and the overtime session. The OT was one of the quickest on record as it elapsed without a single whistle. The teams played fire wagon hockey up and down the ice but neither team could score.
For the 5th time in 8 games in St. Paul the game would be settled with a shoot out. The Wild sent out their aces, Parise, Koivu and Cullen. The Kings countered with Brown, Richards and Carter. Parise opened the scoring with a deke move that Quick could not cover. Backstrom would stop the Kings Brown with a right pad save. Next Mikko Koivu went to his trade mark forehand, backhand, roof move that Quick had no chance to stop. Next Richards beat Backstrom with a snap shot to the right side, just under the cross bar. That left Cullen who skated straight in on Quick and beat him with a snap shot five hole to seal the win and take the extra point. The shoot out goal was the 22nd of Matt Cullen’s career. The Wild have one of, if not the best group of shoot out artists in the NHL. Niklas Backstrom looked great in regulation and darn near unbeatable in OT and the shoot out. His day of rest paid off with a win and 28 saves on 31 shots. Backstrom now leads the NHL in wins with a record of 19-7-2. He also sports a 2.34 goals against average and a .916 save %.
The Wild have Easter Sunday off before they face the St. Louis Blues Monday at the Xcel Energy Center. Between now and then Coach Yeo will have some decisions to make about his defense. Brett Clark played well tonight and that gives the Wild 8 healthy defensemen. The top pair of Suter and Brodin won’t see any changes. They are thriving together and Suter now leads the league in assists and points by a defenseman. Jared Spurgeon plays in all situations including power play and penalty kill minutes. That leaves Clark, Stoner, Justin Falk, Tom Gilbert, and Nate Prosser to fill the remaining three spots. Clark appears to be moving in while Stoner and Falk are struggling. Prosser has been a healthy scratch more often than not, and could deserve a chance to step up. Tom Gilbert has a good track record but hasn’g fully clicked yet in Minnesota. It will be interesting to see who dresses on Monday.
The Wild are back on the winning track after a bad game in Dallas. The top two lines are proving deadly night in night out. St. Louis come to town next and the Wild owe them a little pay back from the last meeting back on January 27th. That game was a 5-4 overtime win for the Blues in St. Louis. GonePuckWild.com will have your game preview Monday morning. Until then this is Scott Drain triumphantly yelling “LET’S GO WILD!!!!!”