In search of a miracle win that could break the slump, the best finisher in the league found the back of the net three times as the Washington Capitals continue to stand atop the league standings and our lowly Wild lose ground on the playoff picture. Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick, while Jason Chimera added and empty-net goal to edge the Wild 4-3 in front of 19,213 fans at Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota came close with goals from Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter, and Mikael Granlund to make the game interesting.
The first period saw both teams trade power play chances, but the frame ultimately ended scoreless. It was clear the Wild was trying to keep the NHL's leading goal scorer in check by getting sticks in his way. The Wild got 8 shots in the period to the Capitals' 10. The Wild had some chances to break through, but Braden Hotby (or Holtbeast, as Washington fans like to affectionately call him) is just playing extremely well. He was out on his crease challenging every shot and moving well laterally to stop the one-timers off Wild sticks.
Alex Ovechkin is truly something special. Sure he plays for the other team, but Wild fans got a show from number 8. His first goal came just after the two minute mark in the period. He received a pass across the slot from T.J. Oshie and snuck the puck just under the pads of Devan Dubnyk along the ice. Then, on a power play, a John Carlson shot whistled wide, but caromed right back out to Ovechkin waiting on the left side of the net. Dubnyk hardly had a chance. The the highest scoring Russian ever did some magic. With traffic out front, Ovi shot the puck off the post, that then bounced off the back of Dubnyk and over the goal line. This play was challenged by Mike Yeo for being offside. On the replay, it looks like the puck may have completely crossed the blue line before Niklas Backstrom swept the puck back into the zone. However, the camera angle wasn't good enough to see the puck conclusively cross the line, and it was therefore called a good goal.
Charlie Coyle got the Wild on the board to make the score 2-1 at one point. It was great shift from Zach Parise and Coyle was able to tuck the rebound from a Mikko Koivu shot past Holtby. Shots were even at 15 for the period for both teams.
Minnesota had to kill off the remainder of late period penalty to start the third period. After doing so, Minnesota began to press. They got a power play after Dmitry Orlov slashed the stick right out of Justin Fontaine's hands. Fontaine had himself a solid game as he was a catalyst for the third line of Thomas Vanek - Erik Haula - and Fontaine and drew a big penalty. With a chance to tie the game, the power play finally clicked in a big moment. Ryan Suter scored his seventh of the season with a slap shot from the left point. Parise was really the force on that shift. He chased down pucks and battled in the corner to get the puck free to Matt Dumba, who then passed up to Suter. Meanwhile, Parise hustled to get in front of Holtby for a screen and Suter fired the puck where he wasn't.
Down by a goal, the Wild continued to press, but the crowd was into the game and tried to will their team to tie the game.The best chance for Minnesota came when Holtby made a save, but the puck dropped and sat in the crease. With Zucker bearing down to get to the puck, Backstrom swept it away at the very last second. Yeo emptied the net with a little over two minutes left. Dumba took a one-timer that Hotlby was able to kick out with the right pad past everyone. Jason Chimera was able to chase the puck down and score to seal the win. Mikael Granlund did score with 3.6 seconds left on the clock to get the score back to a one goal deficit, but by then, it hardly mattered. The damage was done.
Minnesota had lost the game. Ovechkin dominated. We won't ever truly know if that puck fully crossed the blue line because the league hasn't implemented more cameras for better angles nor cameras on the blue line. A lot of talk after the game about taking positives out of losing a close one to the league's best team. This is what we're relegated to right now - moral victories. For a team that was talking about not only making the playoffs, but making a real run after a surprise sweep in the West semis at the hands of the Blackhawks, "Moral Victory," shouldn't be a part of its vernacular.
The Wild play a Saturday matinee against the Bruins.