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As a Wild fan living in a place crawling with Montreal Canadiens fans, games like tonight's are like Christmas to me. Of course, the Wild's poor record against the Habs these last few years have left a pretty sour taste in my mouth. It doesn't help that the Wild suffered the worst loss of their history, 8-1, at home against the Canadiens. My friends still bug me about that one and they probably always will. The only way to temporarily free me of this curse is a Wild win, and win they did.
The first five minutes or so were rather uneventful, just two teams getting a feel for each other, but the Wild would strike first on a Justin Fontaine deflection of a Keith Ballard shot. Not much Carey Price could do there. The joy was short-lived though, as Montreal's hot youngsters, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, combined for a goal that Harding had no chance to stop. It was only the 2nd 5-on-5 goal Harding has allowed all season. Hey, at least a Gallagher goal helps my HW East League-leading fantasy team, Sic Kuemper Tyrannis! The shots were about even after 20 minutes, but it felt like Montreal had the better period. Charlie Coyle had three very strong chances in the first period, all thwarted by Carey Price.
In the second frame, the Wild had the better looks in the first 10 minutes or so, but the Canadiens were awakened by a Jason Pominville goal, who scored for the fifth time in the last five games. The goal was assisted by Mikael Granlund AGAIN. That duo is on fire. The Canadiens nearly answered as fast as they did on the first goal and it was the kid line again: Galchenyuk-Eller-Gallagher. Galchenyuk dangled Harding's jockstrap off, but wasn't able to take the shot. Galchenyuk was troublesome all game. He nearly scored on another dangle in which he made Ryan Suter look like a fool. A Charlie Coyle hook is the only thing that prevented Galchenyuk from evening the score. The second half of the period was all Montreal and the Wild needed a strong period by Josh Harding to keep the lead after 40 minutes. Hards ended the period with 13 saves, the best of which was a brilliant toe save on the penalty kill.
The Koivu-Parise separation experiment lasted two periods, as Yeo paired them back together with Coyle and Fontaine alternating as the other winger. The Wild started the third period with a bang. After a few chances, Granlund fed Nino Niederreiter, who masterfully re-directed his third goal of the season past Carey Price. That was Granlund's team-leading 10th point and assist and Pominville's first assist of the season. Again though, the Habs came at the Wild after the goal and ripped two more past Harding; one of the goals was a PK Subban slapshot, the other was a beautiful deflection by Habs captain Brian Gionta. The Wild found a way to not let themselves be put down by the tying goal, and their efforts paid off after Pominville buried a shot that deflected right to him. Residents of Pominville, rejoice! Your king now has 6 goals and an assist in the last 5 games. Despite a late onslaught by the Canadiens, the Wild held on for the 4-3 win, their first home win against the Canadiens since 2005.
Encouraging points in this game have been the improvement of team discipline, the continuation of the Granlund-Pominville connection and Harding's continued heroism. Despite allowing three goals, Harding made some very important, timely saves. The Wild finally had some 5-on-5 production, but also gave away some 5-on-5 goals. Keith Ballard's return was also a big plus, as he assisted on two Wild goals. Both teams had one powerplay opportunity. Coyle was rather quiet after the first period and Jonas Brodin had a bit of a difficult time keeping up with Galchenyuk and Gallagher.
More troublesome, however, was the performance of Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin as a whole, which was pretty awful by their standards. They were no match for the Habs' speedy first line. The Habs' first pairing was excellent and P.K. Subban continues to be a pain in the ass for the Wild and its fans. Also, the Pominville-Granlund-Niederreiter line was the only one with any mojo tonight, and they had to carry most of the offensive load. The Wild were also way too complacent each time they got the lead. The Canadiens were all over the Wild's zone after every home goal. If you ask me, the Wild got away with one here, as the Habs were mostly the better team. The Wild have a lot of work to do.
Regardless, after three years of writing for Hockey Wilderness, and after 8 years of winless hockey against the Canadiens, the Wild have finally prevailed and I have written my first winning recap for a Wild-Habs game. I would have loved for it to be a more joyous occasion, and I'm happy enough, but the Wild didn't outright beat the Canadiens, and that's a bummer.
Anyway, the Wild will be playing the next game against
Zach Parise's Ilya Kovalchuk's the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. Hopefully the Wild will start a winning streak in a more decisive fashion.