This is one of those games where I don’t know where to start, so instead of trying to formulate something structured, I’m just going to go in order of what comes to my mind.
Scary concept, I know, the way my cloudy mind works.
First, the particulars. Wild won, 5-3, against the Chicago Blackhawks, the model team in the NHL, winners of two Cups in four years, a team that didn’t have a regulation loss this season and had points in six straight at home. In fact, it hadn’t lost in regulation in 15 games at the United Center, spoiling their awesome fans.
The Wild has won three in a row for the second time this year and now returns home to complete the home-and-home vs. the Blackhawks. Minnesota is 4-0-2 at the X, including four wins in a row. Before tonight, the Wild was 1-3-1 on the road with seven goals total. So, a little math here, but the Wild scored two fewer goals tonight than it did in five previous road games.
My teachers at Old Bethpage Grade School would be so proud of me!!!
Before I continue, I apologize for not topping our hoops writer Jerry Zgoda’s bubble bath Wolves report with my own Wild Minute from the sauna or something, but make sure to watch Sunday’s Wild Minute with assistant to the GM Jim Mill, where I insult Blackhawks legendary anthem singer, Jim Cornelison.
Jason Pominville, in his 600th game, scored two goals for his 19th 2-goal game. He also scored the winning goal for his 23rd career winner. He also had six shots. He also buried two pretty Mikael Granlund feeds, giving Granlund three “sick” assists on the Russo “sick-assist” meter in two games. Granlund now has seven apples – one more than he had all of last season. I’ll tell you what: When Granlund learns how to bury the puck himself, he’s going to be a “sick” player. And, while that may not come consistently this season, it will come. His hands, skill and vision are too good for it not to come eventually. He just keeps getting better in every facet of the ice, and he’s so responsible defensively. His “compete,” as Todd Richards used to say, is impressive as well.
Zach Parise scored his sixth goal of the season and fourth on the power play. The Wild’s power play, which ranks fifth in the NHL, has scored in nine of 12 games. Kyle Brodziak scored 1:01 into the second. Justin Fontaine put the Wild up 5-2 before the Blackhawks scored late.
I wrote most my gamer on Niklas Backstrom, who made 33 saves and was downright awesome.
Backstrom was tested immediately, robbing Marian Hossa 21 seconds in when the star two-way forward got every ounce of a Jonathan Toews rebound. Later, Backstrom kicked out his left pad and denied Hossa again.
But his best save came 31 seconds after Parise scored. Patrick Sharp wheeled into the Wild zone to create a break. Coming from Backstrom’s right, Sharp crossed the entire goalmouth and tried to bury the puck inside the post to the left of Backstrom.
He patiently stayed with Sharp the whole way and gloved down the primo chance. Backstrom denied Sharp seven times, and they were almost all Grade A chances.
As coach Mike Yeo said, it was “great to see.” And when he said, “great,” he stressed great, as in, “GREAT!!!” to see. And you know that’s because Backstrom had a slow start to this season even before straining his right knee Oct. 8 and after Friday’s practice said he wasn’t 100 percent from his most recent injury as well as offseason abdominal surgery.
So this was big, and Backstrom’s teammates gave him props and props and more props. Backstrom, like he usually is after a win or loss, brushed everything off as no big deal, saying there was no pressure after seeing Josh Harding give up eight goals in nine games before he was hurt.
When you play against Chicago, you need your goaltender to make big saves at big times, and Backstrom did that over and over again tonight. Good to see from the true pro.
-- Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser were quite the pair tonight, and I disregard the late Scandella penalty and late Prosser mishap that resulted in Chicago scoring a meaningless goal in the last minute. When you play against Chicago, the Hawks are going to get their chances, and there were several tonight.
But Scandella and Prosser were always a safe pair for Rick Wilson to send over the boards. They were each plus-2. Scandella assisted on Brodziak’s goal and drew the Hossa penalty that led to Parise’s goal. And Prosser was just a rock and assisted on Fontaine’s goal. He was chippy, got into faces and was tough in front of the net. He made good first passes, and it’s just so impressive that a guy can be scratched almost every night and he just steps into the lineup and plays this way. You know it has to be frustrating for Prosser to be scratched all the time. Yet, he never shows that frustration publicly. He just shows up with a smile on his face and works his tail off while waiting for Yeo to write his number on the lineup sheet. It’s why his teammates respect him so much,
-- 5-on-3. Gawd awful. This is two games out of four now that the Parise-Suter-Pominville-Dany Heatley-Mikko Koivu fivesome couldn’t score on a long 5-on-3. Only two shots. Yeo says the Wild’s got to figure it out. I’m not fond of three lefties down low. I wish they’d go with a setup of Koivu in the middle, Pominville and Parise on the sides and Suter and Jared Spurgeon up top. The best 5-on-3’s work it low and score off goalmouth passes. If you have Pominville on the left side of the cage and Parise on the right, I think the Wild will get its chances. The Wild practiced 5-on-3’s a lot in camp and Parise to Pominville was a constant goal in that setup.
Yeo says it’s not the personnel, it’s the execution.
The power play did get this game rolling though five seconds into the first PP.
-- PK, much better tonight. Killed 6 of 7 and all the big ones in big spots.
“Starts with Backy,” Yeo said. “But I just like the way we were on our toes, were aggressive, we had good sticks, good reads. This is a game that our guys should feel good about.”
-- Big props to referee Kelly Sutherland. I’ve always been fans of Sutherland and tonight’s ref sidekick Chris Rooney, but Sutherland was real good tonight in one area.
After an eight-minute review that could have been accompanied by the Jeopardy theme music, he basically conducted a press conference on the ice over the PA system to explain why Andrew Shaw’s goal was disallowed. Video review determined that Shaw's stick was above the height of the crossbar when he deflected Jeremy Morin’s shot. The puck then deflected off defenseman Clayton Stoner and into the net. According to Rule 80.3 "When an attacking player causes the puck to enter the opponent's goal by contacting the puck above the height of the crossbar, either directly or deflected off any player or official, the goal shall not be allowed"
Sutherland explained that since Stoner never “regained possession” for the Wild, Shaw’s touch was illegal and thus the goal was.
-- Suter, 2 assists (great one where he does what so few Wild d-men have done throughout history; WALK THE BLUE LINE and shoot en route to the Parise tally). He logged 26:58 (slacker) but still has led all Wild and opposing skaters in ice time in all 12 Wild games this season).
-- Career-best plus-2’s for Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Prosser. Granlund, Pominville and Scandella also plus-2’s.
-- Wild blocked 19 shots tonight.
-- Heatley looked better tonight. He had a great shift with Niederreiter and Granlund in the first period and won a puck race to help set up the Brodziak goal even though he didn’t get an assist on it.
-- Tough night for the fourth line, which was minus-2.
-- Yeo says the Wild will need to be better Monday, and he was impressed with a lot of things tonight.
That’s it for me. Obviously, please read the gamer, notebook and Sunday Insider, too, on www.startribune.com/wild. I’ve got a 7 a.m. flight back to MSP. Talk to you after Sunday’s practice.