The Montreal Canadiens came calling at the Xcel Energy Center Friday night and the Minnesota Wild sent them on their way crying in their poutine and tourtières with a 4-3 Minnesota victory. The Minnesota victory snapped a 4 game Habs road win streak. The Wild needed both goals by Jason Pominville (his 8th and 9th) with his second, the game winner coming at 14:32 of the 3rd period. Minnesota seemed to have the game well in hand when they took a 3-1 lead just over 4 minutes into the 3rd period. The Canadiens had other ideas though, scoring two goals in just over 3 minutes to knot the game at 3 goals apiece. The Wild battled back and scored the game winner then held off Montreal’s final push over the last few minutes including the final 56 seconds with goal tender Carey Price puled for and extra skater. Price ended the night with 21 saves on 25 shots while his counterpart on the Wild, Josh Harding, made 28 saves on 31 shots faced. The Wild had some new look forward lines and welcomed Charlie Coyle (knee), Jonas Brodin (broken Cheekbone) and Keith Ballard (facial injury) back to the lineup. Of those three, Ballard had the best return to action picking up a pair of assists on the night.
By far the best line on the ice tonight for either team was the Wild’s combo of Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, and Nino Niederreiter. Here’s the totals for that line; 3 goals, 3 assists, 7 shots, a combined +5, and 0 penalties. Pominville was a man on a mission tonight scoring the Wild’s 2nd and 4th goals and assisting on the 3rd. In his post game comments Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said of Pominville, “That’s why it’s so nice to have a guy like that, some guys need eight chances to score a goal, and some guys need one or two. He’s certainly a guy who’s capable of taking advantage of those opportunities.” The Wild did get a goal from another line Friday, Justin Fontaine deflected in a Keith Ballard shot to open the scoring just 5:45 into the game. The goal was Fontaine’s 3rd of his rookie campaign. The Wild didn’t play a perfect or even a great game but, they played well enough to take the lead back when the Canadiens tied the score at 1 on a Brendan Gallagher goal in the first period. Minnesota also had the answer after P.K. Subban and Brian Gionta tied it at 3 in the third. The battle factor was in full display by the Wild, they simply refused to lose to Montreal and did what it took to secure the win.
The Wild are now 7-4-3 good for 17 points and 4th place in the Central division. They now trail 3rd place St. Louis by a point, 2nd place Chicago by a pair and they trail the division leading Avalanche by 5 points. With the victory Josh Harding‘s record now stands at 6-2-1 with a league leading goals against average of 1.22 and a second ranked save percentage of .946!
One area the Wild definitely improved in was penalties. This was a rather clean game with just 3 total penalties in the game. A slashing call in the 1st by Montreal’s Rene Bourqe, and 2 penalties by the Wild, one in the 2nd and one in the 3rd periods. All too often this season the Wild have sabotaged their own efforts by taking 6 or more penalty minutes in a single period. Tonight’s discipline was a pleasing change. It would have been a plus if Minnesota could have kept their feet moving at times and drawn some more penalties but, we’ll take the 2 points in the standings and look to the New Jersey Devils who come to St. Paul on Sunday.
Friday night’s match up between the storied Canadiens franchise and the Wild, with their rabid fan base, will now be an annual event. The new realignment of teams into four divisions and each team playing the other 29 teams home and away is great for all NHL fans. The Habs will get another shot a win in St. Paul NEXT year, good luck with that boys. Friday night’s game had a little of everything, goals, skating, hitting, shooting, Wild Captain Mikko Koivu jawing back and forth with Montreal Captain Brian Gionta and more. One thing about Gionta, how much of an overachiever does he have to be, to be an American born and raised Captain of the Montreal Canadiens?
The Wild still have a lot of work to do to reach the playoffs this season. Caoch Yeo’s new look lines seemed to pay off tonight. Just don’t mess with the Pominville, Granlund, Niederreiter line! This is the high point of a week of ups and downs that started with a win over Chicago on the road last Saturday, then a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of those same Blackhawks on Monday. Sunday brings another Eastern Conference team to town and a chance at two more points for the Wild in the tight Central division and Western Conference standings. This was a fun game to watch even though the headlines in the NHL will be stolen by a 7-0 shutout win by Washington over Philly that featured a goalies fight and line brawl but ZERO suspense. Philadelphia played the part of a scolded monkey who then retaliates by throwing his feces at all those nearby. Both the Wild and Canadiens played well with a single late goal by Minnesota being the difference. There sure weren’t many fans in the announced crowd of 18,207 who left the game early. The Montreal fans were well represented in the Xcel Energy Center including a group of Canadiens’ players fathers who traveled to St. Paul with the team. However the chants of “Go Habs Go” were heard before and early on in the game but late where did those chants go? They were drowned out by chants of “let’s Go Wild!” and a tremendous roar when Pominville scored his second of the evening and even more roars when the final seconds ticked away. THe Wild need to ride this momentum into Sunday’s game with the Devils, the first time Zach Parise‘s old team has played in Minnesota since the free agent signings that shook the Hockey world July 4, 2012. I’ll be back with a preview of that game Sunday morning and until next time this is Scott Drain chanting LOUDLY, “Let’s Go Wild!!!”