Other than Pavel Bure dominating for Florida in his 1999 debut after a blockbuster trade with Vancouver, I don't know if I've ever had a more tailor-made, easier game story to write than this one.
Cal Clutterbuck, who last night was spotting goals for me as I was buried in my computer writing late in the Blues game, is supposed to be out at least until December with a high ankle sprain. He returns two weeks to the day from the incident in San Jose and scores the overtime winner.
You've got to see this goal right here. Just amazing.
It doesn't get any easier than that for my job. Clutterbuck had an eventful period. He hammered Joni Pitkanen earlier behind the net (somehow the puck was at red line and Clutter didn't get called), and drew the ire of the entire Canes bench.
As John Scott and a bunch of people are skirmishing, Clutterbuck's just standing 15 feet from Carolina's bench shouting into it. I asked Clutterbuck what he was saying, and ... “I was telling them, ‘That’s a pretty big hit, eh, for a guy on one foot. Imagine what I can do on two feet,” Clutterbuck said, grinning.
I don't know how the guy played. Honestly. Earlier this week in practice, I walked into the room and he was laying on his back across three players' stalls. I went over to him, and he was not only in pain, but his lungs were burning from the practice. He thought he'd be out at least until next week, and yet somehow, he was able to suit up tonight.
I'll take credit. I think another game dealing with me asking, "What happened? Who scored that?" would have made Clutterbuck leap from the pressbox.
I don't know if I've ever seen a game where one player was at the center of everything that was good or bad for a team the way Pitkanen was tonight. He took dumb penalties, was out of position often, yet he also created turnovers, scored a goal and helped set up a goal.
Niklas Backstrom was amazing tonight. He only faced 23 shots, but they were some incredible chances and he stopped 'em. But it was strange. As good as the chances the Wild surrendered were, I thought the defense was very good. I thought the six D played their best game of the season, especially Nick Schultz and Brent Burns. Burns was just terrific, and after the first period, Schultz was outstanding. The guy saved like four or five goals in my opinion.
They'll have to continue playing this way with Kim Johnsson sidelined.
James Sheppard and Benoit Pouliot were scratched tonight. Coach Todd Richards hopes watching will make them better, although I think Pouliot's been playing quite well. Nathan Smith and Andy Hilbert were sent down after the game, so depending on what Derek Boogaard's status is for Monday, Sheppard and Pouliot should get back in the lineup.
--D Shane Hnidy had an assist on LW Andrew Brunette's goal, giving the defensive defenseman an assist in back-to-back games for the second time in his career (Dec. 12-14, 2002). It was his first power-play assist of his career and second power-play point in 487 games.
--Brunette scored 82nd goal with the Wild, tying him with Wes Walz for third all-time. It was his 39th power-play goal, tying him with Brian Rolston for second all-time. Six goals through 10 games are tied with Marian Gaborik for the second-most goals for any Wild player in the first 10 games. Brian Rolston scored nine in the first 10 in 2006-07.
--Burns registered his 18th career two-or-more point game with two assists. The Wild is 15-1-2 when he does that.
--The Wild is 3-0 at home, with every game coming after 60 minutes. They're 0-7 on the road.
--Backstrom is 11-0-4 at home since Feb. 6. That's a new team record for home unbeaten regulation streak.
--Kyle Brodziak scored his first goal with the Wild.
--The Wild's 23 straight penalty kills dating to Oct. 10 was snapped on Sergei Samsonov's first-period PPG. Ray Whitney set up two goals because he's "the Wizard." Columbus play-by-play guy Jeff Rimer gave him that nickname as the Panthers' announcer.