Game coverage

Wild vs. Red Wings

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Nick Schultz sustained an eye injury in the second period. He will not return to the game 

Update: Scratches are Weller, Kolanos and Scott. Kurtis Foster on blue line, Gillies and Olvecky play. Just chatted with Eddie Olczyk. He’s a big fan of Mikko Koivu. Right out of the box when NBC comes to air, he’s going to say Mikko Koivu’s the most underrated player in the NHL.

Cal Clutterbuck’s not boring.

I know I’ve bemoaned the fact the Wild’s season been duller than, say, a dozenth Northwest Airlines maintenance delay of 2009 (hey, I was mature yesterday and didn’t complain about yet another return trip to the gate and ultimately getting on a new plane, but today’s a new day), but Cal Clutterbuck is certainly not boring.

If you didn’t see today’s story, here’s the one I referred to yesterday regarding Clutterbuck giving me five or six recent rip-jobs aimed at Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Stephane Robidas, Todd Bertuzzi, Kyle Okposo and Darcy Tucker.

I’m about to head down to the Joe. Not sure of the lineup yet, but I’m thinking Kurtis Foster will play, but back on the blue line. I think Jacques Lemaire might be a little nervous about playing John Scott in Detroit due to his footwork with Detroit’s top guns. If that happens, Colton Gillies, or maybe Peter Olvecky, would be back in.

Just another awful night for the Wild. Anaheim blows out San Jose on the night the Sharks could have clinched the President’s Trophy. Columbus blows a two-goal lead to lose for the 11th straight time in Nashville. And St. Louis gets a point.

Wild has 83 points. Nashville and St. Louis have 86. Anaheim has 88. Most the Wild can get is 91.

Wild loses today, and game over. Really this time. I mean it. Trust me.

This is why you can’t rely on others to get it done for you.

Talk to you when I get the most wonderful, spacious, clean arena in the league.

Wild 4, Calgary Flames 0; Need a USA Hockey fix this weekend?

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

For the first time in who knows how long, the Wild not only won, but it got help from another team. The win could have essentially been rendered meaningless if banged-up Nashville had beaten Chicago, but the Blackhawks won in regulation, and thus, the Wild’s big win tonight against the shorthanded Flames moved the 10th-place Wild two points behind the eighth-place St. Louis Blues (deceiving because Wild has short end of most tiebreakers again most teams it’s chasing).

The Wild’s idle Saturday, next playing on NBC at 11:30 a.m. CDT at Detroit on Sunday. The Wild, on Saturday, will need help from a number of teams. St. Louis plays in Dallas. Columbus plays in Nashville. And Anaheim plays in San Jose.

Tonight, the Wild came out skating, supporting each other on the ice, and for a change, actually cashed in on opportunities by taking a 3-0 lead on a very shaky Miikka Kiprusoff. The Wild mostly benefited from the Flames, who are riddled with injuries all throughout their lineup, playing short two skaters (16), playing without defensemen Robyn Regehr, Adrian Aucoin and Cory Sarich and using two defensemen making their NHL debuts.

Andrew Brunette, Cal Clutterbuck, Owen Nolan and Marian Gaborik scored goals, 12 of 18 skaters got one point and Nik Backstrom made 27 saves for his eighth shutout of the season, 17th of his career and second against Calgary (13 at Xcel). All those are team records. He’s now 23-4-8 all-time vs. the Northwest at home and has started a team-record 17 straight games.

This was the happiest Jacques Lemaire’s been after any win this season. He used words like “proud,” and said he just sat back, watched and enjoyed.

I covered Iron Mike Keenan a long time in Florida, and there’s a reason why he’s called Captain Hook. Tonight, after Brunette and Clutterbuck scored 29 seconds apart, Keenan yanked Kiprusoff for 12 seconds.

As Lemaire quipped, that’s Keenan’s specialty.

“We needed a little bit of a timeout to get things stabilized. We didn’t start the game assertive enough, we were a little bit on our heels,” Keenan said. 

Said Brunette, “I barely even noticed actually. I saw him come back and I was like, ‘Oh, I guess they pulled him.’”

The Wild started to play sloppily in the second, coughing up the puck and taking three straight penalties, but Backstrom was good, and so was the Wild’s penalty killer. Lemaire had some funny things to say about meetings he held and didn’t hold before the game, but you can read that in the gamer.

Couple tidbits:

Clutterbuck’s goal snapped a 30-game drought (first goal since Jan. 27).

Marek Zidlicky broke Brent Burns’ team record for assists by a defenseman in a season (29).

Martin Skoula, who has played almost 20 minutes a game, amazing took only his fifth penalty of the season tonight.

Andrew Brunette has a five-game point streak (seven points).

Marian Gaborik has nine goals in 13 games this season, and six goals and nine points in seven games since returning.

Owen Nolan scored his 24th goal. Only three players have ever scored 25 goals for the Wild — Gaborik, Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra.

Funny stuff in game notebook from Backstrom on being high-sticked by Kim Johnsson

OK, Wild practices in Detroit on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. CDT. I’ll blog later in the afternoon.


Vancouver Canucks 2, Wild 1 (OT); Canucks take over first in Northwest; Wild’s slim playoff hopes take another hit

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

First, let’s get it out of the way right off the hop.

There is no excuse — none — that Jacques Lemaire didn’t use Marian Gaborik on the 1:32 4-on-3 to open overtime. I know this is Monday morning quarterbacking. If the Wild scores, it’s a forgotten element.

But this was a must-win. Marian Gaborik is the $7.5 million star of this team, the guy who can win a game with one flick of his lethal wrists. And, tied with injured Brent Burns, Gaborik’s got the most overtime winners in franchise history (four).

Gaborik should have been on the ice. Lemaire said he went with the same crew he’s gone with all year — Koivu, Brunette, Zidlicky and Bergeron, and that 4-on-3 is about puck movement and knowing what to do.

Sorry, don’t buy it. In must-wins, you should use your best weapons during the best opportunities. Here, Sami Salo hands the Wild a gift by errantly sending the puck into the scorer’s table. And Gaborik’s on the bench. There isn’t a team in this league whose best scorer would have been on the bench in this situation.

Enough said on that.

This was a heartbreaking loss for the Wild, which held the Canucks, now first in the Northwest, without a single shot in the third period. The only other time that’s happened in Wild history was Oct. 29, 2000 (a 3-2 loss to Chicago). In fact, if you consider the Wild didn’t give up a shot from Pavol Demitra’s fluky 300th goal with 1:02 left in the second until overtime, the Canucks scored on two of their final three shots over a roughly 25-minute span.

The Wild’s up against it now. It’s still three points out of a playoff spot, and it has three fewer wins than seventh-place Anaheim, two fewer than eighth-place Nashville and one fewer win than ninth-place St. Louis. The Blues have two more points and a game in hand. Wins are the first tiebreaker if needed to make the playoffs.

The Wild is in a whole lot of hurt right now in the wins category.

The power play’s won a heckuva lot of games for the Wild this season, but it’s also killed them numerous times. 0 for 10 against Montreal comes to mind. So does 0 for 8 in Philly.

Tonight, the Wild was 0 for 5, including that long 4-on-3, and scoreless on three consecutive in the first and second periods. All of them were momentum killers.

On the one after Eric Belanger was mauled by Kevin Bieksa, the Wild didn’t pressure at all. Finally, Ryan Kesler took advantage of Belanger as the power-play point. He’s only there because of injuries to Burns and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Kesler skated by him and Antti Miettinen was forced to take a hook.

Demitra’s pass for Kesler hit Kim Johnsson’s stick, then skate, then went by Niklas Backstrom.

In overtime, Johnsson and Marek Zidlicky, who I thought played solid games for the first part and topped 30 minutes, backed up and backed up, basically surrendering the blue line to the Sedin Twins. Daniel made a phenomenal pass through his legs to brother Henrik, and his blast from between the circles nipped Johnsson’s stick and went by Backstrom.

Just a heartbreaker. The fans, knowing how critical it was that the Wild wins only, stood through the nail-biting overtime.

Sedin’s winner was his first goal in 27 games vs. the Wild. Demitra’s goal was his 300th of his career and third of the season vs. the Wild. Gaborik’s goal was his eighth in 12 games, and fifth in five games since coming back from surgery.

Nik Backstrom wasn’t tested much and only had to make 17 saves. He’s 22-4-8 all-time vs. the Northwest at home.

Andrew Brunette now has a four-game point strea.. Martin Skoula has a point in three of the last four and played well.

Minnesota’s been to overtime five times in the past seven home games and is 3-0-4 in its past four at home. Again though, that’s what will kill them in the end. They need wins. The Wild finished the year by going 1-4-1 against the Canucks.

That’s it for moi. Stensaas on Wednesday, I’m on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Wild 3, Edmonton Oilers 2; Gaborik & Brunette switch positions, score goals; Backstrom sets wins record

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

As Martin Skoula and Marian Gaborik said after this one, if the Wild lost, season’s probably over. But the Wild isn’t throwing in the towel just yet with six games remaining (four at home).

Things will still be awfully tough if you gaze at the harrowing standings. The Wild’s still in 11th, and the Wild’s still three points behind eighth-place St. Louis, which keeps on winning, along with red-hot Nashville (seventh place, four points in front).

Behind the Blues and ahead of the Wild are ninth-place Anaheim and now-10th-place Edmonton.

Niklas Backstrom, despite playing on something sore in the lower half of his body, was magnificent in a 31-save performance to win his career-high and franchise-record 34th game. He improved to 13-1 all-time vs. the Oilers, although he had a couple great lines just on the fact he was able to finish this one. Remember, in his previous four starts in Edmonton, Backstrom was pulled for Josh Harding.

Backstrom made a string of highway robberies, starting early on a 2-on-1 shot by Dustin Penner. He had to be good late as the Wild started to stand around its own zone.

Marian Gaborik and Andrew Brunette each scored goals, as did Martin Skoula (plus-3). Owen Nolan had two helpers.

If you happened to notice, Gaborik and Brunette switched positions between Mikko Koivu, who returned from a knee injury. Gaborik, who’s played right wing ever since he got to the NHL, played left wing and Brunette, a left winger, played right wing. Why?

Gaborik said before the game he and Brunette decided to change it up with the hope of getting a better matchup against the Oilers’ top D-pair. So Gaborik was able to go against mostly Steve Staios and avoid Sheldon Souray, although both are super physical.

Whatever the reason, it paid off. Brunette, by the way, got Goal No. 20, the fifth time he’s hit that mark and third time in four years. And it came against his good pal, Dwayne Roloson. So, if you’re counting at home, the Wild’s two leading goal scorers are the two oldest players on the team, Nolan and Brunette.


Koivu back in; Bouchard out with concussion; Backstrom banged up; Kolanos recalled; Khudobin recalled on emergency basis

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

First, Mikko Koivu, who has missed the past three games with a knee injury, is expected to return tonight against the Oilers.

However, right wing Pierre-Marc Bouchard will miss his second game in a row. He munches on the Oilers, so now you know he’s hurt. And as suspected, General Manager Doug Risebrough is now calling it a concussion, likely suffered when he was smoked in the Islanders’ game by Nate Thompson.

Also, goalie Niklas Backstrom has lower-body soreness. I saw him walking in the streets of Edmonton today, and he was walking eerily slow. In fact, I was a little worried he was going to do something drastic. Turns out he’s just hurt.

However, he was dressing like he was playing — or at the very least backing up. Anton Khudobin, who has spent most the season with the ECHL Florida Everblades, is here on an emergency callup (not an official callup).

Update: Backstrom came out first in warmups, so if he leaves without aggravating the groiner, he’s got the nod in the arena he’s been yanked from in four straight. 

The Wild has also recalled center Krys Kolanos, who has scored three goals and three assists in 19 games this season with Minnesota. He will play.

“The original callup was just to see how guys were going to be, but we just decided to put [Kolanos] in the lineup,” Risebrough said.

However, there could be some other changes in the lineup because lots of guys are banged up.

“Guys are banged up, but they’re not hurt,” Risebrough said. 

One is Peter Olvecky, who is out. He blocked a shot off the knee last night. Colton Gillies is out, too.

Kurtis Foster is the only scratch I know for sure. Marc-Andre Bergeron, who played a little wing last night in Calgary, will move back to the blue line.

Speaking of Bergeron,


Calgary Flames 3, Wild 2; Koivu out vs. Flames, probable vs. Oilers

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

First of all, they’ve been dealing with nightmares all night back in the office, so I’m going to throw my unedited, extended gamer (before I trimmed it) on here since I’m not positive what’s getting in the newspaper and into what editions.

The season’s close to being over. Sorry folks, but that’s reality. The Wild basically has to run the table now. The most points it can get is 92 by going 7-0. The details are in the gamer, which is below.

The players know it, too, judging by an extremely glum locker room. Niklas Backstrom, who did everything possible tonight to steal a victory in a game the Wild was outshot 40-15, was as dejected as I’ve ever seen him.

Mikko Koivu is expected to play tomorrow. Here is the gamer:

by russo

CALGARY, ALBERTA – Just what the doctor ordered.
The Calgary Flames had lost seven of 10. There was panic on the airwaves as the Vancouver Canucks crept from the rear. The Calgary Sun questioned whether it was time to throw Mike Keenan to the curb.
All that doom and gloom was way, way, waaaaay premature.
That’s because as is often the case when the Flames are coughing up phlegm, the prescription arrived just in time — 500 mg of the Minnesota Wild.
Saturday night, during a 3-2 win, the Flames outshot the Wild 40-15 to knock off the Wild for the 16th time in the past 17 meetings at the Saddledome.
“We need to find a way to win in this building,” dejected goalie Niklas Backstrom said. “I don’t know how, but we need to do it. I don’t know how.”
What’s worse, the Flames just might have delivered their favorite nemesis a death blow.
While the math says the Wild still has a shot at the postseason, reality says vacations can be planned.
The 11th-place Wild (78 points) is now three points behind eighth-place Edmonton (tonight’s opponent) and ninth-place St. Louis, and four behind seventh-place Nashville with seven games left.
The Oilers and Blues are on pace for 88.5 points and the Predators 89.6. Even if the Wild, which hasn’t won two in a row since Feb. 21-22 and three in a row since Nov. 13-18, won the rest of its games, the maximum points it can gain is 92.
“Not only [do we need to] run the table, we’ll need help from the other clubs,” coach Jacques Lemaire said.
Said defenseman Nick Schultz, “This was a must-win and we didn’t get it. Now [tonight] becomes all that more important. We’re definitely not out of it. We’ve got to rebound.”