The Minnesota Wild have been making the best of their overtime games as of late, with the last 3 consecutive wins requiring an extra frame, at least. Tonight, Alex Stalock would be all the team needed. Stalock stopped all 23 shots he faced and the Wild shut out the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-0.
The Leafs came to town for their humpday game in a 3-game roadie. Having lost 4-2 against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night the Leafs were coming in looking to get something to show for their road trip before moving on to Detroit. Tonight, the Leafs would again lose by 2 on the road, and stay floating with 41 points in the tough Atlantic Division.
The Wild were able to improve their record to 17-11-3 for 37 points and keep ahead of the pace with the Chicago Blackhawks for a wildcard playoff spot by virtue of tie breakers. With 4 consecutive wins now, the Wild match their season high win streak previously set November 9th through November 16th. The Wild have now won 11 of their last 17 and earned 23 points over that stretch to come soaring back into playoff contention.
Suddenly, we have a team again.
Tonight’s game played out to be be a bit of a snoozer. Combined the teams mustered up 12 shots in the 1st period, Wild taking the edge there with 7 shots. Once again though the Wild would find themselves on the PK early. Zach Mitchell made his way to the box within the first 2 minutes of the game to keep that trend alive. Fortunately the Wild were able to hold back the Maple Leafs through 4 PK’s tonight, and some extended 5 on 4 play at the end that wasn’t technically a PK.
The penalty trend was made more disturbing by seeing players like Mikko Koivu and Matt Cullen make their way to the box tonight for elbowing penalties. Retaliation calls that quite frankly these two should know better than to get caught up in. If we want to see the march to the penalty box stop, it has to start with the veteran leadership.
The 1st period would be winding down when Tyler Ennis would light the lamp with a nifty wrap-around sort of goal. The play all started when Chris Stewart was chasing in on the forecheck and applied some pressure before finishing his check which arguably was pretty late. The errant pass that resulted was caught by Ryan Suter at the point who shuffled the puck down low to Ennis. Tyler skated out front and buried one short side against Frederik Andersen.
The game sputtered through the 2nd period. The teams exchanged chances but Stalock wasn’t really tested until the 3rd period. Neutral zone play was tough for stretches for both teams as the middle of the ice became a battlefield. The Wild still mustered up 12 shots in the middle frame but were not able to extend their lead heading into the 3rd.
In the 3rd period Alex Stalock was peppered with 16 shots against him, and he stood tall for all of them. Stalock did get a lot of help from his defense tonight with the Wild blocking 21 shots in front of him. The team played will in front of Stalock for much of the game, limiting chances in the early periods and keeping their gaps tight stopped a lot of what the Leafs were trying to build on.
The Wild were still finding their spots in the last 20 minutes of the game too. A few extended pressure moments early in the period led to a beauty of a goal from Mikael Granlund. Leading up to that, Koivu had a great chance to stuff one home in tight, and Tyler Ennis hand a monster opportunity up close and personal where he whipped around and ripped a shot on goal from point-blank range. Even Jason Zucker who had a pretty quiet night started to come alive at points in the 3rd and got a couple chances.
That extended pressure would lead to the Wild working a hard cycle. Nino Niederreiter pushed the puck along the wall to Eric Staal behind the Leafs net. When Staal looked up he saw Granlund with a little space in the slot and a little window to get him the pass through. The pass broke through and Granlund snapped his shot through, far side past Andersen to pad the Wild’s lead at 2-0. Granlund had a great game tonight. He was skating hard and finished with 1 goal on 2 shots and a blocked shot to go with his forward leading 19:56 TOI.
The Wild killed all 4 penalties against tonight, but also at the end of the game by virtue of matching minor roughing penalties to Josh Leivo and Jason Zucker the teams would skate 4-aside with just 3 and a half minutes to play. So the Leafs would pull their goalie for the extra attacker and finish out the game with an empty net and an extra skater. The Wild were not able to convert with the empty net, but the Leafs were unable to break the shutout as well and the Wild cruised to a nice home win.
Next up for your Wild, a little afternoon action this Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers. Puck drop is scheduled for 12:30 pm in St. Paul. The Oilers are a very dangerous team with Connor McDavid leading a young cast of future stars, but they are struggling to get wins this season with a 13-16-2 record and just 28 points and are currently losing to the Nashville Predators late in the 3rd period. Be sure to set your alarms this Saturday, because we’ll be starting early.