Two big wins tonight.
The Wild, just to keep pace with the rest of the West. It turned out to be a must-win because the Wild needed to win just to stay two back of a playoff race. Every team the Wild needed to lose won (San Jose, Nashville, Phoenix, Anaheim, Calgary). Last night, all 3 West teams playing the East won, which is not a shock because the better "teams" reside in the West.
The Aeros won in Rockford for their 11th win in 13 games to break out of a first-place tie for first in the Western Conference to move into sole possession of first in the West. Remember, the Aeros come to town Sunday at 1 vs. Peoria. Tickets, I believe, are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Aeros will sign autographs for free, Wild will sign for $10 per autograph table to raise money for charity. I wrote a notebook in the paper on them.
The Wild outlasted the Avs. Minnesota came out flying, built a 2-1 lead on two goals in 41 seconds with David Jones scoring in the middle. But the Martin Havlat goal, which came 30 seconds after Jones scored 11 seconds after Antti Miettinen was huge.
The Wild got into penalty trouble in the second but played a strong, physical, emotional third. Read the gamer for the details.
John Madden's second-period goal was the winner. Came after great plays by Matt Cullen (two assists) and Jared Spurgeon.
Eric Nystrom played a great game, and as usual, he was robbed by the post on a terrific third-period redirection. The Hockey Gods are just getting cruel for the snakebit one, but he was fast, physical, big on the penalty kill.
Coach Todd Richards gave him bigtime praise after the game, saying in part, "You never question his effort or his want or his will. … When you go through struggles like this, you can find out a lot about a person. He is a great teammate. What he brings to our team goes well beyond his play on the ice."
The Wild again defended real well. Cullen said he's never seen a blue-line corps so committed to blocking shots. They also lock up their forwards, box em out and let their goalies, in this case again, Nik Backstrom, see the shot. He made 23 saves and has allowed two or less in five of six starts since his return from a hip injury.
What else? Havlat now leads the team with 15 goals. He was in a five-way tie.
Cullen's got nine points in his last eight games, and the Wild's 7-1 in that stretch. Speed and playmaking tonight.
Antti Miettinen's goal was his first at home since Nov. 17.
I talked to Marco Scandella tonight. He's not working out still and has missed nine games with a concussion, but he said he's heading in the right direction.
Terrific video tribute by the Wild to honor Andrew Brunette tonight. Just well done, and he got a Tiffany Crystal from the league and the heavy 1,000-game silver stick, an awesome Rolex from his teammates and a $15,000 check from the Wild to donate to the Valley East Hockey Association.
Oh, and younger brother Jamie did "Let's Play Hockey" with his golden retriever, Simon.
Look at Simon below keeping an eye on Bruno in warmups!
That's it from me. Kent will grab practice for me Thursday because I'm writing a massive enterprise story for Friday's paper. Take a look because it's very interesting.
Kent has the game in St. Louis and I have the game Saturday night here at the X vs. the Blues in the last leg of Hockey Day Minnesota.
Amazingly, Wild's done with Calgary but hasn't played St. Louis, so these four head-to-head matchups with the Blues will have big playoff ramifications.