The Minnesota Wild fell 3-2 to the San Jose Sharks in overtime at the SAP Center Saturday night or actually Sunday morning here in Minnesota. Going into the game not many people gave the Wild much of a chance against the Sharks the 2nd place team in the Pacific Division and 4th in the Western Conference. The Wild surprised every one jumping out to a 2-0 lead with a goal by Matt Cooke in the opening period and a Keith Ballard tally, his first as a member of the Wild, just 4:16 into the second frame. The Sharks would come back though scoring two goals in 49 seconds a little over midway through the 2nd. A scoreless third period would secure a precious point in the standings and lead to OT. With just 1:30 left in OT Joe Thornton would score the game winner, putting a slap shot past Darcy Kuemper. The overtime loss drops Minnesota’s record to 28-20-6 on the season. The point gained Saturday night put the Wild a point ahead of the Vancouver Canucks in the race for the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Minnesota has a total of 62 points to Vancouver’s 61. Wild head Coach Mike Yeo felt his team played well for the most part saying, “Our guys battled really hard tonight, competed really hard and we gave ourselves a chance.”
The did some great work in the opening period. San Jose came out fast but the Wild defense and Darcy Kuemper held them off. After going down 8-2 in the shot department Matt Cooke picked off a Joe Thornton pass, chipped it off the wall to himself and headed in alone on Sharks net-minder Annti Niemi. Cooke pulled out a forehand, backhand move then put the puck high over Niemi’s blocker to open the scoring. That would be Cooke’s 8th goal of the season and his second in as many games. The Wild would then have the next 4 shots on goal to close to with in one of the Sharks before ending the period down 7-11 in shots. Cooke’s goal would be the only goal of the opening period.
In the second frame the Wild would strike again, this time at the 4:16 mark. Jason Pominville fed the puck to Mikael Granlund who went to work evading San Jose defenders down below the goal line before cutting behind the net and sliding the puck out to a pinching Keith Ballard. Ballard took the feed and put a perfect shot up high on Niemi’s far side to make the score 2-0. Dany Heatley retrieved the puck so Ballard could have the souvenir of his first Wild goal. This was also a milestone night for Pominville, the assist on Ballard’s goal gave him 500 points in his NHL career. That’s an impressive total and I’d expect him to add many more to that total while in a Wild sweater! At this point things looked good for the Wild as they were playing strong and sating right with the Sharks. Then Thornton and Patrick Marleau would score just :49 second apart at the 11:12 and 12:01 marks of the period and suddenly we had a tie game on our hands.
Credit the Wild as they didn’t fold against a Sharks team that was 18-2-3 at home coming into the game. The third period would go scoreless as Keumper and Niemi turned aside all shots. Kuepmer got a bit more work than Niemi with the shot totals for the third period favoring San Jose 7 to 4. In overtime the teams traded scoring opportunities be fore Minnesota would be unable to clear the puck. Thornton would then unload a blistering slap shot at the 3:30 mark to end the game. Final score 3-2 in OT for the Sharks.
The most glaring difference in on the stat sheet Saturday night was in the face off totals. The Wild won just 18 of 59 face offs in the game. In his post game comments Minnesota Coach Yeo said, “We lost the extra point because of the face off circle tonight. We spent the entire night chasing, and it’s inevitable that they will put you on your heels and give them some momentum. We never started with the puck. That was the big story.” Yeo’s right it’s hard to generate many chances off the face off when you lose them at a better than 2 to 1 pace. The team also then spent a lot of time and energy trying to regain control of the puck to clear the zone or start some sort of offensive play.
Darcy Kuemper was once again very solid in net making 29 save on 32 shots. His record is now 5-3-1 on the season with a goals against of 2.29 and a .922 save %. I’d expect him to be in goal come Tuesday night as the Wild try to get a win against the Anaheim Ducks in the Honda Center. I’ll be back Tuesday morning with a preview of Wild vs Ducks. The Wild played well Saturday night but just couldn’t quite pull off the OT road win. I’ll take the point though and move on to Anaheim. Until next time this is Scott Drain still yelling through the snowy, windy night, “LET’S GO WILD!!”