This is Michael Russo's 18th year covering the National Hockey League. He's covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005 following 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. Michael uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
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Man, this is a game I wish I covered, but what a game to watch. Rachel Blount was there and will have all the coverage in Sunday's paper.
The Wild put together a gutsy performance tonight, yet got massively outshot 35-15 and somehow found a way to pull out a victory in its last game ever at the Igloo. Niklas Backstrom was just outstanding, making 34 saves, gobbling up pucks and limiting Pittsburgh to few second and third chances.
All the scoring came in the first period, with former Wilkes-Barre Baby Pen Kyle Brodziak and Eric Belanger scoring, Belanger's with six-tenths of a second left after a great pass from Marty Havlat and solid shifts from Owen Nolan and Greg Zanon, who both had outstanding games.
The Wild had a couple chances to take a bigger lead on a power play, but the Penguins blocked a bunch of shots (15 in the game).
Belanger played another solid two-way game, and then looked to break his nose late in the third when he was clipped by Alex Goligoski's stick on a scramble. No call. Just a ton of blood. Belanger deserves the week off after the last two games. He's been really good.
Marek Zidlicky won a big battle tonight with Sidney Crosby. He got inside Crosby's head. Zidlicky tripped up Sid the Kid behind the net, and Crosby just lost his mind. Remember, a few years ago, Crosby sustained a high ankle sprain getting tripped up, so I think he just got angry. When they came together again, Crosby slashed Zidlicky. Zidlicky two-handed Crosby. And then the two dropped the gloves.
So in a crucial point in the game, Zidlicky took Crosby off the ice for seven minutes. In the third, Brent Burns got away with snapping Crosby's stick in half (Crosby was called for the same thing earlier in the game on Mikko Koivu). Crosby was furious there was no call, threw up his arms and got a new stick with play stopped. Then, he kept on yelling at the ref after the linesman blew his whistle. So on a PP, the linesman dropped the puck and the Wild cleared the zone. And then Crosby was upset at that.
Antics like this are the reason why many people say Crosby doesn't get superstar calls. You can't be throwing up your arms and screaming at refs all game long. I respect the tremendous stardom and competitiveness all the time from Crosby. He's a phenomenal player, but he definitely lost his cool tonight.
What's amazing is Crosby played 23 minutes, 46 seconds and took nine penalty minutes, meaning he spent less than half the game on the Pittsburgh bench.
Backstrom again was the reason the Wild won though. He was just outstanding, so next time a few of you think of sending me an email saying the Wild don't need him (and I get these more often than you think), remember a game like this. Second of back-to-back, playing the defending Cup champs, virtually the entire game in your end, your team outshot by 20, not too many goalies could put together this type of special, poised performance.
I bet the Wild wishes it could play again in the next few days. For the first time, the Wild's got momentum, and the schedulemaker doesn't have them playing again until Thursday. But they could use the rest too after playing seven in 11 days.
Wild will take Sunday off. Set your clocks back and enjoy the Vikings-Packers game everybody. Talk to you again Monday unless there's news Sunday.
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