By Michael Russo
In the past four games, the Wild’s played three division leaders, three of the best teams in the NHL (I’m not including Colorado obviously) and the Wild’s 3-0-1 in the past four.
Two of those wins have come against the two best teams in each conference — first San Jose, and now Boston, the highest-scoring team in the NHL who hadn’t been shut out all season.
Until tonight (sorry, originally this clause was inserted below the quote and read very wrong).
As James Sheppard said, “We needed to play against the best teams in the league to get us to find our true game.”
Niklas Backstrom again sparkled for his second consecutive shutout. He’s now got five and 14 in his career. He’s got 19 wins, a 2.14 goals against average and .929 save percentage. Seems like All-Star worthy numbers to me.
We’ll see if the NHL hockey ops — in consultation with each team’s GM — agrees Wednesday when the Western Conference All-Star roster is announced at 11 a.m. CT.
Backstrom made 28 saves tonight. His best was an insane one on stud David Krejci. Other notable ones also were a Martin St. Pierre redirection, back-to-back saves on Chuck Kobasew and Stephane Yelle and a Marc Savard shorthanded try.
Backstrom said the Wild rose to the challenge by playing as a team against a talented Bruins’ lineup. He also got lucky, too. Krejci also took a shot at an open net that Krys Kolanos blocked with his left leg. Michael Ryder hit the post. Phil Kessel, almost invisible all night, airmailed a shot wide.
The Wild skated with the Bruins, which is why it was able to draw four consecutive power plays at the time. But the Wild had killed off 27 of 28 on the PK during a stretch until Marek Zidlicky’s power-play goal through screens by Owen Nolan and Andrew Brunette for a 1-0 second-period Wild lead.
The Wild then pretty much checked the rest of the game in a bit of a hold-on-for-dear-life mode. At one point, Minnesota was outshooting Boston 18-7. The shots ended 28-24 Boston.
But Backstrom, as mentioned, was stellar.
Zidlicky’s got five PPG’s this year. Thirty of his 40 goals in his career have come on the power play, and incidentally, Zidlicky was not good at all in the game’s opening period. On three straight shifts he was victimized — once bigtime by Blake Wheeler — for Boston chances. It was an eventful game for Z, too, because he got nailed on the top lip with a puck after a faceoff in the third. But he didn’t lose a tooth.
Shane Hnidy, the Bruins’ defenseman, also took a Cal Clutterbuck shot to the head in the game, but he returned.
Kolanos had another great game. He drew a third-period penalty as his teammates for changing and he was the only guy in the offensive zone. Just pure hustle. This guy’s NHL resurrection is becoming a terrific story. Outstanding find by Tom Lynn and Crew.
Craig Weller had five hits and brought energy, along with Colton Gillies. Benoit Pouliot got second-line duty at left wing, but he was finally replaced by Sheppard in the third. Pouliot can be maddening at times to watch because he’s just got so much talent and isn’t doing anything with it — other than turnovers.
Antti Miettinen and Clutterbuck were great on the PK. Martin Skoula started slow, but he was rock solid in the final two periods. And Nick Schultz was outstanding.
Backstrom’s shutout streak is at 125:26. His career high is 142:47.
Manny Fernandez was handed his first home loss (9-1). The Wild is 8-1 all-time vs. the B’s, 5-0 in Boston. The Wild is 10-1-1 against the East heading into Thursday’s game in Philly.
Impressive win for the Wild just considering which team it was playing. Bruins quotes were all about how little room the Wild give — like the old days.
But Lemaire said, “Let’s not take this to the bank.”
Lemaire didn’t seem overly jovial with the game. The Wild checked its way to the win, because as Lemaire said, it still has little prayer of scoring at 5-on-5. But as Lemaire said in Calgary, if the Wild doesn’t play a team game, it’ll win the “odd game,” because of its lack of scoring. This is how it must play to win. It ain’t outscoring no one in a run-and-gun game.
Good trip to Boston. Nice to see the fans back in this Original 6 market. And the pregame show here, best in the league I’ve seen so far.
Talk to you Wednesday from the land of cheesesteaks. I wish I was on the Wild’s charter. Ice storm allegedly here in Boston in the a.m. and as advertised, its indeed here. Wish me luck.
Puck drop coming off.
Same lineup as reported this morning for the Wild — Veilleux sick, Boogey hurt. Pouliot in. Scott in. Reitz the lone healthy scratch.
Backstrom vs. Fernandez (the guy who snubbed Tom Reid despite the fact he’s probably cashed in on a couple dozen or more gift certificates given to him over the years by Reid).
By the way, if I didn’t mention earlier today, Houston Aeros players Corey Locke and Barry Brust were named to the AHL All-Star Game this afternoon.
Assistant coach Mike Ramsey is sick. Bob Mason is behind the bench for him.