So much to get to with Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, this probably would be best served as a stream of consciousness blog. The St. Louis Blues beat the Colorado Avalanche, 3-1, tonight, and the Dallas Stars beat the Nashville Predators, so the Wild’s five up on the Avs for the second wildcard spot with five games to go and four back of the Preds for the first wildcard spot.
If the Wild, which has won a season-high six consecutive games, finish eighth, the Wild’s likeliest opponents in the first round will be Dallas or St. Louis. Both teams are tied with 101 points with crazily identical 46-22-9 records, but the Stars have the tiebreaker with three more regulation/overtime wins.
Here we go:
-- Technically, we can’t call this a season series “sweep” apparently because the shootout win in Chicago on March 20 gave the Blackhawks a point. But the Wild went 5 for 5 against the Blackhawks this season and its regular-season streak is actually seven consecutive wins.
The Wild became the first NHL team to win every game against Chicago in a season series of at least five games since the Boston Bruins beat the Blackhawks in eight games during the 1938-39 campaign (per, Elias Sports Bureau). So, 76 years.
The Wild became the third team in NHL history to win every game in a five-plus-game series against a defending Stanley Cup champion, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, too.
Doesn’t make up for the three straight playoff eliminations, but pretty neat nonetheless.
“Well, obviously you get some confidence from it, but at the same time the playoffs are a different animal,” said Jared Spurgeon, whose 11th goal was the winner. “But when you have that confidence going into the playoffs if you do happen to play in them, it’s huge for the team. We’re having fun right now, and we just have to keep it going.”
“From the time I’ve been here, it’s a big plus,” interim coach John Torchetti, 15-6-1 with the Wild, said. “But when it counts is the playoffs. It’s great that we got that in the regular season. I wasn’t here for the first two [wins this season], but we know how to play them. They’ve played them umpteeninth (yes, that’s the word he said) times plus the three years in the playoffs. We should know how to play them. Now if we get a chance and are fortunate enough to make the playoffs, that’s got to be our mahkah (marker).”
Last week, he called the Blackhawks the Wild’s “bah (bar).”
Torchetti’s a riot to listen to, and he was again tonight. As I told you with my lede from Calgary last month in my first of maybe many big features to introduce Torchetti, “When he says, “hahd,” he means, “hard.” When he says, “smaht,” he means, “smart.” When he talks a million miles an hour with all this hockey mumbo jumbo sprinkled throughout, he means every word whizzing out of his mouth.”
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said of the Wild’s sweep (that technically isn’t a sweep), “Even if we would’ve won tonight we wouldn’t be satisfied going 1-4. Obviously it adds insult to injury to lose this one tonight. At the end of the day it’s unfortunate. They were always ready for those games. There were a couple that we really didn’t play well and didn’t really deserve to win. I think tonight was an improvement and obviously the score doesn’t look that way. It’s not fun to look back and have a record like that against a team in your division, especially a team like Minnesota. It’s not something we’re happy about.”
-- The turning point of this game came 9:27 into the first period when Duncan Keith, who has done this before, swung his stick at the face of Charlie Coyle in retaliation for a good, hard check.
Keith, a two-time Norris Trophy winner and the reigning Conn Smythe winner, was assessed a match penalty for intent to injure. That comes with an automatic suspension pending review prior to the team’s next game, which is Friday in Winnipeg (I’ll actually be at that game; my backup, Kent Youngblood, is covering the Wild’s game in Detroit that night and I’m meeting the Wild in Winnipeg because it’s impossible to get to the Wild’s practice Saturday in time from Detroit).
There are a number of match penalties that don’t end up suspensions. I guarantee you that this one will end up a suspension. There’s zero doubt.
This was one costly penalty. Sure, the Wild’s power play that has been so productive lately stepped all over itself and gave up a tying shorthanded goal for Marian Hossa’s 499th, BUT it meant the Blackhawks, already minus ill-stricken Brent Seabrook, would have to play 50 minutes, 33 seconds without their best defenseman.
This was one of those games where if the Wild could keep getting pucks deep and wear down the Blackhawks’ undermanned blue line, you just knew it would ultimately benefit them late in the game.
It certainly did during a three-goal third period as Spurgeon, Erik Haula and Nino Niederreiter scored.
By the way, did Coyle break his nose?
“I don't know,” Torchetti said. “I didn't really ask him. He was back in there, so I just went, 'How'd it go, Chuckie?' and then I tried to double-shift him because that's how it is. Sometimes that guy gets hot. I know he was still a little ticked off, and that's what it's all about.”
-- The Spurgeon winning goal was awesome. The Wild looked dead tired down low in the D-zone, but then Zach Parise won a puck battle relentlessly against Christian Ehrhoff and now the Wild was off to the races against a dead tired Blackhawks team. Ryan Suter hit Jason Pominville, who hit Mikko Koivu, who then feathered a pass into open space for Spurgeon to catch up with.
“It was a long shift in our own end,” Koivu said. “We switched spots there with the D, and I think it was Zach down low, they made a great play defensively, staying tight and keeping it away from the scoring area, and got the puck there on the wing. I saw spurge going there he had good speed, great finish by him.”
Said Spurgeon, “Yeah, Mikko and Pommer made a great play, and to begin it Zach won a huge battle behind the net. He was battling back there and the puck squirted loose and then Suts made a good play and fortunately I was on the receiving end of a nice pass.”
-- Where would the Wild be without Haula and Niederreiter right now? The fact that these guys have been such a great shutdown duo along with whoever had been the third member of that line could be quite the coups in the playoffs, especially if you’re playing a Dallas who has Jamie Benn and may get Tyler Seguin (Achilles tendon) back. Those guys roasted the Wild during the regular season, but the Wild hasn’t played the Stars since Torchetti assembled the Niederreiter-Haula-Jason Pominville, uh, checking line.
Both Haula and Niederreiter had a goal and assist tonight. Haula now has a career-best nine-game point streak, the longest active streak in the NHL and the longest on the Wild this season.
The Niederreiter-Haula-Jason Pominville line got most shifts against the Teuvo Teravainen-Artemi Panarin-Patrick Kane line. They combined for no points and five shots. Kane and Panarin were minus-3, Teravainen minus-2.
“That’s just knowing your role and taking pride in that, which we do,” Haula said. “We’ve been able to do a great job with it. The job’s not done, we have a ways to go here, but like I said, it’s a lot of fun, a lot of credit to everybody.”
Said Torchetti of that line, “I think that they trust it. That’s it. The little chip play there. Nino is just going to skate and trust Haula to chip that puck. That’s our job to get it to him. You’re driving it and it’s the puck carriers job to make the decision and then if he doesn’t make the right decision, he’s got to stop on it. … That line, Pominville is a great addition to that line too. And our speed with our D tonight, I don’t talk about it enough but I’m pretty spoiled with the set of D we have here.”
Matt Dumba said of the Haula line, “These guys, they’ve been animals, all of them. Haulzy, Nino, every one’s contributing, whoever gets put on that line seems to have success as well. it’s just hard work those guys. They’re working each day for their opportunities and it seems like they’ve built some pretty good chemistry together.”
-- There was a playoff feel tonight. The game was tight-checking with 37 combined shots, the layers of D were ridiculously tight, the back pressure made for no room or time on the ice. The intensity of the crowd was palpable.
“Yeah, it feels good,” Haula said. “We’re playing well. It’s a lot of fun, the fans are into it and [we need to] just keep it going. A lot of excitement from the crowd it was an exciting game. They’ve played well. Our group right now is coming together real well, Devan is playing great in the nets. We’re just having a lot of fun out there.”
Added Jarret Stoll, who won 12 of 13 faceoffs and scored the game’s first goal off a terrific pass from Mike Reilly, “We’re playing a team game. We’re playing a fast, tight-checking style of a game and that’s how we need to play. We can suffocate teams with our speed and checking ability and that’s what we did here tonight against Chicago, but not only against them, we can do that against any team in this league and that’s how you win in the playoffs, you win 2-1, 3-2, 1-0 by checking well, playing on the right side of the puck and getting opportunities from that.
“You feel the intensity in the building and our team and our dressing room and the way we have to come out. It’s definitely that time of year.”
-- In response for his hit on Kane in Chicago a few Sundays ago, Dumba stepped up and fought Andrew Shaw. It was as good a fight as we’ve seen in this arena in years. Both exchanged bigtime blows, then tapped each other out of respect when it was over.
“We got into a couple battles in the first period, and it just worked out that it was good timing there in the second, even game, both trying to get some momentum for our teams,” Dumba said. “I fought a lot in junior. I guess it just comes kind of naturally. I wouldn’t say I’m the best fighter by any means.”
On the team right now, Dumba said, “It’s been awesome just to see everyone step up each night. We’ve got different guys going, every one pulling weight. This is great. We’re going to try to keep this thing rolling.”
Asked what’s brought this six-game winning streak on, Dumba said, “I think it was just a stand by all of us in this locker room. Enough is enough. We were sick of losing games to probably teams we shouldn’t and ended up beating the ones that were higher up in the standings that we knew we could. Just preparing for each night, just one shift at a time, one period at a time, and we’ve got to win every one of our battles.”
-- Some Torchetti quotes: “We knew with Seabrook out, he's a big cog for them. Power play, he's a right shot, and then they lost [Duncan Keith]. Their D did a pretty good job picking up the slack, and it was a good game. Our power play, we have to tighten up. We probably had six or seven entries that we probably could have had better control of the puck, and we'll do a better job watching film, and improve on that tomorrow, and discuss it. Just being poised a little bit more, and not being frustrated, and don't over-extend our shifts to 1:20. Darling had probably three or four shots from the point that he tied up that he saw, so we have to do a better job there, too.”
-- On the way the team’s playing: “I'm happy for them, though. They deserve it. They work hard. You see guys like Zach blocking shots, Mikko just playing underneath sticks hard, Charlie's bleeding, Dumba's fighting; that's what it's all about. That's playoff hockey for me. That's the fun part of watching. When you want to commit and give up more for your teammates, better things happen, and that's what's happening. They deserve it. They're doing all the right things. They're committed to just staying on the right side of the puck. We still want to get everybody into that. We still don't have the full buy-in yet, but it has to be more commitment, and that's my job to keep making sure. Not every night everyone can score, but everyone can block a shot, everyone can make a wall play, take a hit to make a play, the little play Charlie coming back there. [Stoll] had two, and a great goal for him. That line was really good, controlling, and finding the lanes — F3 high. [Stoll] almost had another goal there when he had a good shot, just missed the net. It would have went in if it was on net.”
-- It was a pretty special night at the arena.
In a show of support for Matt Olson, the Isanti, Minn., native who sustained a severe spinal cord injury last month playing junior hockey in Chicago, the Wild, Blackhawks and their broadcast partners, Fox Sports North and Comcast Chicago, teamed up in a joint effort to raise funds to assist Olson and his family.
There’s an online auction until noon Wednesday, family members did a heck of a job with Tuesday night’s “Let’s Play Hockey,” players and parents from Olson’s former high school, Totino-Grace, sold programs, both team’s owners are matching donations and players from both the Wild and Blackhawks wore special stickers on their helmets. Wild players also wore yellow Olson T-shirts under their sweaters.
It was indeed a special night capped by a playoff-type atmosphere at Xcel Energy Center. All my thoughts and well wishes are with Matt.
-- I am off Wednesday. Kent Youngblood has practice. I’ll next talk to you Thursday.
Jim Souhan and myself will be hosting our podcast at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub at 6 p.m. Wednesday with many of the Russo Twitter alter-egos. Ugh.
I’ll also be filling in for Dan Barreiro on KFAN from 3-6:30 p.m. Thursday. I will have lots of hockey guests, including hopefully John Torchetti, a Wild player and Wild prospect Alex Tuch, who’s about to go to the Frozen Four with Boston College.