Wow. You starting to believe yet?
Sidney Crosby or not, that was an impressive win by the Wild, which handed the Penguins their first-ever shutout at Consol Energy Center. And this is a team that had won 11 of its past 12 on home ice (excluding Winter Classic at Heinz Field).
The Wild won its fourth straight game and swept the three-game road trip.
I'm fairly sure I got this right, but no matter what Los Angeles does tonight, the Wild will be seventh in the conference at the end of the night. It's seventh as we speak, with Phoenix eighth, San Jose ninth and Chicago 10th, all with 47 points. Forget Chicago right now because it's played 43 games. Forget San Jose because it's played 42. The reason why the Wild is ahead of Phoenix and would be LA even if it wins tonight is because even though they've all played 41 games, the Wild's won the most non-shootout games (21). That is the first tiebreaker this year.
Yeah, I know we're only 41 games into the season, meaning half the season to be played, but this is huge. The Wild's 8-2-1 since Dec. 18, the first of those two straight wins over Calgary. Since Dec. 18, the Wild has moved from 14th in the West to 7th! That's inside the top-8 for the first time since Nov. 11!
Amazing. The Wild's 5-0-1 in its past six on the road, 7-1-2 in its past 10 on the road. They've won 11 games on the road in 20 games (11-6-3), something it took 34 games to accomplish last year.
It's the third-most points at the halfway mark in team history. The other two? They made the playoffs.
There's a swagger now by the Wild. This is a team that knows how it needs to play to win. And what I loved about tonight's win: After the game, in the locker room, there was no party, no loud music, no nothing. It was just business as usual, like they've been there before, like, "OK, good win boys, let's go home and play Dallas and keep it going."
On the day it was revealed Nik Backstrom has a hip injury and is heading to the Vail hip guru to get it looked out, Jose Theodore nonchalantly goes out there and shuts out the Pens for his fourth win in a row. Theodore's 19 wins vs. Pittsburgh (19-4-3) is second-most to Martin Brodeur during the Brodeur era. Theodore is 17-1-3 in his past 21 decisions vs. the Pens.
I said this the other night, but the Wild picked up this guy on Oct. 2! Ridiculous.
The Wild built a 2-0 lead on goals by Chuck Kobasew and Martin Havlat, then sat back and clogged up the neutral zone and frustrated the Pens at every turn. Cal Clutterbuck, who crawled off the ice after a shift in which he felt was 2 1/2 minutes at the end of the 2nd, came back in the third and scored for the third straight game on the road trip. It came after an awesome 3-on-2 pass from Patrick O'Sullivan, and it was Clutterbuck's 13th goal, tying his career-high in 40 games. The three-game goal streak also sets a career-high.
Clutterbuck humorously fell on the celebration, jamming his knee into the boards.
"I was down. I didn't know if I could get up," Clutterbuck said, not kidding. He was hurting. This came after taking a shot to the calf at the end of the second.
Kyle Brodziak also scored an empty-net goal, Cam Barker and Marco Scandella were plus-4's (tied Wild defensemen records, and Scandella's only the 2nd rookie to be plus-4 this season in the NHL) and Mikko Koivu won 18 of 21 faceoffs. Barker played a great game, drawing two penalties. In fact, the entire blue line was real good, boxing out for Theodore against a team that loves to take point shots.
Theodore swallowed a lot of pucks because of it, which stopped too many second and third chances.
Anyway, read the coverage in the paper Sunday.
Wild headed home after the game for Sunday night's 5 p.m. game against the Stars. Won't be an easy one.
The Stars have been there just waiting for them, and now a Wild team that's been struggling at home will have to go home and peform. Hey, maybe it'll go well because it should feel like a road game. The Wild's going to get in after midnight, play, then hit the road again Monday for Nashville.
Still, I've called pretty much every game recently to my colleagues. I pegged every win on this road trip, called the Nashville stinker, and the San Jose win. I think Sunday's game will be a tough one. They've played a lot of hockey, have to travel, then play and early game and leave again the next day.
Because the team's been on the road so much and has to hit the road again Monday, Richards won't practice the team Monday and has pushed the flight back to the late afternoon so players can get some time with their families.
So no practice Monday. I'll do my midseason report Monday for Tuesday. A little late, yes, but I was never any good at math anyway. I know, it's an 82-game season and Game 42 is against Dallas, Game 43 is against Nashville. But with Game 41 and 42 on back-to-back nights, I'll get more space in Tuesday's paper and now we have something in Tuesday despite the no practice Monday.
Got it? Now you know how some decisions are made. Kinda makes sense, eh?
Speaking of which, Kent Youngblood's covering Sunday's game and I'm heading right to Nashville from Pittsburgh. Same thing, just made no sense to fly back to Minnesota on Sunday when I have to go to Nashville on Monday. Kinda make sense, eh?
I'm outta here. I'm road weary. I woke up this morning and literally had no clue what city I was in.
Have a good night and enjoy Sunday's rare Wild appearance at home this month.