Jim Souhan: Tough guy becomes series-saving distraction

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 18, 2007 - 12:15 AM

Griping turned to grinning after big Derek Boogaard chiseled out the space that freed the Wild to maneuver, and even helped set up a goal.

Derek Boogaard sandwiched
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Derek Boogaard was sandwiched between the Ducks' Chris Pronger (25) and Kent Huskins (40) while awaiting a shot in front of Ducks' goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in the third period.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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For a guy who missed the last game with the flu, who's far better at throwing down gloves than lighting lamps, Derek Boogaard became a strangely central figure in this suddenly interesting playoff series.

Tuesday night, Boogaard helped produce the first goal of the Wild's season-sustaining 4-1 victory over Anaheim, and he threatened to have the last word on the fight that could light up this series like a stray cigarette in a California forest.

Boogaard watched from the bench as Anaheim's Brad May sucker-punched Wild pacifist Kim Johnsson, leaving Johnsson face-down on the ice. Boogaard then challenged to a fight everyone who ever lived in Orange County, including the Rally Monkey and a certain Ducks winger of similarly stunted evolution.

"Brad May's supposed to be a tough guy, and everybody sits there and says he's one of the toughest guys in the league," Boogaard said. "I don't think tough guys go around suckering guys who don't fight. He thinks he deserves respect, and he does stuff like that. He's going to get no respect from now on, if he even plays.

"Which I don't think he will. He's done for the rest of the playoffs as far as I'm concerned."

The Boogey Man might just be getting started.

He missed Game 3 because of the flu, then returned for Game 4, with the Wild facing elimination, and suddenly it was Anaheim's skill players who looked like they had swallowed a plate of bad sushi.

The boxscore says the Wild won Game 4 because of its big guys. It says here the Wild won because of The Big Guy.

All series, the Wild complained about obstruction, about lacking open ice, about its inability to adapt to playoff-style hockey against a daunting opponent.

Tuesday night at the X, Wild coach Jacques Lemaire toyed with his top lines. More important, he reinstated Boogaard -- the biggest guy he has -- and suddenly the Wild had a forward who could fight through obstruction, who could create open ice with all the subtlety of an armor-plated Zamboni, and who was desperate to make the physical plays that define playoff hockey.

While the final score says "blowout," what should be remembered is that the Ducks scored first, and the Wild didn't counter until, with a little more than two minutes left in the second period, the Boogey Man went to work.

Defenseman Nick Schultz pinched, keeping the puck in the offensive zone.

It wound up in the corner, where the Wild has lost most of its battles this series. This time Boogaard won the puck and sent it to Pierre-Marc Bouchard, or, as Boogaard should call him, "Mini-Me."

Bouchard had his first shot blocked, buried his second, and by the end of the night the giddy Wild fans were chanting "sieve, sieve, sieve" at previously impregnable Ducks goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

In a series marked by the Wild's lack of tenacity and whininess, Minnesota became the aggressor. With Boogaard chugging around the X, the Ducks no longer seemed physically dominant.

Suddenly, Marian Gaborik was looking for hits as well as pretty goals, and even the undersized Bouchard was finding himself in the middle of scrums.

"Boogey makes an impact because they're looking for him," Lemaire said. "Not to fight, but they're looking for him when he's on the ice."

By the end of the night, we had a series, in fact and emotion, with Boogaard watching from the bench as Anaheim's Shawn Thornton became the third man in on a fight and May put himself on Boogey's list.

With Boogaard chugging around like a freighter amid sloops, and the Wild's skill players finding clear sailing, the Wild moved one small step closer to winning the series, one big step closer to finishing the season with a vestige of self-respect.

The Boogey Man is a large reason why.

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Derek Boogaard sandwiched