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A new pattern is emerging, one that is tied to the time of year, not to the team. First periods are becoming tighter as teams focus on defense first, keeping the game close, and trying to get at least one point out of the deal. Tonight was no exception, with both teams getting physical, but not very many chances.
Cal Clutterbuck made his presence known, as did Jared Spurgeon. The physicality of the game sets the tone. With the Hawks coming off a game last night, the Wild clearly had the game plan to come out with some hard hits and make the Hawks think more than normal.
It didn't work.
The Hawks came out in the second with a mission and with a plan. They were passing well, shooting often, and creating chances. On the first Hawks goal, Backstrom was beat cleanly after John Madden missed that the puck came back around the net. Clayton Stoner attempted to play the man, but that left the shooter wide open, and Backs did not get across fast enough.
After that, the Wild defense started to shut down, looking lost and confused about what step to take next. In their own zone, in the Hawks zone, the entire squad was discombobulated and looking for help. The Hawks would take advantage yet again, going up 2-0 before the midpoint of the second. After that, the Wild simply looked like they wanted to survive and get to the locker room.
It didn't work.
Greg Zanon, of all defensemen, got caught pinching, and that turned loose Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on a 2-on-1 against Clayton Stoner. Stoner misplayed it, trying to stop the guy with the puck, leaving Toews all alone and open on the other side. He needed to let Backstrom have the shooter, and stop the pass. Pretty basic hockey to be exploited in the NHL.
The Wild were booed heartily as they left the ice, and deservedly so. It was the worst period of hockey they have played probably since December. Horrible effort, horrible team work, horrible in every aspect of the game.
The booing seemed to spark the Wild, as they came out in the third with some jump for the first time in the game. They were creating chances as Chicago seemed content to sit back a bit. Martin Havlat threw the team on his shoulders with a beautiful deke in front of Crawford to give the Wild their first goal of the game.
Then the Wild got their first power play, which sucked the life out of any momentum they had built up. Missed passes, shots from poor angles, just plain trying to hard. After the soul sucking force that is the Wild power play ended, they got back on their game again. Back to creating chances, they made Crawford come up big again and again. Nothing that registered on the score board, though.
A second Wild power play garnered some much better chances, but the best chance was one that never happened. Zidlicky had Crawford beat, and Kyle Brodziak was directly in front of the net, like a brick wall for ZIdlicky to shoot at. There was no shot, no chance created.
Brent Burns would make it exciting again with about 4:30 to play, bring the fans alive, and putting a new jump in the Wild's step. The new found momentum forced a delay of game call and gave the Wild another power play. After a beauty of a play at the line to keep in the puck by Bouchard, then another by Burns, then another by Bouchard, Toews and Marian Hossa stormed down the ice shorthanded for the fourth goal.
That was the knife. That was the game. A game with periods of superb play, and long periods of disastrous play. Two points lost, and two points to the team directly below them in the standings. Too bad.
Hockey Wilderness Three Stars
1. Jonathan Toews (1G, 2A)
2. Patrick Sharp (1G, 1A)
3. Martin Havlat (1G, 1A)
- Who steps up tonight? Sigh. Jonathan Toews.
- No change in the chemistry. How do the players reward their GM? Nope.
- The Wild have shown they can shut down the best. Do they again tonight? Ha.
- Does Backstrom get the support he needs to win? Left out to dry on two of the goals, no support, no.
- Do the guys on Versus even realize the Wild play in this game? They mentioned them a couple times. Mostly a Chicago lovefest.