The Minnesota Wild mounted a furious 3rd period comeback but in the end fell to the Colorado Avalanche by a 5-4 final at the Pepsi Center in Denver. The loss drops the Wild to 9-points behind the Av’s in the race for third in the Central Division. Colorado also has three games in hand on the Wild. Minnesota mounted a great third period rally but a horrid second period defensively doomed their effort Thursday night. Wild rookie net minder Darcy Kuemper took the loss and was pulled at the 16:35 mark of the 2nd period after the Avalanche went up 4-1. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo talked to Kuemper after the pull, “I just let him know it wasn’t him. I was just trying to change the momentum at that point and to throw this one in the garbage and get ready for the next one”. The Wild gave up the first goal to the Av’s just 4:41 into the opening period on a Ryan O’Reilly wrist shot. The Wild would tie the game only 1:35 later as Zach Parise scored his first of the night. Parise had a monster night for the Wild, scoring two goals and adding three assists, in the second 4 point game of his career. The Wild’s #11 now has 7 points in his last two games. I think it’s safe to say that Parise is recovered and back into game shape after a broken foot that robbed him of most of January. Parise’s stat line for the night reads 2 goals, 3 assists, +2 rating, 23:14 TOI, and 9 shots on goal. The 9 shots are a season high for a Wild player.
The problem in the game wasn’t the Wild’s 3rd period. the problem was a 1st period that had three straight penalty kills in a span of 5:39 starting at the just past the 10-minute point in the period. That left the Wild penalty killers worn out and it really showed in the 2nd stanza. If the !st period hurt, the 2nd period was the Wild killer. Minnesota surrendered 3 goals, the first just 1:43 into the period. The Av’s would add goals at the 9:17 and 15:26 marks to put Minnesota in a 3 goal hole. Two of the 2nd period Colorado goals were handed to them by the Wild. The 2nd Colorado goal came after Nate Prosser was rocked by a huge hit near the benches and Marco Scandella abandoned the play to come to his partner’s aid. The problem was the Avalanche kept playing and with now no defensemen back in front of Kuemper, Paul Stastny snapped a shot home to make the score 3-1. The next goal was literally a gift. Kyle Brodziak tried to corral a rebound in front of the Wild goalie and instead back handed it into the goal. Groan. That little faux-pas say Brodziak demoted to 4th line duty for the rest of the game. That was the end of the night for Kuemper who finished with 19 saves on 23 shots. His record now stands at 6-4-1 on the season. This was the 2nd time this season he gotten the hook. Enter Niklas Backstrom who made 8 saves on 9 shots in 22:25 of ice time. Backstrom played very well making several big saves to keep the Wild in the game. It will be interesting to see who Mike Yeo starts on Saturday vs the Calgary Flames.
The Wild came out in the 3rd period looking like a different team. In the final frame they out shot the Avalanche 17-4 and scored three goals. however the Av’s picked up a goal on a bad turnover at the blue line and Nathan MacKinnon scored the 5th and game winning goal for Colorado. Coach Yeo mixed up the lines a bit in the third Putting Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund together with Parise and the results were stunning. All three scored goals in the 3rd with Parise getting his second of the night. Granlund ended the night with a goal and and a pair of assists while Pominville totaled 1 goal and a helper. This line was on fire in the 3rd period totaling 8 points. Wild Head Coach Yeo said of their play in the 3rd., “We were trying whatever we could tonight to get a spark. When you see these guys going like that, we just tried to get them out there as much as possible in the 3rd period and they were running with it.” When asked if he would keep that line together for Saturday Yeo replied, “Probably a good chance. If they keep going like that, they’ll play together. Yeah, I thought those guys were great tonight.” Minnesota’s play tonight varied wildly from player to player and line to line. The line of Bordziak, Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine were at the other end of the play spectrum this night. Yeo said of the line, “We can’t have that line be a -3 in a game.” That line had trouble all night long trying to slow down the Avalanche’s top line including, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog. Yeo added that, “It was kind of a weird game. We had some guys who had great games and we had guys who were below average for sure. We didn’t have a whole lot of in between. We had a number of guys who weren’t good enough tonight.”
One good sign was the Wild displayed some team toughness and were sticking up for each other. in the first period Clayton Stoner fought Avalanche tough guy Cody McLeod and hammered the Colorado player with a couple of good shots causing McLeod to grab on and wrestle for the rest of the bout. Later, in the 3rd period Nate Prosser dropped the gloves with Jamie McGinn in a middleweight fight. Prosser looks to have been working on his technique and landed several good, solid punches. Late in the game Zach Parise came to the aid of Ryan Suter after an icing call. All game long the Wild didn’t back down physically a good sign of team bonding and strength. At another juncture Av’s goalie Semyon Varlamov gave Brodziak a stiff arm to the face and Landeskog took offence when the Wild center gave him a whack. That brought on a scrum that was three aside in the penalty box. The two teams combines for total of 62 penalty minutes. The Wild also score a power play goal going 1 for 3 with the man advantage while the Av’s were 0 for 4 on the power play.
However good the third period was tonight then end result was a loss for Minnesota. The Av’s take the season series by a 4-0-1 win total. The Wild will put this game behind them and reset for a battle with the Calgary Flames who beat the San Jose Sharks 4-1. This will not be an easy game for the Wild as they have struggled in the Saddledome over the years. Some good new is that Jared Spurgeon may return to action Saturday in Calgary and that gives the Wild an excellent puck moving defenseman back along with another option on the power play. Spurgeon brings both defensive skill and some back end offense to the team. He’s been out with a foot injury since the 2nd of January. If Spurgeon is very close then Mikko Koivu can’t be far behind. It would be great to see Minnesota get their injured veterans all back on the ice before the Olympic break. I’ll be back Saturday morning with a preview of Minnesota Wild vs Calgary Flames. Until then, remember the Wild have taken 3 of 6 points on this road trip and gone 2-1-1 over their last four games. Since the first of the year Minnesota is now 9-4-1 and playing well without several of their veteran leaders and clutch scorers. Until next time this is Scott Drain, head held high, still yelling at the top of my lungs, “LET’S GO WILD!!!”