The Vancouver Canucks had a pregame meeting where they discussed their poor play of late in St. Paul, defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. The Wild was 6-3-1 in the previous 10 home meetings, including four wins in a row by a 21-6 score. Roberto Luongo had been pulled in his three previous meeting, hence the reason Cory Schneider’s started the last two visits.
“Minnesota is a real strong team, and they’ve played us real well and they’ve played us real hard and they’ve played us smart,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “We wanted to play better here. I think we did for two periods and we hung on in the third.”
The Canucks snatched a 4-1 win out of Xcel Energy Center tonight despite being outshot 29-14 and not registered a shot on goalie Niklas Backstrom in the entire third period. In fact, the Canucks' lone shot in the period came with 15.1 seconds left when Ryan Kesler sent a shot the length of the ice for an empty netter.
The Wild had the puck all third period and most of the second half of the second, yet saw a 1-1 deadlock become 3-1 with 18.1 seconds left in the second after a couple lapses in their own end. That goal in the final seconds of the second by Mikael Samuelsson was massive because it gave Vancouver, which played the night before, a chance to sit back and defend a two-goal lead rather than one.
So it changed the way they played the third, and they did hang on as Vigneault said. The spent all period in the offensive zone, worked its you know what off but came away with nothing as Schneider made 13 of his 28 saves. But the fact the Wild could spend so much time in the Canucks end and only get 13 shots just shows how it was just not happening for them tonight.
Vancouver's decimated on the blue line, meaning as Vigneault said, "some of our D's played a lot of minutes and we had a couple kids back there getting their first taste of a real serious push."
The Canucks' defensemen and forwards collapsed down low to protect the net and while the Wild forechecked hard and had zone time, there just wasn't a lot of penetration into the prime scoring areas. And when there was, nothing.
"There wasn’t a lot of space to make plays there," coach Todd Richards said. "It seemed whenever we had some good looks, as we did in the third – [Antti] Miettinen must have had three or four – it seemed like we were just hitting shin pads or Schneider was in the right place."
As the Wild said, they deserved a better fate. But as Eric Nystrom said, that stuff evens out over the course of a season and the Wild won games it was outplayed earlier this season.
Some huge moments in the game:
-- Cal Clutterbuck has scored a lot of bad-angle goals this season, and he did it again from a tight angle inside the faceoff circle to the right of the Canucks’ goal late in the first. Clutterbuck perfectly shot the puck off the Canucks’ logo on Schneider’s right shoulder and into the net for his team-leading 18th goal and fourth in three games. It was Clutterbuck’s fourth power-play goal this year after entering with two in his career.
-- But 45 seconds after Jannik Hansen made it 2-1 during a rare Canucks chance in the second, Clutterbuck skated it on a 2-on-1 with Kyle Brodziak. But Clutterbuck's shot snapped off the crossbar and into the netting. That proved big because the Wild continued forechecking, got nothing and then gave up the Samuelsson goal on a bad goal by Nik Backstrom. He just lost the puck on a Ryan Kesler skate around the net. Kesler, who so far has my Hart Trophy vote, was an absolute beast by the way. No better all-around player in the game right now in my mind. Just an awesome season.
-- In the third down 3-1, John Madden couldn't beat Schneider on a partial break and then Clutterbuck swung and missed on the rebound.
Anyways, on to Chicago, which is a huge game now. The Wild had won 9 of 11 and couldn't get into the top-8. As you know, a couple losses though and it'll be easy to plummet in this crazy league. So they can not get on a losing streak, not with red-hot Anaheim and Detroit next at home.
Lots of guys played well tonight; Schultz, Miettinen, Koivu, Brunette, Clutterbuck, Nystrom, Stoner. But it was just one of those nights where the effort was there and the finish wasn't.
I'd assume Jose Theodore's in the cage Wednesday, although it's not like Backstrom had a lot of work tonight. He saw 13 shots, so maybe. We'll see. Talk to you from Chicago.