The Minnesota Wild blew a two goal lead and lost to the Colorado Avalanche Thursday night. The Avalanche now lead the Stanley Cup Playoffs Divisional Series 1 game to none. Game 2 is Saturday night in Denver. The Wild had a 4-2 lead after the second period but errors in the third sent the game to overtime. In OT, Paul Stastny fired home the game winner 7:27 into the extra session.
This is not new territory for the Minnesota Wild. In seven playoff series in the team’s history, they have a record of 1-6 in Game 1’s. Five of those losses have come in overtime. The mission for the Minnesota Wild is to win game 2. Period. Game 1 is done and gone. The Wild lost in OT. Whether it’s a 1 goal OT loss or a 7-0 blowout the still count the same. Minnesota Wild o Colorado Avalanche 1: that’s the status right now. Wild third line winger Matt Cooke summed it up after the game saying, “It’s one win, it’s a race to four. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,we’re in it for the long haul.”
The most identifiable breakdowns the Minnesota Wild had that led to the Avalanche win were 3 failures to clear the defensive zone resulting in turnovers and possessions by Colorado. In each of those cases the puck ended up in the back of the Wild’s net a short time later.. All three came after the Wild had battled hard to score 4 goals. One goal in the first period, 3 goals in the second period, zero goals in the third period. The first two puck clearing failures were committed by Kyle Brodziak and Jared Spurgeon. Both players had excellent games up until disaster struck. Brodziak scored a goal at the 18:12 mark of the 2nd period to give the Minnesota Wild a 4-2 lead. After that he was on the ice for all three goals leading to the Colorado Avalanche victory, ending the night with a -3 rating. Brodziak was a 0 rating after scoring a goal as he was on the ice for the Av’s 2nd goal of the game earlier in the 2nd period. Then at about the 7;00 mark of the third he had the puck on his stick and tried to do something other than just get the puck out of the defensive zone. He sent a weak little dribbler of a clearing attempt toward the blue line where it was easily intercepted by Ryan O’Reilly who put a shot at Minnesota Wild net minder Ilya Bryzgalov. Jamie McGinn knocked the puck down and beat Bryzgalov to the left post for the goal, cutting the Wild’s lead to 1.
The next breakdown came well after Colorado Head Coach Patrick Roy pulled goal tender Semyon Varlamov with 2:37 to play for an extra attacker. That’s a lot of time with an empty net, but it shows the level of trust Coach Roy has in his players. Minnesota managed to keep Colorado at bay for roughly 2:17 of that time. The with approximately 20 second left on the clock Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon sent a pass to the point instead of flipping the puck high and out of the zone, as he had done on a play just a matter of seconds before. Once again the puck was intercepted by an Avalanche player who sent a pass across the zone to Colorado D-man Eric Johnson who launched a shot on net that Bryzgalov turned aside but the puck went directly to Paul Stastny who scored with 13.4 second remaining on the clock. While the Colorado Avalanche celebrated the Minnesota Wild looked deflated. Some players looked like they couldn’t believe their eyes. Their looks said it all, the victory that was in their grasp was gone, just like water from a clenched fist.
The Minnesota Wild came out for the overtime period ready to go. This was, in theory, a “new” game, the first to score wins. The Minnesota Wild did have some chances and missed chances in OT. About 1:30 into the OT period Wild leading scorer Jason Pominville collected the puck skated out away from Av’s net minder Varlamov and rang a shot off the far post, CLANG. That sound stills rings in my ears as I write this. Both teams traded chances and for a while it looked like this could be a long OT session. Then just 7:20 into the OT period another failed clear leads to a turnover. The puck goes from Tyson Barrie to Nathan MacKinnon to Stastny standing in nearly the same spot as his game tying goal and just that quick the puck is in the net. Game over. Minnesota Wild lose.
The game was not without some controversy. Just seconds before Stastny’s game tying goal Minnesota Wild rookie Erik Haula had a great chance to score an empty netter to tie the game. Just as the puck approached the goal line, by approached I mean 3″ from the goal line, the Avalanche’s Johnson reached the puck and net knocking the net from it’s moorings as he swiped at the puck. Earlier in the game Mikko Koivu was assessed a 2 minute minor for delay of game when he knocked the net off, whether intentionally or not. At this critical juncture the refs not only made no call, they moved the faceoff outside of the Wild’s offensive zone AND refused to give Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo any kind of an explanation. I’ve always thought that when a ref has had a good game, you don’t notice him and the play of the players determines the outcome of the game not a call by an official. After the game Coach Yeo said, “We got called for a penalty earlier in the game on something that was sort of similar. I didn’t get an explanation from the refs.” I thought that if a Head Coach asked for an explanation from a referee about a play he would be given one, however brief it may be.
The game was not without many positives for the Minnesota Wild. In scoring 4 goals they received one each from their 2nd, 3rd, 4th lines and from a defenseman. Charlie Coyle scored his first Stanley Cup Playoffs goal and the first of the game for Minnesota. He tied the game at 1 each just over 2 minntes after the Av’s opened the scoring in the first period. In the 2nd stanza the Wild scored 3 times in just over 7 minutes on goals by Ryan Suter, Erik Haula, and Kyle Brodziak. Suter’s tally came on a power play as he launched a long rang shot form near the blue line that appeared to hit a Colorado player before flyng past Varlamov for the score at 11:05. The 2nd of the period came from rookie speedster Haula who blew around a Avalanche defender angled to the net and deked once before sliding the puck through Varlamov’s five hole at 16:08. That was the former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher’s first Stanley Cup Playoff goal in his first playoff game. The final Minnesota Wild goal of the period came at the 18:12 mark as Brodziak scored on a nice wrist shot up high on Varlamov. That would be Minnesota’s final goal of the game however. I really like the balanced scoring attack by the Wild. In addition to the four goals on 33 shots six other Wild players had assists in the game, including two by Zach Parise and one by Captain Mikko Koivu. All in all 10 wild players had at least a point in the game.
The Minnesota Wild special teams also performed well in game 1. The penalty killers stopped all four Colorado power plays on the night. Those included a 4 minute double minor assessed to Cody McCormick for a high stick against Patrick Bordeleau that bloodied the Av’s player. The Wild power play converted on one of two chances in the game. The two teams only totaled 6 power plays on 22 total minutes of penalties. That kind of special teams play is going to have to continue if the Wild are going to climb back into this series and take the victory on Saturday night.
Ilya Bryzgalov took the loss allowing 5 goals on 31 shots. Fox Sports North analyst, former Minnesota Wild player and Captain Wes Walz characterized Bryzgalov’s play in game 1 as “Below average goaltending” and added that “You just can’t give the other team goals.” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo had a different assessment of his net minders play saying, “I got no problem with his game….This one can definitely not be pinned on him.” Now, Yeo is doing one of two things, either he really believes what he said about Bryzgalov’s play or he’s trying to maintain his #1 goalies confidence after a tough loss. The backup goal tender situation for the Minnesota Wild is young, untested in Stanley Cup Playoff action, and has rather limited NHL experience period. While not placing the blame for the loss on any one player or group of players Yeo instead chose to challenge the whole squad during his post game comments saying, “We’re all disappointed. Normally, we’re a team that plays with a little more confidence in those situations. Not that we weren’t confident, but we weren’t aggressive enough. I know we can be a lot better.” The last 8 word of that quote are the challenge. Instead of calling out his leaders, defense, offense or special teams Coach Yeo called out the whole group. Now we’ll see how the team responds. Oh, one more little tidbit, this was the first time the Minnesota Wild have lost a Stanley Cup Playoff game after scoring 4 goals. Not a great first for the boys Thursday night.
The Minnesota Wild next suit up Saturday night for game 2 at the Pepsi center before returning to St. Paul for games 3 and 4 on next Monday and Thursday. I’d put Saturday into the “must win” category. Going down 0-2 to the Colorado Avalanche is going to be a monumental hole to climb out of. Yes I know the history of 2003. I was there in the Xcel Energy Center or glued to my TV for the games in Denver. Since that time though the Wild have not fared well when down two or more games in a series. Not that lightning can’t strike twice, it’s just very unlikely. The Wild played well Thursday night. Just not quite well enough to win the game. Paul Stastny stepped up and scored two huge goals for the Colorado Avalanche, overshadowing any performance by a member of the Minnesota Wild. This is but 1 game in a potential 7 game series. The Wild need to keep doing what worked and work on what didn’t, i.e. CLEARING THE PUCK AT CRITICAL TIMES! It’s the little things that make the difference in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as any player who’s been there can tell you. Just a reminder folks to check out our Facebook page and follow us on twitter during games and beyond at: @FSGonePuckWild, @DrainScott, @GerDevine, and @dakota_case. I’ll be back Saturday with a preview of Game 2 of the series. Until then this is Scott Drain, disappointed but undaunted, still screaming, “LET’S GO WILD-BEAT THE AVALANCHE-LET’S GO WILD!!”