Games like tonight are why sportswriters drink so many, uh, beverages after games.
Heart attack central in the press box tonight.
A wonderfully well-written WINNING game story was all but executed by me for the first time since Dec. 10 (Kent covered last month’s Edmonton win) when all heck broke loose out of utterly nowhere.
Logan Couture, who couldn’t buy one all night, and Patrick Marleau scored 22 seconds apart, and suddenly a 4-2 Wild lead with 3:06 left was 4-4 with 2:46 left.
The arena was silent. The bench was stunned. I was going to be sick.
“The end of the game, we played a little bit like a team that’s been struggling,” Matt Cullen said. “You don’t have the same confidence and poise with the puck.”
The Wild found a way to skid into overtime (barely), survive overtime (barely) and for a change, win in the shootout, when Cullen, playing his 1,000th game, and Mikko Koivu scored and Josh Harding denied Michal Handzus and Ryane Clowe.
“That’s how we do it,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We don’t do things the easy way in here. But I was real pleased with the game.”
“We’ve had a lot of ugly wins this year and count this as another one,” Cullen added, laughing.
Added Cal Clutterbuck: “That’s a hockey game, eh? National TV. Selling the game.”
It was a heck of a game, heck of a finish. I just wish I could have enjoyed it from my couch with a, uh, beverage in my hand (a coffee).
On a night when the Wild was already without second-liners Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse, Yeo made the gutsy decision to scratch Devin Setoguchi for what he called a violation of a team rule. Multiple sources tell me Setoguchi missed a team meeting this morning the night after going out with a bunch of his Shark buds.
I give Yeo credit for standing by his convictions. He’s vowed to hold players accountable, and even though the Wild’s had trouble scoring, even though the Wild’s without top-6 forwards, even though the Wild needs to win games, even though Setoguchi’s been good in his two games back from a knee injury with nine shots and an assist, Yeo sent Setoguchi and the team a message.
Be a professional.
Yeo said Setoguchi will start with a clean slate Wednesday.
But all day long, Yeo used the word “fight,” saying it was time the Wild got that fight back.
The Wild fought for everything tonight.
“We showed a huge amount of fight, and I hope that showed out there,” said Justin Falk, who had two assists. “Guys were banging bodies, pushing and shoving in scrums. We weren’t backing down from anything.”
The Hockey Gods had to be laughing as Dany Heatley and Cullen hit posts, as referee Mike Hasenfratz’s arguable quick whistle wiped out a Casey Wellman goal, as players like Kyle Brodziak and Colton Gillies and David McIntyre had to leave the bench with medical or equipment problems.
But the Wild overcame the adversity and shorthanded lineup to win for just the second time since Dec. 10 (2-8-3).
Big win. It was 8th in the West and one point over 10th. Now it’s sixth and three over 9th.
“We got the feeling back that this is who we are,” Cal Clutterbuck said. “This was a huge game for us in terms of building towards being handling things like goals in the third period against and responding. It would have been easy for us to fold the tent up, but it’s two points we really needed.”
Lots of guys stepped up. The second line of Cullen, Clutterbuck and Wellman was real good. Cullen scored when Wellman’s shot went off his shin pad (“I’ll take it. What the heck? It kind of feels like it’s time we deserve a few breaks”), he had six shots and he scored his fifth shootout goal of the season (“Old-man strength”). Wellman had two assists for the first time in his career and flashed speed and greasiness. And Clutterbuck assisted on Cullen’s goal and forced the turnover when Logan Couture dodged his check.
And in a spine-tingling moment, on a night Jack Jablonski’s brother was the flagbearer wearing his bro’s Benilde-St. Margaret’s jersey and got to tour the locker room after the game, Clutterbuck scored after he says he promised Jablonski at his hospital bed Monday that he would score for him.
He got it out of the way early so he wouldn’t have to worry about it all game, Clutterbuck joked.
Other stepped up, too.
Warren Peters scored his first goal in 21 games this year and fourth in 59 in his career. Nick Johnson scored his first goal in 16 games (Dec. 4). I thought Brad Staubitz was real good. Nick Schultz blocked six shots.
“You need guys to step up and fill roles,” Yeo said. “The biggest thing is the way they did it, … I’m actually expecting them to go out and do it the next game because of the effort they put in.”
“It was a big, big game for a lot of guys in this room,” added Clutterbuck.
Just a big win.
“It’s time. We’ve struggled here for long enough,” said Cullen. “We see where we’re at in the standings and we want to climb. It was a good chance to respond to a little adversity.”
Said Harding, who made 34 saves including several robberies, “We’re going to take this as a stepping stone in the right direction. We played our hearts out tonight.”
--Cullen is now 17 for 40 all-time in the shootout. He, by the way, will be honored for playing his 1,000th game in a pregame ceremony Jan. 21 – appropriately on Hockey Day Minnesota.
--Mikko Koivu’s shootout goal was his 26th – sixth all-time
--Josh Harding is 8-4-2 and won for the first time since Dec. 4.
--Clutterbuck has scored 34 of his 54 goals at home.
--David McIntyre, in his third game, assisted on Peters’ goal for his first NHL point.
--Marleau’s goal was his 800th point in 1,074 games.
--Six of the 12 Wild players who got points tonight didn’t play in the season opener
--The Wild’s power play is 1 for 32 the past 12 games.
--The Wild won when allowing four goals for the first time since Feb. 11, 2011.
--The Wild is 5-4 in shootouts.
We’ll talk to Bouchard and Setoguchi Wednesday. Talk to you after practice and before my flight to Chicago.