By Michael Russo
First of all, on the trade deadline, if all goes well Wednesday, I’ll be on a 6 a.m. flight out of Vancouver and into San Francisco at 8:25 a.m., 10:25 CT. Relatively short drive to San Jose, and hopefully I’ll be on the blog by noon. But the blog and startribune.com/wild page will be updated all morning internally if the Wild does anything.
As for tonight’s disaster, smart decision by the Wild to sign Niklas Backstrom on Tuesday morning. If it waited until Wednesday morning, who knows what his decision would be? Just see the look he gave James Sheppard on Vancouver’s third goal.
From the moment the Vancouver Canucks decided to come out at the start of the second period and physically hit the Wild with the tone set by Shane O’Brien and Kevin Bieksa, this game turned for the worse. The Wild, which had a 2-0 lead at one point in this game, essentially spent 20 consecutive minutes running around its zone in the middle period.
“Like a huge, dark cloud, I could see it coming,” coach Jacques Lemaire said.
During a commercial, the Wild coaches begged somebody to take charge. Nobody did, and the Wild caved. You’ve got to love the Canucks’ game tonight. Just battled for every inch of ice. So much effort.
If the Wild misses the playoffs, remember March 3 — the night every single team it was chasing for a playoff spot got at least a point. The Wild? It blew a two-goal lead and lost in regulation to fall to 11th. The Wild is now 0-3 on this road trip.
Remember at the start of this trip when the Wild was in seventh, in a four-way tie with 65 points. There’s only one team left with 65.
“It’s a must. We’ve got to get some points. We’re slipping slowly,” Lemaire said.
“We need to make a total 360 here and figure this thing out,” added Dan Fritsche. ”We have three more big games ahead of us and we need to win every single one of them. San Jose, L.A., Anaheim, we need two points in every single one of those games. We need to put this whole Canadian trip behind us.”
The Wild played a solid first period, but like usual, the Wild is completely unable to emerge from the dressing room the same team after an intermission.
The Wild was pinned in its zone the entire second. Eight players were at least minus-2 in the game. Defense partners Brent Burns and Marc-Andre Bergeron played shifts of 2:02 in the period, then another shift where Burns played, according to the off-ice officials, 3:23 and Bergeron 2:30. That same shift Fritsche and Peter Olvecky played 2:38.
Lemaire said, “We were standing and not reacting to anything that was in front of us.”
Fritsche said, “We gave them momentum and we couldn’t take it away from them. We started losing our composure. We just started just slapping pucks instead of controlling it and making good plays with it. We were in panic mode.”
Still, Backstrom saved the day, but the Wild kept feeding the Canucks.
Finally, Pavol Demitra scored on one of the sickest snap shots you’ll ever see. That puck just exploded off his stick. It was pretty cool, well, if you’re a Canucks’ fan. Twenty-eight seconds later, the Wild played it casual again and Steve Bernier took a Sheppard turnover, spun and scored.
Said Martin Skoula, “It’s been the issue the whole season. We’re playing, I don’t want to say, so good, but all of a sudden, we just lose the game in five minutes.”
Said Backstrom, ”I don’t know what happened in the second.”
If I had a dollar for every time this year that Backstrom said, “We’ve got to learn from that,” I’d have $24 million in the bank like Backstrom.
From there, it turned into a party in the GM Place. The fans did the wave for much of the third. For an entire TV timeout in the third, the crowd chanted, “Back-strom.” The Wild was so dismal offensively for a 30-minute stretch, the crowd didn’t even have to do their “Louuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu” for Luongo.
What’s more, even the Wild’s most dependable players are playing poorly.
Mikko Koivu, Capt. Koivu to you and I, has tailed off dramatically the past two-three weeks. Lots of minuses. Tonight, no shots and absolutely stopped skating, which led to Alex Burrows’ nail-in-the-coffin second goal of the game and Vancouver’s fourth in the third period.
Before this trip, when Fritsche said, “It’s pretty much the season,” of this six-game odyssey, he couldn’t have been more correct.
That’s it. I’ve got a 3:30 a.m. wakeup call. Wednesday will be a long day.
I still have to believe that if the Wild’s offered anything reasonable at all for Marian Gaborik, you do it. The team’s freefalling. He’s still a ways away from playing. Why hope for a “shot in the arm” when it could be too late? Get what you can for him if there’s any market whatsoever.