Minnesota Wild 3 - 2 Florida Panthers (Shootout)
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Interesting clash of teams in this one. Both the Panthers and the Wild are heavily dependent on their top lines to do the bulk of the scoring. The trio of Versteeg - Weiss - Fleischmann are an imposing line, but after those three forwards, there's not much to write home about. The Cats were coming in on a 3-game slide, so this was a game the Wild definitely had a shot to earn another 2 points.
Wild seemed to have the early jump. The team from the North got the first real good look, as Johnson put a soft centering pass right in front of Powe, who's shot was trickling in through Jose's five-hole when Erik Gudbrandsen made a last second save on the goal line to keep the Wild at zero. The puck was literally a second away from completely clearing the goal line. The Wild got a pair of powerplay opportunities, but you don't have the 23rd ranked PP for no reason. A lot of passing, very few shots. Stop me if you've heard this one before. The momentum swing led to scoring chances directly after the "man advantage" expired in both instances. The lack of an offensive powerplay helped keep Florida in the 1st period. At least generating some good looks would be acceptable at this point.
I guess the flight down to Florida wore on the guys, because they came out in the 2nd flat. The Panthers took control of the play, which is frustrating because they didn't look all that impressive. It was literally the lesser of two evils at this point. After a totally bonehead penalty by Setoguchi for steam rolling Theodore, the Panthers demonstrated how to score powerplay goals. A Stephen Weiss shot literally landed right in front of Mikael Samuelsson, who just had to give it a little tap-tap-taparoo. The Panthers were rolling and looked to start dominating, but the Wild caught a "break" late in the period when Zidlicky's broken-stick shot slid into the slot for Brodziak to tap home. A very late goal gave the Wild some life for the 3rd as well as demonstrated some of that early-season resiliency that has all but disappeared.
An early Weiss penalty put the Succbus back on the ice. Yeo must have pulled out a zippo and lit a fire, because the Wild didn't waste any time getting pucks to the net. A Heatley rebound was scooped up by Cullen and put behind Theodore, giving the Wild their first lead of the game. Zidlicky did a great Nick Schultz impression when he took the same high sticking penalty, but the Wild dodged a huge bullet when the best chances went just wide. The Wild were then able to start playing smart neutral-zone hockey, taking away space from Florida and keeping their offensive talent to the perimeter. Unfortunately, the Wild couldn't hold serve, as the Panthers took their game to another level with 6 minutes left. The Cats kept battling until Bergenheim scored on a semi-spin-o-rama. Of course in today's NHL, that meant that this game was going to extra time.
Not a lot of good chances in the overtime, but both sides did have a few good looks at least. Both Theodore and Backstrom made some solid saves to send this game to a shootout, which is a favorite of everyone.
With clouds of dread and premature tears, Eric Christensen was the first shooter. He may be invisible for 65 minutes, but he's got great hands when he's alone with a goalie. Wild up 1-0. Versteeg was the fist shooter for Florida, and he made a great move, but Backstrom stayed with him and made a great save. Cullen up next, and the guy is starting to heat up. Opened up Theodore's five-hole and tucked it home. Bergenheim was Florida's last chance to extend the shootout, but Backs made a solid poke-check. Backstrom's perfect in the shootout while Christensen and Cullen add the goals to give the Wild a 3-2 shootout win.
The Bennett's Chop & Railhouse Starsof the Game:
- Niklas Backstrom (41 saves in regulation, 2 for 2 in the shootout)
- Matt Cullen (1G, game-winning shootout goal)
- Dany Heatley (2A, one on the powerplay)
- Wild from the Bruins game or Wild from the Jackets games? Not as good when they beat Boston, but not as bad when they dropped a pair to Columbus. Somewhere in between.
- The Wild won with Zidlicky in the line up. Is the curse broken? Apparently so. They even won in a shootout.
- Is the sheer presence of Matt Hacket enough to help? Must be, since Backstrom was perfect in the one-on-one.
- Which direction are the Wild leaning for Monday? Getting less clear with every win.
- Does the finger pointing stop, or get fired back up? Hard to fault any specific player, especially in a win.