As I said on the award-winning Wild Minute video on www.startribue.com/wild (truth: it has never won an award and never will), I know it’s hard for Wild fans to stomach moral victories this time of year and with what’s been going on with your favorite team the last (what feels like) eternity.
But when you’re a team on the outside looking in of the playoff race, when you’re a reeling team desperately searching for positive steps toward getting your game back in line, when you’re a team trying to rediscover some confidence and some passion and some work ethic and you completely outplay a team like the Chicago Blackhawks and lose, what message do you expect to emerge from the locker room after?
Hey, the Wild has been saying, “We stink,” for a month. Tonight, it outshoots the Blackhawks 44-20 -- 37-10 in the final two periods – and lose, 4-2, (two-goal loss because the Blackhawks get an empty-netter almost every time it faces the Wild), and I didn’t find it shocking that the Wild painted a pretty picture after this one.
Coach Mike Yeo said all day that the Wild wouldn’t make the playoffs if it won tonight and wouldn’t miss the playoffs if it loss, but it had to begin the process of rebuilding its game if it wants any shot at making the playoffs. And that meant good start, good attitude, good work ethic.
What Yeo liked, he said, is the fact that the Wild came out with good energy, outplayed the Blackhawks at even-strength, still found itself down 2-zip after one, yet didn’t stop playing.
Everybody in the Blackhawks’ room and their coach admitted they were thoroughly outplayed by the Wild and Corey Crawford stole the show. And I get the fan cynicism of, “Oh, another goalie played like the second coming of Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur against us” that I saw on Twitter.
But, to borrow a Brian Rolston line, it is what it is. The Wild deserved better. It didn’t get it. Deal with the locker-room positivity for one night. Let’s be honest: If it keeps bashing its head against the wall even in games it plays well in, it’ll never get out of this mess it put itself in.
(Give me this: That’s a record amount of it, its and itself’s in one paragraph right above).
Crawford was awesome, and in one game, it kind of exemplified exactly what the Wild’s issue has been for much of this season.
Crawford gave Chicago the type of goaltending performance the Wild rarely gets. Crawford stole his team two points with 42 stops.
At the exact point the Blackhawks took a 3-1 lead 6:20 into the third, -- whether you think Bryan Bickell’s snipe was world-class or not, whether you think Niklas Backstrom had any chance on Patrick Kane or not (he didn’t), whether you think Patrick Sharp got the benefit of a good bounce or not -- Backstrom had stopped 13 of 16 shots while Crawford was saving the Hawks’ hide shot after shot after frigin shot.
That is the Wild’s season in a nutshell right there.
The now has allowed a league-low 26.8 shots per game. The Wild now has the NHL’s 29th-ranked .893 save percentage. That’s a mathematical implausibility if there ever was one, no?
It’s why I reported in Thursday’s paper that the Wild’s looking for a goalie and why I sought out GM Chuck Fletcher to confirm such a fact this morning (actually, I bumped into him while he was using his phone, which was a sight I saw almost every time I “bumped” into him today).
In the story that will appear in Friday’s paper and can be read by clicking this link, Fletcher talks about trade scenarios, gave an indication of what he’s thinking and also again gave a vote of confidence to coach Mike Yeo and his staff.
While tonight may have not been Backstrom’s fault per se, watching Crawford steal a game and stifle the Wild at every turn probably reaffirmed to Fletcher what it must fix, either now or 100 percent heading into next season.
As for the game, 17 of 18 Wild skaters had at least one shot.
Jason Zucker scored his team-leading 15th goal, had five shots, three hits and logged 20 minutes for the first time in his career (21:42, first among Wild forwards).
Jordan Schroeder, fresh off the Iowa farm, probably earned himself another game whether or not Zach Parise plays Saturday afternoon against the Nashville Predators.
He had seven shots in 9:49 of ice time and his speed and offensive prowess supplied a spark. Schroeder and fellow Gopher alum Thomas Vanek (one assist, five shots) played well together.
Schroeder said it was fun to play, but “at the end of the day, we didn’t capitalize on our chances. But definitely, a good building block to go off of. It stinks losing, but we’ve got to keep our heads up because we played a solid hockey game.”
Yeo said that the reason the Wild sent Brett Sutter down and brought up Schroeder was because without Parise and injured Mikael Granlund, you lose two speed guys and Schroeder “showed me something tonight. I was very impressed with his game.”
Ryan Suter, by the way, logged 33:22 tonight, a season-high in regulation (somebody text Clayton Stoner!!!). He attempted 11 shots – seven that were blocked.
Obviously, a lot of this is because Marco Scandella is injured, but have I mentioned the Wild needs a defenseman lately, preferably a left-shot one???
That’s it for me. Please read the game story here, the Fletcher-led notebook which I linked to above and our final online obituary for the great J.P. Parise, which has been thoroughly updated throughout the day by my awesome editor, Chris Miller.
If you didn’t see the Wild’s video tribute to J.P., here it is.
There is a chance Zach Parise practices Friday, but I’m not sure yet. Rachel Blount will be covering practice, so please follow www.twitter.com/blountstrib.
There’s a chance he plays this weekend, too, but we will see. It’ll be completely up to him.
The Wild hopes to announce funeral information Friday. It’s obviously a family decision, but I know the Wild wants badly to attend and support its teammate. If it’s Monday, the Wild could return to Minnesota Sunday after its game in Chicago and then fly to Pittsburgh Monday night for its Tuesday game there.
This has been exhausting, emotional day and I’m wiped out, so I’m finally heading home. Somebody told me it snowed today?