It wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing game. The Anaheim Ducks like to do that. There’s so much obstruction, the opposition looks way worse, especially when Anaheim gets away with it. The Ducks were physical. They out-hit the Wild 30-17 and really took it to the Wild’s forwards, who were met with heavy hits and zero room in the offensive zone.
But the Wild fought through it all. They pressed, skated, and hit posts, but they fought through the physicality and the misfortunes. That’s likely how the Ducks had won five of their last six games. Anaheim punishes the opposition physically, slow the game down, catch a few breaks , and crash the net for some goals to the point the desire to get out of the game and live to fight another day becomes so much more welcoming than pressing through.
Not Minnesota. Not this team, with this coach.
No, the Wild took the abuse, and finally, when it all seemed like it wasn’t going to be their day, they struck. And when the iron was hot, struck again.
It was Hockey Day Minnesota, the annual hockey celebration from high school to college to the pros, now in its 11th installment. Erik Haula, a player whose familiarity with HDM goes back prior to his days with the Wild. Haula has scored before on HDM, scoring his first when he was with the University of Minnesota. He also scored his first NHL career goal on HDM. As an adopted Finnesotan, he’s been able to be a factor and implant his name into the lore that has become a State-wide holiday. Haula opened the scoring in the first period when he entered the offensive zone behind Jason Pominville. Pominville dropped the puck back to number 56 and drove the net, taking the defenders with him. Haula waited for a clearing, wound up and fired through John Gibson’s glove for his 8th goal of the year.
Stefan Noesen soon brought the score back to even when a shot from Jared Boll was stopped by Devan Dubnyk and dropped right to Noesen’s stick.
Minnesota had the ice tilted against them. The Ducks had the puck possession game in their favor and the Wild were bottled up in their end often. Minnesota hoped a power play would finally allow them some time in the offensive zone. Problem was Minnesota had issues getting in and getting set up on the power play. A turnover by Mikael Granlund near the Ducks’ line allowed Cam Fowler to coast in unchallenged and slide one five-hole on Dubnyk for a 2-1 lead.
Minnesota escaped the first period down a goal and hoped they could reset during intermission. A penalty by Marco Scandella put the Wild short-handed early in the period. With the penalty kill on the ice, Ryan Getzlaf skated behind the net. Matt Dumba decided to leave his defensive position in front of Dubnyk to go get Getzlaf in the left corner. The defensive rotation didn’t take place as Pominville allowed Corey Perry get to the net, and Perry would tap the centering pass in past Dubnyk.
Sami Vatanen, a couple times in the game would stand idle with the puck as boos would rain down from the 19,288 Wild faithful in attendance. He was a player that liked to sit on the puck. Jason Zucker would get the Wild back within one goal when Vatanen had trouble knocking down a puck with his hand and positioning it on his stick. Zucker pounced, and had a clear net to Jonathan Bernier, who came in relief for an injured Gibson.
Gibson had looked shaken early in the game, and then left after taking a hard shot from Mikko Koivu to the mid-section.
Granlund was close to tying the game in the second when he took a beautiful cross-ice feed from Zucker and rang it off the crossbar. Marco Scandella may have dented the iron with the frozen vulcanized rubber disc when his shot hit the left post in the third period. Someone from facilities should check the structural integrity of the goal after that shot. Alas, it was not a goal.
Just when the shots seemed to dwindle and the Ducks had just about locked down the defensive blue line and gave up almost no room, Ryan Suter’s patience would pay off. Suter corralled the puck near the point. He didn’t like his shooting lane so skated to his left, then released a wrist shot towards the slot. That’s where Erik Haula would redirect Suter’s shot for the equalizer.
With Xcel Energy Center on its feet, a 5-on-2 break for Minnesota led by Nino Niederreiter at the Ducks line, Ryan Suter wouldn’t waste any time to put the carom back on net. The puck would pinball around Bernier’s gear and into the net for the go-ahead goal. With the Wild looking to lock down the defensive zone of their own, Granlund made a nice effort play to fight through a check and dish the puck off to Zucker for a breakaway. Zucker went forehand to backhand to make the score 5-3.
Randy Carlysle would never pull his netminder for the extra attacker in the final minutes, down two, and Minnesota would finish victorious. The horn blown to a resounding ovation from the home crowd to cap off a great hockey celebration throughout the state.