Entertaining game down at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday night when the Washington Capitals took a 5-4 overtime win over the Wild.
Wild had the far better of the play at 5-on-5. Special teams, different story, as Alex Ovechkin, for the first time in his career, completed a hat trick by virtue of three power-play goals all from his usual left-circle vicinity spot and the Wild went 0-for-5 on the power play with four shots on goal.
The Wild’s edge for home-ice advantage in the first round is seven points of Nashville, which lost tonight and has six games left like Minnesota, and St. Louis, which has seven games left.
First the news:
1. Zach Parise was high-sticked by Tom Wilson in the first period. He went down in a heap and was in agony. He never returned and coach Bruce Boudreau said he had a really swollen eye after the game and an upper body injury beyond the eye. Replays showed that his head collided with Jay Beagle’s lower leg as he fell to the ice and Boudreau indicated it may have happened on that part of the incident.
“Seeing him back there, he doesn’t look too good,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “I don’t think it’s as bad as you first think when you see it, but hopefully he recovers fast. He’s starting to play really well, that energy and just his tenacity out there, we need him back fast.”
2. Joel Eriksson Ek was officially recalled before the game and he has arrived in town. He will be on the ice in practice Wednesday, which Rachel Blount is covering, incidentally.
Boudreau and GM Chuck Fletcher said they haven’t yet sat down to have an in depth talk as to how Eriksson Ek would be used. As I guess on the earlier blog, I figured third-line left wing. With Parise now likely sidelined, I’d say that’s a guarantee with Nino Niederreiter moving up to the Eric Staal line.
Although, Niederreiter-Martin Hanzal-Jason Pominville had a five-point game against the Caps, so maybe Boudreau won’t want to alter that and will try Eriksson Ek with Staal and Charlie Coyle.
We shall see, so to speak.
Also, if you read one of my earlier blogs today, Boudreau jumped to Hanzal’s defense about his play.
So did Fletcher before Hanzal had a goal and assist against Washington.
“I think he’s been one of our better players since he’s been here,” Fletcher said. “In fact, a couple the games we won, we wouldn’t have won had he not been here. Part of the reason we made the move is we thought our game was slipping during that homestand in February. We thought things were getting away from us. To me we clearly needed another top nine forward, in part to strengthen our fourth line but to also to strengthen our top 9. There were signs in February that our game wasn’t where it was, and that’s normal. But I don’t think [the struggles] has anything to do with Martin Hanzal. [Eric] Staal’s clearly been our offensive player the last few weeks, but Hanzal’s been as good as anybody.”
Hanzal has two goals and seven assists in 14 games. The Wild’s 5-7-2 in those games.
3. As for the game, the Wild’s now 3-10-2 in March and 2-9-2 in its past 13 games.
But as I mentioned, the Wild held the juggernaut Capitals to 20 shots – 13 at even-strength, and one of those was the 3-on-3 winner by T.J. Oshie.
The Wild couldn’t stay out of the penalty box tonight, and it paid with Ovechkin lighting em up. But Jared Spurgeon, who had three points, cut the deficit to 4-3 with a knuckling goal with 4:57 left, then Spurgeon’s shot ricocheted right to Staal for the tying goal with an extra attacker on with 26.6 seconds left.
This is two games in a row where the Wild defended well and played well 5-on-5, so it latched onto that. The team certainly looked a lot more like itself the past two games.
“I thought we played pretty good,” Boudreau said. “That’s two games in a row that we’ve allowed under 20 shots and to this team. It’s pretty encouraging. We had I think almost everybody playing to their level. There were a few guys who were passengers that didn’t play as well as they could, but in the last three weeks we’ve been having 10 guys play good and 10 bad. Then it’s starting to get 12 and 8, and 13 and 7. So we’re gradually getting back, I think, to our capabilities.”
Boudreau made clear this is not about accepting losses.
“Nobody likes to lose,” he said. “But if you don't take positives out you're going to be a dead man in this sport in not too long. The negatives were when we played Vancouver. We didn't have anybody going against a team that we should beat. These last two games I thought we dominated both games 5 on 5. It's always darkest before the dawn, that's a saying, and I truly believe that. It's getting better. Another saying I uses is the difference between a rut and a groove. For 65 games we were in a pretty good groove. And now we're sort of in a rut trying to get out of that rut. But a rut and a groove are the same thing only with different meanings. So I mean, it's coming closer. When you score on the best defensive team in the league, two goals in the last five minutes, it's cause for hope, I guess.”
Staal added, “I thought we controlled a lot of the play, 5 on 5. We didn’t give them a lot. I’ve played against these guys many a time over the years where you feel like you deserve better, and they have some players who can execute on the power play, and they clearly did tonight with Ovi getting three. We’ve got to do a better job in that area, obviously. But 5 on 5, we were solid.”
Suter said, “We did a lot of good things 5-on-5. Things are tough right now for us, so to battle back like we did, to get that point, I think is big for us, big for our confidence. … We came back. I’m not happy, but you take the positives and move on.”
Suter understands that it sounds like the Wild’s settling, but “When things aren’t going well, you look for positives to build off of. I thought 5-on-5, I thought we outplayed them.”
4. As for Ovechkin, Suter said, “Our special teams were not good. … I’ve got to be better. We all have to be better. We all have to bear down. Special teams, you give the best player time and space, and usually he scores.”
Suter said, “We designed our PK to defend that, and we were just unsuccessful. … That’s his spot. We have to know that. We knew that. We were prepared, but we just didn’t execute.”
Added Staal, “He’s got a great release, and they were able to find him some time, and he doesn’t need a lot of time. We talked about some of the execution, and I just don’t think we did a good enough job in that area. We were prepared for what we wanted to do. We just didn’t execute properly. When that happens, he’s elite, and he can make you pay, and he did.”
It’s not like you can just cover Ovechkin like glue with the weapons the Caps have out there, especially Nicklas Backstrom, who had three assists for the second straight Wild meeting, quarterbacking things from the half wall.
“They have so many threats on there and getting pressure what we wanted to do,” Spurgeon said. “A couple of them, they weren’t clean plays, they were sort of broken plays and they just found him on the backside there.
“They have more guys than you out there, so it’s going to be tough. We went over it this morning, but like I said, lots of threats with them and they just made some nice plays to get around us.”
Boudreau coached Ovechkin for parts of five years. He knows that shot’s coming.
“I mean he's scored 250 goals like that from that spot,” Boudreau said. “Every team has designed things to do but if he gets the shot away, if it doesn't hit you, it's in the net. You saw especially the first one on Kuznetsov (it was actually Johansson) who rifled that pass over, he took it in stride , and it was in the net. He's that good. I've seen him for five years do that to everybody. We can design all we want. The idea I guess is to prevent them from making that play over to him. And we weren't able to do that. He's going to score against everybody doing that and I think he's feeling it a little bit right now. The puck's coming off his stick really quickly and it's hitting corner posts and in and stuff. It's a tough thing to stop.
Amazingly, Ovechkin has 14 goals and 20 points in 12 career games against Minnesota. Against Dubnyk, who stopped 15 of 20 shots, Ovechkin has 11 goals and 17 points and 38 shots in SIX career games.
“I don’t think I’m the only guy,” Dubnyk said. “He scores goals when he gets the puck in places with time. Yeah, it’s frustrating. I feel like you just stand there and do nothing and it’s in the back of the net.
“It’s going to happen if he gets the time and space. If you watch him, he does that every night when he gets opportunities. We did a pretty good job in Washington with our gameplan as far as eliminating his time and space, and unfortunately he got some time and space tonight, and it was in the net.”
Ovechkin said, ““First one, I didn’t even see the puck. It hit my stick and it was open net. The second one with Shatty, great pass. The third one, I can steal the puck. They say if you can keep shooting, it goes in.”
That’s it for me. Rachel has practice Wednesday.
I’ll be on SiriusXM Radio at 9:40 a.m. and the Russo-Souhan Show is at Hell’s Kitchen at 6 p.m.