The Minnesota Wild skated into Rogers Arena for the second game of a back to back road trip and left with a 2-1 shootout victory over the Vancouver Canucks. Whew, what a battle in regulation, overtime and the shootout. Justin Fontaine scored the only goal of a 7 round shootout to seal the deal and take the 2nd point for the Wild. Darcy Kuemper picked up his 10th win of the season, making 30 saves on 31 shots, while dropping his goals against average to 2.20 and raising his save % to .924. Zach Parise scored the Wild’s only goal in regulation giving him 20 on the season and 11 points over the last 7 games. Minnesota sweeps the two game road trip to start the sprint toward the playoffs picking up 4 important points. They now trail Colorado, who won Friday, by 8 points for 3rd in the Central Division and lead Vancouver and Dallas by 7 points for the top Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Once again the Wild continued to see a different player, a different hero, step up and provide a major contribution to a victory. This night it was Justin Fontaine. Monday against Calgary we’ll just have to wait and see. Minnesota is now 2-9-2 in their last 13 trips to Vancouver but have beaten the Canucks in 4 straight meetings dating back to last season. The Wild are also closing in on .500 for their road record this season. It now stands at 12-14-5 with 10 more roadies to go. All in all this was a rather sweet, hard fought, well earned victory for the Minnesota Wild. Head Coach Mike Yeo said in his post game comments, “Our guys battled from the very start tonight.” he added later, “Our focus has to be, we’re looking to get better everyday.” Asked about his rookie goaltenders performance he responded, “He’s a young kid and he seems to have the right attitude. He seems to have the right frame of mind to keep going out and to keep playing at a high level.”
The Canucks opened the scoring with a short handed goal by Ryan Kesler at the 5:19 mark of the opening period. The Wild’s Keith Ballard made a bad turnover when he failed to keep the puck in the offensive zone at the blue line allowing Kesler to poke it free and race in on Kuemper for the score. Minnesota then thought they had tied the game when Ballard seemed to score near the 8 and a half minute mark on a screen shot from the point. Referee Brad Meier immediately waved off the goal saying the Wild’s Erik Haula interfered with Canucks net minder Eddie Lack. Replays showed not only did Haula not make contact with Lack he didn’t even get into the crease. That’s the kind of goal swing that can send a team into free fall for the rest of a game but not the Wild this night. When asked about the call after the game Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “They saw it, I saw it differently. What I like is in the 1st period the mental toughness our guys showed.” Minnesota did get the game tying goal on a Zach Parise shot that found the upper corner of the net past Lack’s blocker. The power play marker was Parise’s 11th power play goal of the season tying him for third in the league. That would be the extent of scoring for the night. The Canucks would have several grade A scoring chances but Kuemper was up to the task each time. The Wild would total 22 shots on goal for the night getting outshot 21 to 9 after the opening frame where they had a 13-10 shot edge. Two more points for the Wild tonight and they have now picked up at least a point in 10 of their last 12 games going 8-2-2 in that span.
The Wild won the battle of the special teams Friday going 1 for 3 with the man advantage while allowing just two power play chances for the Canucks. Minnesota didn’t take a penalty until 4:11 had elapsed in the 3rd period when Jared Spurgeon was whistled for a questionable cross checking call on Vancouver’s Brad Richardson. The other one of those power plays came in overtime when Zach Parise hit the Canucks Christopher Tanev from behind earning a boarding call. The trio of Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Nate Prosser spent the vast majority of that penalty kill on a marathon shift. They blocked, cleared and frustrated the Vancouver power play during a critical 4 on 3 situation that may have well decided the extra point tonight. The Wild played a very disciplined game avoiding some of the common penalties you see a team take in the 2nd night of back to backs suck as hooking, tripping, holding. Those are the kind of infraction you see from a tired team with dead legs. The boys now have two days to get ready for their next game Monday in St. Paul.
Following OT the teams entered a 7 round shootout that ended with Fontaine’s game winner, a shot he slid between Lack’s pads on a left to right move in front of the Vancouver net minder. Kuemper stopped all 7 Vancouver shooters and is now 11 for 11 against all shooters this season. He was spectacular during the shootout, sliding, butterflying, gloving, and stopping everything the Canucks threw at him including David Booth‘s spin-o-rama shot that ended the game. Kuemper’s sliding, rising, right leg save on Ryan Kessler was the NHL Network’s play of the night for Friday. Some high praise right there! Kuemper is showing that he can handle the pressure, work load, and mental aspects of being a NHL goal tender. The 6th rounder is looking to be a brilliant pick by the Minnesota front office back in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Kuemper is clearly the Wild’s #1 goalie at this point in the season. Josh Harding is out with issues associated with his MS. Niklas Backstrom is struggling with pain and problems associated with off season hernia surgery. The recently traded for John Curry has yet to see action in a Wild sweater and hasn’t played an NHL game since the 2009-10 season. Finally there is Johan Gustafsson who has been a backup for the Wild but has yet to play in an NHL game. As long as Kuemper remains healthy the Wild are in good shape but if he goes down who gets the nod? A less than 100% Backstrom, an untested Curry, or a prospect from the Iowa Wild. Choices I’m sure that keep General Manager Chuck Fletcher and Head Caoch Mike Yeo up at night.
Next up for the Wild are the Calgary Flames at the Xcel Energy Center on Monday evening. The Flames are the 2nd worst team in the Western conference with a record of 22-30-7 good for just 51 points. It’s another great opportunity for the Wild to pick up two points against a Western Conference foe before they get a 4 day break, a rarity at this point in the season. This was a great win for Minnesota. Two big points and a confidence building shootout victory in a building where the team has not fared well historically. The team is getting healthier with Mikko Koivu and Marco Scandella nearing their returns to action. I’ll be back Monday with a preview of Wild vs Flames. Until then enjoy this victory over the Vancouver Canucks. Damn, I love saying that, so I’ll say it again, “VICTORY OVER THE VANCOUVER CANUCKS!” Until next time this is Scott Drain yelling out in triumph, “LET’S GO WILD!!!”