MINNESOTA WILD AT COLORADO AVALANCHE
8:00PM Central, Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado
TV: Fox Sports-North
Streaming: Fox Sports Go app
Radio: KFAN 100.3 and affiliates
If you’re feeling good about Minnesota’s win on Tuesday, it’s ok. You have the official permission of Jim Dowd’s Pants to think that the Wild truly played a good game against Carolina. We remained guarded after the team’s victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday, which it also coincidentally visits today, because the Avalanche is… well… horrendous. But the most recent win against Carolina was a little different, because the Canes were actually close to making the playoffs. The Hurricanes, who were officially eliminated from contention that same night, have surely let down a bit after seeing their hot streak end this past weekend, so with the golf course now in sight for them, there wasn’t a ton of passion or emotion in their game. Even so, the Wild played faster and with more creativity than I can recall seeing from the team in a very long time.
Even with Devan Dubnyk looking leaky in the first period and giving up three goals on six shots, it still felt like a no-doubter of a game, because the Wild was dominating and finding ways to beat Cam Ward. The first goal, in which the Zach Parise / Eric Staal / Nino Niederreiter line made tic-tac-toe passes and got stopped, but then retrieved the puck in the corner and made MORE tic-tac-toe passes to finish, was a spectacular sequence. They would not be denied a goal on that shift, showing that this team has once again found its tenacity and nose for the net.
As for Dubnyk, it was more than a little concerning to see him letting in goals on every other shot in the first period. They were good goals, all in the not-the-goalie’s-fault brand of tallies, but a razor sharp Dubynk would have had at least one or two of those. With the whole point of this week being to get everybody back on track, including Dubnyk, Bruce Boudreau had to be tempted to switch netminders, so as to not let things get worse for the Doob. Instead, he stuck with his star goalie, who showed in the second and third periods why he is a star goalie, making 24 stops on as many shots. Knowing that Dubnyk can bounce back and shut it down when the wheels look like they’re falling off the wagon has to be an enormous confidence booster for both him and the rest of the team.
Minnesota also clinched home ice for the first round of the playoffs by winning in the final game that it will ever play in the red holiday sweaters. I’m being told that the jerseys are all being piled onto a barge as we speak, and they will be pushed down the Mississippi River in the coming days and lit afire by an arrow shot by Joel Eriksson Ek. I remember when the Wild first donned its lame apparel as third jerseys, and thinking that the big gold numbers didn’t fit in with the other uniforms the team was sporting at the time, while the big green blocks on the arms just didn’t do it for me. As a third jersey, I thought they were fine... but then they became the first home jersey for Minnesota. Say what you want about the reds, but I for one will not miss them. RIP Christmas Ornaments. We hardly knew ye.
Speaking of sweaters, the whole North Stars thing with Zach Parise in his dad’s bucket and gloves was pretty… pretty cool. There were a few photos floating around that were of just Zach (from the waist up because their pants and socks didn’t match). With his black eye, if you didn’t recognize Zach, you would seriously think it was a photo from the way-back machine. Pretty awesome bit by the Wild organization.
Ugh. These guys again. I won’t go too in depth about the team, because the Wild just played against Colorado a few days ago, so you can read that Game Preview if you’re desperate for a little Avs info. I will say that they mounted a huge comeback on Tuesday to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in overtime, a subtle reminder that no game is easy in the NHL.
In that contest, Colorado fell behind 3-0 to Chicago, and it looked like another whipping to the proverbial backsides of the Avalanche players was on the way. But instead, the team battled all the way back with Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, who have both been heavily criticized and were nearly traded this year, leading the way. Duchene rifled home a perfect saucer pass on a two-on-one to get Colorado on the board, then made an outrageous play to spin 360° off of a defender in the corner and zip a pass to the goalmouth for the tying score. Not to be outdone, Landeskog out-hustled the entire Chicago team to retrieve his own rebound and swing around the net to stuff home a short-handed wraparound goal. So those two players were responsible for all three highlight-reel goals in regulation… Maybe they’re looking to up their trade values for the offseason?
While one game and one impressive comeback does not make up for a travesty of a season, it is an indicator that the Avs still have talent. Letting down against this club can very much come back to bite you if you get off your game for any extended period.
So, that Parise / Staal / Nino line… whoa! They looked like the Jason Zucker / Mikko Koivu / Mikael Granlund line of old! Staal’s trio showed serious chemistry the last two games, and if it keeps building, it could be the kind of red hot line that carries the team through a playoff series or two. Good things are afoot for this group, which will certainly stay together now for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, Zucker has officially been replaced by Erik Haula on Mikko’s line. Zucker skated with Martin Hanzal and Charlie Coyle in yesterday’s practice, as per Kent Youngblood of the Strib.
With the Wild playing such weak opponents in these last two games and finally stringing together some good team efforts, it’s going to be a little challenging in meaningless games to keep up the good habits that it has recently developed. If Minnesota gets a lead tonight, keep an eye on how it plays in the third period. If things start to look a little sloppy, then that’s… not a good sign. If it keeps the foot on the pedal and has Colorado on the defensive for the majority of the third, then we can truly feel good about the game and the team’s mindset this last week.
There was a pretty massively collective butt clench throughout the State of Hockey on Tuesday night when it was realized during the game that Jared Spurgeon had left the bench. With Jason Zucker already nursing a lower body injury, now is NOT the time for guys to start getting hurt, particularly top-pairing defensemen. Both injuries sound like they are pretty minor though, as Zucker and Spurgeon are on the trip and will each likely play at least one, if not both games.
Darcy Kuemper will have to make an appearance in the next two games as well, after being scratched for three consecutive games, then backing up Tuesday. We haven’t seen Kuemper since March 25th, when he allowed 4 goals on 21 shots against the Canucks in a predictably icky performance. It’s so hard to do what he’s been asked to do as a young goaltender trying to make it in this league, because there is simply no rhythm. On the rare occasion that he’s asked to play, he’s expected to come in and be lights out, so it truly takes a special kind of player to do that well. It’s quite possible that we’re in the last few games of Kuemper’s Wild career, which has just never panned out the way many of us anticipated it would. We’ll see if he gets in tonight or Saturday.
Spurgeon and Zucker are both questionable, though I’m guessing Zucker returns. Chris Stewart is sick and is also questionable.
Semyon Varlamov and Nikita Zadorov are still out for the season, so no change there. Mikko Rantanen and Blake Comeau are both questionable for the Avs.