The Minnesota Wild broke the Vancouver Canucks’ 7 game win streak with a 3-2 shootout victory at the Xcel Energy Center Tuesday night. The Wild win continued Canucks’ goalie Roberto Luongo‘s dismal record against the Wild in St. Paul, 3-9-2 coming into Tuesday’s game. Luongo played better than he had in his last 3 starts in Minnesota, the last being in 2010. He was pulled in all three of those and gave up a total of 16 goals, tonight he gave up just 2 goals in regulation and overtime but it still wasn’t enough to win the game. Jason Pominville scored the lone shootout goal, sealing the win and second point for Minnesota. Josh Harding on the other hand continued his dominance on home ice this season upping his home record to 14-1-0. He’s 18-5-3 overall and tied for 2nd in the NHL in wins’ he has a league leading goals against average of 1.51, a save percentage of 9.39 that ranks 2nd, and 3 shutouts that has him tied for the league lead. There’s not a team in the NHL right now that looks forward to a trip to Minnesota and facing Josh Harding in goal.
In what is becoming an all too familiar script the Wild surrendered the first goal and spent a much of the game playing catch up. Luckily for Minnesota they were playing at home tonight where their record now stands at 14-3-2, The Wild are a different team on the road with sub par 6-8-3 marks. Their 20-11-5 overall record and 45 points see them tied for third in the Central Division with the Colorado Avalanche. Both teams trail the second place St. Louis Blues by 3 points and they are 10 points back of division leading Chicago Blackhawks. The Canucks opened the scoring 8:46 into the 1st period on a snipe of a wrist shot by Jannik Hansen with the assists going to Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The goal came on a 3 on 2 rush up ice after the Wild’s top line lost a puck battle deep in the offensive zone. The result was something no defenseman or goalie likes to see. The Sedin twins and any other player flying up the ice passing the puck back and forth at will making a teams defense look completely impotent and goalies look silly. Fortunately this only happened once to the Wild this game. What was different this night was the Wild went on the power play just under three minutes later and scored at the 11:46 mark of the period. Ryan Suter had the initial shot on the play that was stopped by Luongo but, Mikko collected the rebound and threaded a beauty of a pass through the crease to Parise. The Wild winger slammed the puck home for his 15th overall and 8th power play goal of the season, tying him for second in the NHL. This was the first power play goal the Canucks had allowed in their last 21 penalty kills spanning their 7 game win streak. It was also the only first period goals the Canucks had given up in their last 7 games. This was the last goal Minnesota would score until nearly midway through the third period. Shortly after tying the score another hallmark of a Wild vs Canucks battle took place at Zenon Konopka and Dale Weise dropped the gloves for a lengthy fight. Konopka took the victory landing several good shots but also taking a couple from the younger Weiss. Outside of the goal, fight and a few other scoring chances the Wild spent most of the opening period putting forth a sub lackluster effort. Passes went into skates, behind their target or out of reach way too often. Sustained pressure in the offensive zone was almost non-existent and dump ins went out of the zone almost as fast as they went in. The same can be said for the Canucks as well. In his post game comments Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “We looked a little bit flat, just didn’t have the same jump at times, But our guys dig deep. That’s two games in a row we’ve been down after two and come back to get a win.” Tuesday was one of those night were you don’t have to be the best team in the league just the best team on the ice that game.
The Canucks retook the lead midway through the second period on a goal by David Booth. He slammed home a rebound of a shot by Mike Santorelli after usually dependable defenseman Ryan Suter failed to clear either the puck or the man out of the to of the crease. That was just one of a few glaring errors by the Wild’s top D-man. Suter did skate a game high 32:34, the 17th time he’s passed the 30 minute mark this season. He is amazing but I think the Wild would be better served in the long run by cutting back a bit on his minutes before he is run into the ground over the course of an 82 game season. The score would remain knotted at 2-1 throught the rest of the second period and the first 8+ minutes of the third. At the 8:47 mark of the final period Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu and Jonas Brodin took off on a 3 on two rush that concluded with Coyle snapping off a wicked wrister that trickled through Luongo’s five hole and into the net,knotting the score at 2 each. There it would remain through the rest of the final period and the five minute overtime session. Minnesota played their best hockey of the game in the final 10 minutes of the third period in throught overtime. They had several great scoring chances including one by Koivu late in the third when he sent the puck sailing over a wide open net with Luongo unable to get back into position. Wild defenseman Marco Scandella had a glorious chance to end the game early in overtime but the Canucks net minder made a sliding toe save to rob Scandella of a game winning goal.
The Wild are no strangers to the shootout this season posting a 5-4 record in the game deciding skills competition this season. Tonight the usual suspects for the Wild, Koivu, Parise, and Pominville went 1 on 1 with Luongo. Parise went first and his backhand move was knocked down by Luongo. That brought up Koivu who rang a backhander off the crossbar with his patented forehand-backhand-roof maneuver. Jason Pominville then skated in and beat luongo cleanly with a wicked shot over the net minder’s glove to win the shootout. Josh Harding had to make but a single save against Canuck shooters Santorelli, Higgins and Kesler. Harding made a nice save on Higgins while the other two Vancouver shooters missed the net.
The Wild now go on a three game road trip against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers before a three day Christmas break. This is one of the toughest stretches of the season for Minnesota, playing 7 of 8 games on the road. They are going to have to come up with some road wins or see themselves drop out of playoff position in the tough Central Division. Tonight was a gutsy, come from behind win for the Wild. On this upcoming road swing they cannot afford to give up the first goal, play from behind for long stretches, and allow teams to dominate puck possession. I’ll be back Thursday morning with a preview of Wild vs Penguins. Matt Cooke is returning to Pittsburgh for the first time in a Wild sweater and Head Coach Mike Yeo will be facing the team he was an assistant coach for for the first time as a Head Coach. Until next time Wild Fans, this is Scott Drain victoriously shouting, “Let’s Go Wild, LET’S GO WILD!!!”