Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction: Minnesota Wild edition. Saturday was Hockey Day In Minnesota 2014 with Elk River, Minnesota as the host city. It was a beautiful day for indoor and outdoor hockey with the temperature around 19 degrees with bright sunshine. It was a day filled with hockey, from girls and boys high school games to NCAA action to a NHL game between the Wild and Stars. When it was all over no one could have scripted a better ending for the Minnesota Wild and one Wild player in particular. The Wild beat the Dallas Stars, the former Minnesota NHL franchise, 3-2 in overtime in an exciting game in front 19,192 fans, the Wild’s largest crowd of the year. Tonight’s subtitle could be “Hockey Day In Minnesota 2014: Hometown Boy Makes Good!” The winning goal this Hockey Day in Minnesota (HDM) would come from the stick of Nate Prosser, an Elk River, Minnesota native. Prosser has scored a total of three goals in his NHL career as a defenseman for Minnesota. The first was back in the 2011-12 season. He would then go scoreless for 67 games until this past Thursday night. His second NHL goal proved to be the game winner as the Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. His third career goal came on HDM Saturday evening 2:42 into overtime to seal a Minnesota Wild victory and allowed the team to take the second point. That point gives 4th place Minnesota a 9 point cushion over the 5th place Stars in the Central Division. The two teams now head for Dallas where they meet again Tuesday night at American Airlines center. In his post game comments a very pleased Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “If there’s any undecided votes for the mayor of Elk River, I think we cleared that up tonight. All kidding aside, that’s a very fitting end to Hockey Day.” Prosser’s second game winner in 3 days led Coach Yeo to say “We’re real happy to have that moment because talk about a guy who goes out and does all the thankless things doesn’t get a lot of those opportunities to get the glory.”
The Wild needed Prosser’s heroics because they struggled in several aspects of Saturday night’s game. Minnesota was heavily outshot for the night 35 to 19 and outshot in each period as well. The Wild generated only 3 shots on goal in the first, 6 shots in the second, 8 shots in the third period, and just 2 in overtime. When you add in the shots blocked by the Stars (12) and shots that missed the net (9) you end up with a total of 40 Minnesota shot attempts for the game. Compare that to Dallas’ 35 shots on goal, 22 shot attempts blocked and 16 shots that missed. Add ‘em up and you have 73 Dallas shot attempts to 40 for Minnesota. The Wild’s 3 goals on the evening came in the first, second and of course overtime periods. I guess you could make the argument Minnesota was just being selective and conservative with their shots but that would be a lie. They just had trouble taking shots, getting pucks through shots to the net, and the ever present Wild problem of looking for the perfect shot. I can’t even begin to count the number of times a Minnesota player has passed on a shot opportunity because they thought they saw a chance for a teammate to have a BETTER shot opportunity. The unfortunate thing about perfect shot-itis is that it’s very contagious and can infect a team in the course of just a few shifts. Saturday night the Wild was able to work through it’s case of perfect shot-itis and win the game but all to often they cannot.
Outside of Prosser and Haula by far the best player on the ice for Minnesota was Darcy Kuemper. The Wild net minder picked up another win raising his season record to 4-2-0. Kuemper has flat out been lights out in goal. Tonight he made 33 saves on 35 shots and basically stole this game for Minnesota. No team in the NHL is going to win many games getting out shot 35-19, but the Wild did it Saturday. Kuemper’s goals against average is now down to 2.11 while his save % has climbed to .920, some pretty good looking numbers for the 23 year old goals tender. The win also brings the Wild overall record to 27-19-5 and a total of 59 points. Minnesota is firmly ensconced in 4th place in the Central Division 8 points behind 3rd place Colorado and 9 points ahead of 5th place Dallas. Next up we’ll see how the Stars were dimmed on HDM 2014.
In the First period the Wild didn’t get their first shot on goal until after the 7-minute mark, but it was a good one and put the Wild up 1-0. Just 1 year ago on HDM 2013 Erik Haula was playing for the Minnesota Golden Gophers fast forward to HDM 2014 and he’s playing and scoring for the Minnesota Wild. Haula gathered in the puck along the half wall in the Wild’s defensive end headed up ice. Near the red line he chipped the puck off the boards, skated around a Dallas defender, regained possession of the puck and streaked in toward Star’s goalie Kari Lehtonen who waved helplessly as Haula’s shot whistled by him for the score at 7:11. The snipe of a goal was Haula’s first in the NHL and an impressive goal it was! The Wild would not get credit for their second shot on goal of the opening period until the 12 minute mark had elapsed, their third and final shot of the period came just seconds later. The Wild would go more than 7 minutes with out a shot on goal. For the game the Wild would average a shot attemp every minute and a half while the Stars averaged a shot attempt every 49 seconds. For this game you could argue that the Wild were choosing shot quality over quantity but once again that would be a lie. A little more than 15 minutes into the opening frame Star’s Shawn Horcoff high sticked Wild forward Kyle Brodziak in the face drawing blood and putting Horcoff in the box for 4 minutes. One of the Dallas players called out that Brodziak was diving and had faked the stick contact with his face. In an unusual move the referee who called the penalty angrily called the player over and pointed out the blood dripping down Broziak’s face, effectively ending that little protest and sending the Dallas player slinking back to the bench, head down and tail tucked up between his legs. That penalty negated the last :23 of a Star’s power play started when Nino Niederreiter went to the penalty box for hooking. Unfortunately the Wild would not get a single puck through traffic or accurately on net for a shot on goal for the entire 4 minute double minor. Ultimately the Wild would go 0 for 3 with the man advantage dropping their power play efficiency for the season to just 18.4%, ranking them 17th in the league. An average ranking for a team in the middle or average of their division.
In the second period the Star’s would manage to tie the game just past the midway point of the period on a wrist shot by Ryan Garbutt. The Wild spent a couple of very long shifts in the defensive zone scrambling around chasing the puck and failing to clear the zone on several attempts. The goal would cap a several minute stretch of domination by the visiting stars and cause Minnesota Coach Yeo to take his time-out to “discuss” the teams unacceptable level of performance over the last few minutes. The tie wouldn’t last long after the time-out as the Wild would score their final regulation goal of the night at the 14:09 mark of the period. Ryan Suter would score his 6th goal of the season on a howitzer of a slap shot from the left point that deflected off the stick of the Star’s Jamie Benn and sailed into the net past a helpless net minder Lehtonen. That would wrap up the scoring for the second period with the shot totals reading 22 for Dallas and just 9 for Minnesota.
In the third period the Stars would again tie the score. This time it was on a power play generated when Clayton Stoner was whistled for a holding penalty that looked a whole lot like a finished check to most in attendance except Dallas fans and the ref making the inexplicable call. At 9:32 of the period Dallas’ Alex Chiasson scored his first goal in 20 games. The play started with a shot by Dallas’ leading scorer Tyler Seguin (21g, 24a) that was stopped by Kuemper. As the Wild goalie slid out of the crease while making the save the rebound popped out to former Minnesota Golden Gopher Alex Gologoski put a quick shot on net that was blocked by Ryan Suter for the Wild. Chiasson corralled the puck and before Kuemper could get back into position put the puck in the net despite another save attempt by Suter. That would wrap up the scoring for regulation.
In the 4 on 4 overtime the Stars and Wild traded puck possession time over the first 2 and a half minutes before a couple of Minnesota’s young forwards and one defensman put together the winning play. Prosser sent the puck down low to Charlie Coyle behind the net who sent a quick pass out to Nino Niederreiter in the right circle. El-Nino sent a one-timer in on net that Lehtonen kicked out with the puck going directly to Nate Prosser who, as he charged at the net, flicked it through the Dallas goal tender’s five-hole for the game winning tally. The eruption of the Xcel Energy Center crowd was one of the loudest I’ve heard in a while as the crowd showed it’s approval of the #1 star of the games play. Prosser pumped his fist in a genuine display of unabashed joy at the team surrounded him in celebration. I just hope someone thought to retrieve the puck for him. When you’ve scored just two other goals in the course of your 97 games and counting NHL career that’s one you want for the trophy shelf. After the game, when the celebration had subsided a bit and the puck tossing by the 3 Stars Of The Game was over Prosser addressed the media saying of his goal, “I’m at an all-time high right now, I can’t believe what happened. Nino and Coyle they had a good forecheck going andmade some good plays. I saw him (Niederreiter) go to the net so I tried sneaking backdoor and it just popped out to me. I just wanted to get it in.”
There were a couple of rather dark and disturbing moments in the Wild’s victory. Durint the overtime the Star’s Captain Jamie Benn threw a vicious flying elbow that connected with the head of Matt Cooke. While I know many NHL fans would say “An elbow to Matt Cooke’s head? Great!” this was a dirty play and just the type of action the league want’s to get rid of. Cooke picked himself up off the ice and looked around in disbelief as NO penalty was called. Even Benn seemed surprised at the lack of orange banded arms up in the air. I’m sure that Mr. Shanahan and the Office of Player Safety will be in touch with Mr. Benn. The Dallas captain is too talented and I previously thought, ethical player, too stoop top that level of thuggery. Apparently I was wrong. The other incident came on a face off when the Star’s Roussel, a pest and cheap shot artist well known and disliked around the league, hit the Wild’s Jonas Brodin in the face with the shaft of his stick. Brodin dropped to the ice like he’d been shot. The ref whistled the play dead and summoned the trainer. When Brodin stood up the pool of blood on the ice was visible from the last row in the upper level of the arena and took 3 ice crew staff to scrape and shovel it up. Then to the shock of all in attendance there was NO PENALTY called. Referee Francois St. Laurent told a stunned and disbelieving coach Yeo that Roussel made contact with Brodin’s face on the follow through of a shot and therefore was not considered high-sticking. I don’t see how that can be the case when Roussel didn’t even make contact with the puck as he took his “shot”. It was more of a reckless swinging of the stick NOT a shot.
All in all this was a pretty good Hockey Day In Minnesota 2014 edition. The 8th annual celebration of hockey in Minnesota will certainly be one Erik Haula and Nate Prosser will never forget. Thnks for reading my recap and ramblings on the game here on GonePuckWild.com. I’ll be back Tuesday morning with a preview of Wild vs Star’s Round Two: The Dallas edition. Until next time this is Scott Drain, hoarse but still shouting crazily in Hockey Day In Minnesota fashion , “LET’S GO WILD!!”