The Minnesota Wild were beaten soundly by the Edmonton Oilers 6-1 Friday night at the Xcel Energy Center. The announced crowd of 19,090 rained boo’s down on the home team as they fell behind 3-0 after 1 period, 6-0 after 2 periods and finished the game 6-1. This was the Wild’s final home game of the lockout shortened regular season and it ended on a sour note. Minnesota needed a total of two points between Friday and Saturday night’s games to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now the Wild need two points against the Colorado Avalanche and/or a loss by Columbus at Nashville. The Wild hold the edge in tie-breakers over Columbus. The Wild could still finish in 7th place if they win in Colorado and Detroit loses to Dallas in any way, in regulation, overtime, or a shootout. Currently the Red Wings have 54 points, the Wild and Blue Jackets have 53. Now that we’ve covered what the Wild need to do, let’s look at what they didn’t do tonight.
The Wild came out flat and showed little energy early. The lone exception was Zenon Konopka, who dropped the gloves with Mike Brown just after the opening faceoff for a lengthy bout. The two tough guys both landed several blows and I’d call it a draw. The Oilers jumped all over the Wild’s defense and scored the games first goal just 25 seconds later. Oilers defenseman Corey Potter picked up the goal, putting the Wild back on their heels early in the game. Edmonton would make it 2-0 at the 8:02 mark as Taylor Hall beat Backstrom with a wrister. Potter would add his second goal of the night and third of the season with 1:22 left in the period. As the 1st period ended the Wild led in shots on goal 15-5 but the Oilers led on the scoreboard 3-0. At this point the boo’s started from the crowd that expected to see the Wild dominate an Edmonton squad that had lost 17 straight decisions in the Xcel Energy Center. After the third goal Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo pulled Backstrom in favor of Josh Harding. This was Harding’s first game action since February 6th. Talk about being thrown into the fire. Harding would surrender 3 goals on 12 shots in 41:19 of ice time. A less than happy crowd gave Harding several Bronx cheers as he made saves throughout the second period. That’s pretty rough treatment for a guy just coming back to the lineup after struggling to get his medications for Multiple Sclerosis adjusted. Backstrom gave up 3 goals on 5 shots before being lifted late in the opening period. Backstrom had earned 17 straight victories against the Oilers at home and the Wild as a team were 20-1 against Edmonton over the last few years o home ice. To say this defeat was uncharacteristic is putting things mildly. Harding would give up a total of three goals in the second period. He would hold the Oilers scoreless in the third period but by then the damage was done. During the 2nd Harding yielded a goal to Jordan Eberle and a pair of markers to Nail Yakupov. One thing tonihgt showed is that the future is bright indeed for the Edmonton Oilers. The young talent they have accumulated over the last few years with early first round draft picks, including three straight number one overall picks, is impressive. Friday night will not be the last time they embarrass an opposing team on their home ice.
The Wild would finally solve the mystery of Khabibulin at the 9:42 mark of the third period. Charlie Coyle would find Mikko Koivu with a pass from behind the net and the Wild captain would not miss on a one-timer beating the Oilers’ net minder up high for the only Minnesota score of the night. Koivu’s 119th career goal tied hime with Andrew Brunette for 2nd place on the Wild’s all-time list. It wasn’t a lack of trying by the Wild, they fired a total of 39 shots on goal for the evening. Once again the Wild made a back up goalie look like a Vezina Trophy winner. Minnesota fired 15 shots in the first, 13 in the second and 11 shots in the third period, a high number of which were quality scoring chances. It was a very frustrating game for the Wild and some of that boiled over in the third period when Konopka tried to engage Corey Potter of the Oilers. The big defenseman declined Konopka’s invitation and ended up drawing a 2 minute roughing minor and a 10 minute misconduct penalties. In the same scrum as the pushing, shoving and grabbing intensified Mike Rupp ended up squaring off with Ryan Jones but the officials would not let the two settle things with one offiicial ending up on the ice under the two combatants. When the dust settled Rupp would be done as well for the night, being assessed a roughing minor and 10 minutes misconduct like Konopka’s. This would put the Wild 2 men down for a full two minutes. The Minnesota penalty killers did a fine job, killing off the five on three situation with little trouble. This would be the only time all game the Wild were shorthanded.
After the game Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “I just want the focus on (Saturday). We can talk about this one until we’re blue in the face. I don’t think it’s going to do us much good to do that. This is a challenge for sure. It doesn’t feel good. This was not our night, to put it extremely mildly.” Yeo says Backstrom will be back in goal for Saturday’s regular season finale, “Backy’s going to play and I’ve got total confidence in Backy to play that game. I’ve got total confidence in our group to play that game. This one hurts. I’ve seen this group respond enough, I’ve seen our leadership enough to still feel confident.” Minnesota Defenseman Ryan Suter had this to say following the loss and looking forward to Colorado, “It’s not the way we wanted it to happen, but we’re still in a good place. We win and we’re in the playoffs. That was our goal to get in the playoffs, and once you get in the playoffs you set another goal. We still control our own destiny here and we have to go in there and play our best game of the season.” Second chances for the Wild come down to Saturday night against the Colorado Avalanche. That game is it, the last chance to make the playoffs for a team that led their division at the end of March. The fall has been swift and puzzling, leading some to speculate that Yeo and General Manager Chuck Fletcher’s heads my roll if the Wild don’t make it to the post season. Tonight was a disaster, Minnesota managed to lead most of the offensive statistical catergories except the one that counted most, goals scored. Saturday is a new day with a new opportunity to clinch a playoff berth. The Wild need to seize that chance and run with it, showing what they can do when the season is on the line. GonePuckWild.com will keep you up to date on all the Wild news and information you need heading into the final game of the regular season. I’ll be back with a preview of the action on tap in Colorado. Until then this is Scott Drain hopefully chanting, “Let’s Go Wild!!”