On the night of Zach Parise‘s return to The Prudential Center in New Jersey the Minnesota Wild mounted a furious third period comeback but eventually fell to the New Jersey Devils in overtime by a 4-3 final score. Parise scored his 24th goal of the season and Minnesota did take one precious point in the OT loss that raises their season total to 83. That gives them a 6 point lead over the Phoenix Coyotes and an 8 point lead over the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Wild Card race. The reaction of the New Jersey fans to Parise’s return was as predictable as it was unimaginative. A chorus of boos greeted Parise when he was announced as one of the Wild’s starters and then he was boo’d every time he touched the puck by the sparse looking crowd of New Jersey fans that actually bothered to attend the game of the team they profess to love. I’m sure Zach enjoys playing in front of a full or nearly so Excel Energy Center game after game after game. After the game Parise said of Minnesota’s comeback, “We didn’t quit. In the back of our minds we knew this was a team that had given up some leads recently and could be fragile and I thought they were once we got that first goal. We started to play a little better but you could tell they got a little nervous I thought. Who knows maybe that’s going to be a really big point for us down the road when it comes playoff time. I think we had the opportunities to win the game, but sometimes we just didn’t play well enough.” In his post game comments Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “When you’re faced with a two goal deficit in the third and you battle back to get a point on the road, then you have to accept that.” When asked what changed in the third period Yeo replied, “Execution was the biggest thing. We weren’t moving the puck and some of it has to be credited to them (Devils). Let’s face it they’re an extremely desperate team and they’re a tight checking team and we weren’t executing well enough with the puck but we were defending fine.”
The reason the Wild needed a big third period was because they played so poorly in the first and second periods. The Devils scored a pair of goals before the Wild woke up and started to play. New Jersey opened the scoring with a goal by Michael Ryder at the 16:58 mark. By the end of the first New Jersey had outshot Minnesota by a 10 to 6 total. The biggest play in the opening period for the Wild came as Tom Sestito lined up the Wild’s Nate Prosser for a big hit on the wall behind the Minnesota goal. Just as he hit Prosser, leading with his face, Prosser put his arm up to protect him self and Sestito slammed right into it and went down in a heap. The nearest ref put his arm up and called Prosser for elbowing, giving the Wild defenseman a five minute major and a game misconduct. This was a bad call and something addressed in a video by the NHL Office of Player Safety. A play has to have the right to protect him self when he has the puck and an opposing player is coming at him like a raging bull. Prosser never threw an elbow and Sestito ran right into his forearm. We’ll see on Friday if Brendan Shanahan and his player safety crew have anything more to say about this incident. The result was a five minute penalty kill spread over the last 2:01 of the opening period and the first 2:59 of the second period. The Wild penalty killing units did a fantastic job, not allowing a New Jersey goal and shifting the momentum to the Wild. Minnesota also had to play with just five defensemen for the final two periods and OT and their minutes reflected it. Ryan Suter led all players in ice time with 33:50, followed by his partner Jared Spurgeon with 25:42. D-men Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella both had more than 21 minutes and Clayton Stoner came in at 11:41 in time on the ice.
After the Wild killed off the 5 minute major they had their second power play of the game with Tuomo Rutuu in the box on a holding call. A bad turnover by Nino Niederreiter on the second power play unit allowed Adam Henrique to skate in on Bryzgalov without being picked up by Spurgeon or Niederreiter. Fayne beat the Wild netminder for a short handed goal, just the fifth given up by Minnesota this season. The Wild are tied for 6th in the fewest short handed goals allowed this season. That made the score 2-0 for the Devils and was the only goal of the second period. The Wild would finally get on the score board at just 21 seconds into the third period as Parise scored a power play goal, is 24 goal of the season, with the assists going to Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon. That was also Parise’s 13th goal with the man advantage, tying him for 2nd in the NHL. The Devils would however, regain a two goal lead a little over three minutes later as Jaromir Jagr scored a power play goal. That was Jagr’s 23 goal and 60th point of the season, extending his points lead over his teammates all of them younger by a minimum of 4 years with the exception of goalie Martin Brodeur who is a little over 2 months younger. It was a now that the Wild found their game and started to execute better with the puck. At the 10:36 mark of the 3rd Mikael Granlund would score his 8th of the season on a very tough angle shot, with the assist going to Spurgeon, his second helper of the night. Spurgeon now has 21 points (4g, 17a) in 56 games this season. Despite missing 14 games due to injury Spurgeon ranks 10th in the team in points and second among Wild defensemen trailing only Suter who has totaled 38 points on 6 goals and 32 assists. Suter’s assist total is ties him with Mikko Koivu for the team lead.
Minnesota would tie the game with less than 5 minutes to go in regulation on a Matt Cooke slapper that found the net behind Cory Schneider. The assists on Cooke’s goal would both go to defensemen with Marco Scanndella his 14th and Jonas Brodin his 10th of the season. Wild defensemen were active this game recording ALL 5 assists credited to the 3 Wild goals. It’s sure a nice luxury to have defenders who can contribute to critical goals in a tight game while not giving up odd man rushes the other direction. This is something that Coach Yeo wanted to see this season, the defense jumping up into the play at the right times. The two squads traded chances down the stretch but both net minders were done allowing goals in regulation and on to OT we went. After some back and forth over the early part of the overtime session the Devils’ Adam Henrique found an open Andy Greene standing to the side of the Wild net and the New Jersey D-man slammed the puck home to take the win and the extra point. The loss drops the Wild’s overall record to 36-23-11 and 13-16-6 on the road. The OT loss sees Ilya Bryzgalov‘s record fall to 6-8-7 on the season. Bryz played well stopping 25 of 29 shots, 18 of which came in the 1st and 2nd periods when the Wild were having trouble completing 3 passes in a row and committing the vast majority of their turnovers.
The Wild now return home for the first game of a two day home and home series with the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday in St. Paul and Sunday in Detroit. When asked what the Wild need to do to take down a Red Wings Squad that is struggling this season, currently in 9th in the Eastern Conference, one point out of the last Wild Card spot, Parise said, “When we move our feet we’re a pretty good team, but when we stand still when our 2nd and 3rd forecheckers are gliding it’s pretty easy to break out on us. So hopefully we can look at that and see what makes us successful and what puts us on our heels.” It’s getting to be crunch time for the teams battling to make it into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Wild have 12 games left to cement the top Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, 6 on the road and 6 in the comfy, friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota went 1-1-1 on this three game road trip. I’ll be back early Saturday with a preview of the Wild’s 1 pm Central Time game vs Detroit. Until then this is Scott Drain howling madly, “LET’S GO WILD!!”