The Minnesota Wild beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings Tuesday night at the Excel Energy Center by a 2-1 final score. The Wild used a two goal outburst, spanning 16 seconds of the first period, to hold off the Kings and snap a five game home winless streak. Los Angeles could manage only a single goal, scored at the 19:59 mark of the 2nd period. Minnesot net minder Niklas Backstrom takes the victory, upping his record to 23-14-3. The loss goes to Jonathan Bernier, dropping his recortd to 9-3-1 for the season. The 23 victories puts Backstrom into a tie with Nabokov of the Islanders for 2nd in the most wins category. Backstrom played brilliantly Tuesday night, making 23 saves, 12 of which came in the third period alone. The Minnesota defense held LA’s offense to just 11 shots over the first two periods along with 11 blocked shots and 6 takeaways. Defensively the Wild looked strong all night giving the Kings little room in which to operate and clogging up the neutral zone time after time, frustrating the Los Angeles offense time and time again. The win gives the Wild a total of 53 points, two points ahead of 8th place Columbus and 3 up on 9th place Detroit. The Blues won again, maintaining a 3 point cushion over the Wild. Even with the loss the Kings remain 4 points up on Minnesota as does San Jose in the Western Conference standings. Those teams occupy the 4th and 5th spots in the West. The Wild have two games left on the schedule, Friday at home versus the Oilers and Saturday night at Colorado. If Minnesota can take four points in those two games they could potentially pass St. Louis for the 6th spot in the West and could even move past San Jose on a tie breaker. That scenario is somewhat unlikely as it would require both the Blues and Sharks to both lose their final two games. The Wild just need to take care of business and control their own destiny by winning their final two games.
The Wild opened the scoring on a pretty passing play as Zach Parise picked up a Jonas Brodin rebound and flipped a perfect saucer pass to Charlie Coyle in the slot. The rookie made no mistake snapping the puck past Bernier for the opening goal at the 6:21 mark of the opening period. Minnesota is now 17-4-1 when scoring the first goal of the game, The Wild would take a two goal lead just 16 seconds later as Cal Clutterbuck came flying down the right side, took a Devin Setoguchi feed and whipped the puck up high on the short side eluding Bernier for the score. That would wrap up the scoring for Minnesota, but two goals would be enough Tuesday. The Kings would score their only goal of the night after a Wild turnover deep in the defensive zone. Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon was knocked off the puck by Brad Richardson who stole the puck and passed to Jeff Carter who beat the Wild net minder with a snap shot up high. That was the only goal of the night for the Kings on a total of 23 shots. This was a rather free flowing game with a limited number of stoppages including just three in the opening 16 minutes. Just two penalties were called all night. Mikko Koivu was whistled for tripping on Justin Williams just 3:33 into the game, a penalty efficiently killed off by the Wild’s PK units. The only Kings penalty was a call handed on Jordan Nolan for charging the Wild’s Jason Pominville late in the 1st period. Both teams went 0 for 1 on their power play opportunities. Pominville would suffer an apparent injury after he was elbowed in the head by Justin Brown late in the 2nd period. Pominville stayed on the ice seemingly stunned by the hit. He skated unsteadily to the bench and disappeared down the tunnel, he did not return to the game. Even though no penalty was called on the play, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brown receives a phone call from the NHL Head Of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan on Wednesday. After the game Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “”You hate to see a hit to the head, that’s all. Can’t really say much more than that.” Yeo spoke carefully about the hit as not to be fined by the league for verbally attacking the officials. The bottom line is the hit was dirty and unneeded, hopefully Pominville didn’t suffer any type of head injury and will be available for Friday’s game against the Oilers. The head shot was the type of play that rarely escapes the attention of referee’s Don VanMassenhoven and Don O’Rourke. The Wild were rolling four lines up to the point of Pominville leaving the game. The Wild forecheck was effective throughout the night as they battled for puck posession. Even when Minnesota was unable to gain possession they forced LA to start 200 feet away from the Wild’s net. Minnesota’s passing looked much cleaner and sharper than in the last several home games. Head Coah Mike Yeo praised the play of the team and especially his captain, “Mikko, the guy was unbelievable, he was all over the ice. This time of year, you see leaders playing like that. It was the same thing I thought last game. This game, I thought everybody was going right along with them.”
Defensively the Wild’s top pair were outstanding once again. Ryan Suter logged 32:17 of ice time, had 3 shots on goal, and a +1 rating on the night. Suter’s rookie partner Jonas Brodin continued his Calder Tro[phy caliber season skating 29;22 while picking up an assist, along with a +1 rating. All of the Wild defenders, with the exception of Clayton Stoner (-1), had an even or +1 rating for the night. The defensive changes Coach Yeo made seemed to pay off. The top pair was obviously unchanged, while the second pair saw Jared Spurgeon paired with Clayton Stoner. The third pair was veteran Tom Gilbert skating with the oft scratched Justin Falk. His partner the previous few games, Brett Clark was a healthy scratch along with Nate Prosser. Prosser has seemed to be the odd man out regularly this season and I wonder if he would be better served by going to Houston where he could get some playing time in rather than just watching from the press box night after night.
One down two to go. The Wild are still in control of their playoff destiny. This win allows the Wild to keep pace in the Western Conference and even keep the dream of catching teams in front of them alive. Minnesota needs to keep their foot on the gas and not let uo, even for a second. The race for spots 4-8 in the Western Conference is going to go down to the final games on teh final night of the regular season. These are exciting hockey times we live in folks. The CBA deal got done in time for this truncated season and a full slate of playoff action. The Wild are on the verge of clinching their first post season berth since the 2007-08 season. Just making it to the post season allows a team to dream Stanley Cup Dreams. Just ask the Los Angeles Kings, last year’s Stanley Cup Champions. They squeaked into the playoffs as the 8th seed in the west and proceeded to beat the top seeds in route to their first ever Stanley Cup Championship season. “Win and we’re in” is the mantra of the Minnesota Wild as the regular season draws to a close. GonePuckWild will keep you informed with all the Wild news and information you need. I’ll be back with the game preview as the Wild get ready to face the Edmonton Oilers in their final home game of the regular season. Until then this is your Minnesota Wild Game Day Correspondent Scott Drain joyfully shouting, “LET’S GO WILD!!!!!”