The Minnesota Wild lost in a shootout to the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 Thursday night but they gained a very valuable point in the Western Conference Wild Card race. For the third game in a row the Minnesota Wild needed a third period rally. This time it was to tie the game and force overtime and a shootout. Tonight’s hero was Erik Haula. His goal with 1:54 to play in the third sealed a point for the Wild. That precious point gives Minnesota a 5 point lead over both the Dallas Stars and the Phoenix Coyotes. The Wild, 90 points, and Coyotes, 85 points, both have 5 games left on the schedule while the Stars, 85 points, have six to play. That gives Dallas a game in hand on both Phoenix and Minnesota. The Wild now play 4 of their last 5 games on home ice at the Xcel Energy Center. It’s not and easy stretch of games by any means with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Metropolitan Division Champions up first on Saturday night. Then Minnesota heads north for their final road game of the year against the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets are playing out the string, holding down the 6th spot in the Central Division with 78 points. Then the Minnesota Wild return home for the final 3 games of the regular season. First up will be the Atlantic Division Champions and probable #1 team in the Eastern Conference heading into the playoffs, Boston Bruins. The the Wild get to play the Central Division Champion St. Luis Blues, and finally the Nashville predators come to St. Paul. The Predators are not going to the playoffs as they currently trail Winnipeg by a point in the battle for last in the Central Division. That’s a tough schedule to finish out the regular season, 3 division champions. It’s not going to be an easy road to the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season.
Thursday night the Wild did score the game’s 1st goal AND accomplished that feat in the first period. That lead didn’t last and once again your Minnesota Wild had to come up with some third period heroics to send the game into OT. That 1st goal came at the 14:19 mark. Ryan Suter passed the puck to his defensive partner Jared Spurgeon, who launched a shot toward the net that was redirected past Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford by Charlie Coyle. The goal was Coyle’s 11th of the season giving a total of 27 points to date. The assist by Spurgeon was the defenseman’s 20th of the season and gives him a career high in points of 25. Suter’s assist was his 35th to go with 7 goals to total 42 points ranking him 4th on the Minnesota Wild in scoring. His 35 assists rank 10th for all NHL defensemen this season. It was a nice lead while is lasted and it would be the Wild’s only tally until less than two minutes remained in the third period. The Wild did control play for much of the opening frame even thought they were a dismal 3 of 14 at the face off dot.
In the interim the Chicago Blackhawks tied the game at a goal apiece just 2:29 into the 2nd period. Ben Smith put a wrist shot up high past Ilya Bryzgalov after the Wild failed to clear the defensive zone. Nate Prosser tried to block the shot but was just spinning helplessly as the puck sailed by him and into the net. That was the extent of goal scoring in the 2nd stanza. The play was very physical throughout the game and especially after the Blackhawks’ tying goal. Zach Parise paid a heavy price as Brandon Bollig hit the Minnesota Wild’s leading goal scorer at full speed from behind making contact with Parise’s head. The dirty hit left the Wild winger face down on the ice for a moment as he then rose to his hands and knees seemingly stunned by the vicious blind side hit. We’ll see what the league thinks of that hit on Friday. After the attack Bollig threw his arms up in the air as if he couldn’t possibly have been the reason Parise had to be helped from the ice and down the tunnel toward the locker room. Amazingly Parise did return to the ice a few minutes later. One thing to keep in mind is that the NHL no longer has a concussion protocol to follow. We’ll see this weekend if returning to action that soon after a blow like that was a prudent move.
In the past a Dr. could do an assessment and order the player off the ice. That power has been stripped away and given to the player, who often for a variety of reasons, will return to the ice after sustaining a hit that has caused a concussion or the very popular term,”concussion like symptoms.” Folks, being the victim of a traumatic brain injury and having had more than a dozen concussions over the last 29 years, If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then…you know the rest. I can tell you it’s a cumulative situation as well. The damage once done does NOT magically repair itself. Dead brain matter is just that. Luckily, we have enough extra to keep going in most cases. This wasn’t Zach’s first time, “getting his bell rung”, and it won’t be the last. Hockey is a contact sport and hard hits are a big part of the game. Stupid, dirty, from behind, hits are not. Laying a full on body check and leading with the arm when all you can see is the players number and name plate isn’t hockey it’s stupidity. I’ll say it, to me it looked like Bollig’s desire was to knock the opposition’s top scorer out of the game and more. This is Bollig’s game, look at his stats. In his 120 NHL games over 3 seasons “Blundering Bollig” has amassed 14 points on 7 goals and 7 assists. His forte is penalty minutes, with a total of 195 to date. You’ll never see him in an All-Star game at the NHL, or AHL level. His game is to try and break other players and further his teams gameplan in that manner.
The Minnesota Wild currently have two players out with the politely termed “upper body injury”. Mikael Granlund has had brain trauma issues this season already and the video evidence is pretty strong that Nino Niederreiter had his bell rung as well in the game against the L.A. Kings and their wastes of payroll Jake Muzzin and Jarret Stoll. You’d think Bollig would think about his actions after seeing his own team Captain taken out by a questionable hit recently. I guess Bollig is incapable of thinking that far ahead or realizing that his action may have consequences beyond the next few seconds.
The Blackhawks took the lead, 2-1, on a g0al by Bryan Bickell just 2:45 into the 3rd period. The Wild were unable to clear the defensive zone once again and a turnover by usually sure handed defenseman Jonas Brodin ended up with the puck behind Bryzgalov. The Minnesota Wild tried to keep the pressure on throughout the period but all their chance slide wide, were shot high, hit a pipe, or were stopped by the Blackhawks Crawford. Finally with just 1:54 left on the clock, a shot by Erik Haula found it’s way through a couple of screens before finding the twine behind the Chicago net minder. That would be it for regulation and the 5 minute overtime session produced 5 total shots. Three by the Blackhawks and just a pair by your Minnesota Wild, who were looking more and more road weary by the minute.
In the shoot out the Wild went with the usual suspects in Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville. The Blackhawks countered with Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Ben Smith. Out of the 6 total shooters the only goal was scored by Marian Hossa. He skated in on Brygalov and then unleashed a slap shot that the Wild goal got most, but not all of. The puck trickled through his five-hole and into the net. That would be the difference and the Chicago Blackhawks took the extra point. The Minnesota Wild did gain an important point that coupled with the Dallas Stars loss to the Carolina Hurricanes gives the Wild the 5 point cushion they have at present. The Stars and Wild are off on Friday but the Phoenix Coyotes are in action against the Edmonton Oilers in sunny warm Arizona. The Wild just need to keep on picking up points in every game possible. The worst of the road games are done and friendly, sell out crowds await at the Xcel Energy Center starting on Saturday night. I’ll be back with a preview of the Wild vs Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday morning. Until then, take care of your head, and as always this is Scott Drain still calling out in an April blizzard, “LET’S GO WILD!!”