It felt a lot like last spring’s Western Conference First Round series against the Blues. Minnesota was on their forechecks early, forced a multitude of turnovers, and crashed the net with a purpose. But all that may have cost them the game as Anthony Mantha became the first player to ever score a goal in the brand spankin’ new Little Caesar’s Arena en route to a Red Wings 4-2 victory over the Wild.
It was noted early that the Wild establishing a net-front presence, and tested Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard with some frequency. It even looked like the Wild struck first when a video review showed the puck had completely crossed the goal line. However, as newcomer Marcus Foligno had the puck ricochet off his mid-section, Jonathan Ericsson’s cross check forced him over Howard while in the crease. It would eventually be ruled goalie interference, and not a goal. Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau challenged the ruling, but it didn’t change the Man in Stripes’ mind.
The Wild didn’t relent. They got some stellar goaltending early from Devan Dubnyk, including a missed poke-check into a flopping glove save on Gus Nyquist. Minnesota, again, looked to have scored when Howard failed to get his catching glove on a Ryan Suter wrist shot. This time, it would be Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill calling for the challenge. On replay, it was shown that Mikael Granlund came out of the corner to the front of the crease, but was cut off by Mike Green. It forced Granlund to make contact with Howard and the goal would yet again be waved off.
After a scoreless first period, Minnesota would get a humongous two-man advantage early when both Mike Green and Trevor Daley took a hooking minor and delay of game penalty, respectively. Minnesota could not cash in. The best chance they had was when Mikko Koivu, a left handed shot, shanked a backhand shot through a gaping goalmouth.
When Matt Dumba gave Luke Glendening a healthy cross check in the back, and Daniel Winnik tripped Henrik Zetterberg on the ensuing penalty kill, it wouldn’t take long for the Red Wings to strike. A shot heading wide would hit Anthony Mantha, and Ryan Suter couldn’t tie up his stick as the puck dropped in the blue paint for an easy tap in. Just 28 seconds later, Dylan Larkin deflected a Mike Green shot out of mid-air past Dubnyk for the 2-0 lead. Jared Spurgeon had just come off his man, Larkin, to cover the slot on the Green shot, and Larkin was able to get a stick on the puck as it sailed by.
With the Wild needing to strike early in the third period, it would be Joel Eriksson Ek opening the scoring for the Minnesota Wild 2017-18 season. It was a nice forecheck by Foligno and Chris Stewart below the goal line to retrieve the puck. Stewart then found Eriksson Ek with a great feed from behind the net to the slot. It wasn’t long until the score was tied. Just 48 seconds after Chris Stewart assisted on Eriksson Ek’s goal to bring Minnesota within one, Stewart would notch himself a goal. Tyler Ennis carried the puck over the Red Wing line and forced the puck deep. The puck came up the boards to Stewart in the left offensive corner. Stewart sent the puck back to Ennis who then gave the puck back to Stewart as he broke to the front of the net. Stewart tucked the puck into the goal just past the sprawled out left pad of Howard.
Now a brand new game, Henrik Zetterberg took advantage of a fortuitous bounce that saw him with room in the slot. Dubnyk couldn’t do much about it. Again the Red Wings were in the lead. To add insult to injury, Martin Frk would net the insurance goal to regain the Red Wings’ two goal lead. It was not a good goal at all. The puck came through two Wild players along the ice and Dubnyk just got beat to the ice. It was in the net before he could down into his butterfly position.
The game felt like the Blues series where Minnesota either couldn’t beat Howard like they couldn’t beat Jake Allen, even though they held a shots lead and had plenty of scoring chances. In the end, the Wild were 0-for-4 on the power play, and a putrid 1-for-3 on the penalty kill. Like the Blues, the Red Wings did not need many opportunities, they just took advantage of the ones they got.
For Minnesota, they can’t quit crashing the net and continuing to establish their presence at the net. While the aggressiveness may have cost them the 2 early goals, that may have been the difference in this game, they can’t be afraid to get to the paint.
Minnesota was very good at forcing turnovers in the offensive zone and made the Red Wings have to be perfect on their breakout. Much was made of the size that the Wild acquired in the offseason, and it felt like they played like a big team. You can tell their speed is lacking with the absence of Erik Haula to help Jason Zucker provide that weapon. Joel Eriksson Ek got on the board because he just finds ways to score at every level. Super excited for him this season. Hopefully this was just the Game 1 jitters and the Wild can put forth more scoring and a win on Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes.