Tuesday Night was a big one for the Minnesota Wild franchise in the NHL. The Wild clinched the top Wild Card spot in the Western Conference by beating the Boston Bruins in a shootout Tuesday night by a 4-3 final score. The Minnesota victory, the team’s 42nd of the season, sealed the deal for the 7th seed and the top Wild Card AFTER a win by the Columbus blue jackets over the Phoenix Coyotes sealed at least one of two Wild Card spots for Minnesota in the Western Conference. The Minnesota Wild will now play the Western Conference Division Winner with the second best record in the Conference. All this with two games to go in the regular season against the St. Louis Blues and the Nashville Predators.
The Minnesota Wild won this game against the best team in the Eastern Conference behind a pair of goals by Jason Pominville and a late game blast by defenseman Ryan Suter that tied the game at three apiece. Then in the shootout Wild Captain Mikko Koivu sealed the win with his patented forehand/backhand roof move maneuver that beat Tukka Rask for the game winner and only goal of the shootout. Ilya Bryzgalov stopped all three Boston shooters he faced to take the victory. Rask is still undefeated in regulation as a goal tender for the Minnesota Wild, with a record of 7-0-3. His goals against average is a miniscule 1.78 and his save percentage an impressive .923. His acqusition at the trade deadline has turned out to be a brilliant move by Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher. With the injury suffered by Darcy Kuemper, and elevation of Bryzgalov to # net minder, John Curry has become the 7th goal tend er to dress for the Minnesota Wild this season. Seven net minders is not something usually associated with a playoff caliber teams, but the Wild have madit it work and kept on winning no matter who strapped on the pads on any given night. Minnesota Assistant Casptain Zach Parise says the Stanley Cup Playoffs are different, “There’s nothing like it. The pace increases, the magnitude of the games is so much different than the regular season. You try and play the right way and work hard and lead by example. The last 5-6 games or so we started playing a better style of hockey. A more playoff suited style of hockey.”
The Wild drew first blood this night against Boston scoring just 1:05 into the first period on a power play goal by Jason Pominville. His blast from the point hit a Bruins defenseman out from and deflected in past Boston net minder Tukka Rask. The Wild would take a slashing penalty by Ryan Suter just 2:07 into the period and Ryan O’Reilly would tie the score on a slap shot that beat Bryzgalov cleanly at the 3 minute mark. This was the first power play goal the Boston Bruins have ever scored against the Minnesota Wild breaking a streak of 36 straight penalty kills by the Wild against the Bruins. That streak lasted 13 years and Boston would score not once but twice on the man advantage before the night was through. The Bruins would take the lead on a goal by Patrice Bergeron just past midway in the opening period. The Wild would answer back just :28 later, tying the game at two apiece on Jason Pominville’s second of the period. Matt Moulson sent a great pass into traffic in front of the Boston net that Pominville would tip past Rask for the score. The opening frame would end with the score knotted at two each.
Boston would score the only goal of the second period. Loui Eriksson would score the second Bruin power play marker of the night, a tip in of a Gregory Campbell shot 16:18 into the second period. The Minnesota Wild would trail for the rest of the second period and 18:55 of the third period. During the 3rd period an announcement was made to the crowd of 18,893 that the Minnesota Wild had clinched a playoff spot eliciting a sustained cheer from those on hand. The Minnesota Wild would be headed to the playoffs for consecutive years for the first time since the end of the 2007 and 2008 seasons. After the game we learned that Head Coach Mike Yeo had informed the team that they were in the playoffs due to the Columbus Blue Jackets beating the Phoenix Coyotes in overtime. Coach Yeo also told the team as part of his message,”Let’s not back our way into anything. Let’s not come through the back door. Let’s charge through the front door.” “That was the message before the game. What better way to do that than against a team like Boston.” I’d say the team took that message to heart, went out and battled their way to a shootout victory in front of their home town fans.
With Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov on the bench for an extra attacker the puck would come into the slot and Ryan Suter would find it and fire a bullet past Rask to tie the score at 3 sending the Excel Energy Center crowd and the Wild bench into a frenzy. I haven’t heard or seen a Minnesota Wild crowd erupt into that kind of sustained, crazed cheering in a long time. That sent the game into overtime with the crowd still in their seats, yes the vast majority of the excel energy center crowd stayed to watch the OT and shootout. Usually there’s a fair number of “fans” who head for the exits no matter the score starting with the 10:00 minute mark of the third period whether the home team is winning or losing an and leave early.d continue to pack up and head out throughout the overtime and shootout sessions. Apparently this game was of enough significance to stay or these casual “fans” didn’t show up Tuesday nigght
The Wild had a couple of great opportunities to win the game during the OT session, but were unable to find the back of the net. That sent the game to a shootout with the usual suspects up for the Minnesota Wild. The shooting order was Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville. Parise was stopped by the quick glove of Tukka Rask and the same fate befell Jason Pominville as well. MJikko Koivu skated in with some speed and went to the patented Koivu forehand to backhand to roof of the goal to beat Rask easily for the goal and the shootout lead. Ilya Bryzgalov continued his dominance in the cage for the shootout stopping all three Boston Shooters, Patrice Bergeron, and finally Brad Marchand. The Wild players then swarmed the ice in celebration of the win and the clinching of the first ever number 1 Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
Next up for the Minnesota Wild are the Western Conference and Central Division leading St. Louis Blues. The Blues come to the Xcel Energy Center with a record of 52-20-7 totaling 111 points for a Thursday night battle with your Minnesota Wild. This is the second game of facing the best teams the Eastern and Western Conferences have to offer for the Wild. I’ll be back Thursday with a preview of the action between the Wild and Blues. Until then Wild fans bask in the glow of having CLINCHED a spot in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is Scott Drain Yelling at the top of my lungs, “WILD CLINCH, WILD CLINCH. LET’S GO WILD, LET’S GO WILD!!”