There was quite the stage set tonight, both literally and figuratively, as the Iowa Wild and the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville) met for another Central Division tilly; jockeying for playoff position as the picture begins to develop.
With the win tonight, Iowa moves up to second in the standings with a few days of practice before embarking on a five game road trip; three games in California.
Niklas Svedberg (9-8-3, 2.75 GAA/.911 SV%) was called upon again, breaking through the .500 barrier, stopping 28 of 31 shots en route to his ninth win of the season. On the other side of the ice, Anders Lindbäck (18-8-3, 2.76 GAA/.913 SV%) gave up five goals in his second straight start, stopping 23 of 28 shots from the Wild.
“It’s a pretty confident group, maybe over confident with leads...we lost yesterday because we were loose with the two goal lead.”
Flip Flopped First
There was a lot of energy in the building tonight, even when walking around the concourse an hour before puck drop. It appeared that the buzz rubbed off a bit on the guys, and they looked to have all the chances in the early goings on.
It felt as if Iowa had the upper hand, putting shots on Lindbäck and getting some real juicy rebound opportunities in close quarters. Things finally came to a head when Trevor Mingoia went to the box for tripping Carson Soucy at 8:24 into the period.
David Cunniff deployed his 4F1D group with Sam Anas on the blueline along with Zach Palmquist. A little less than a minute in, Landon Ferraro made a great break to get in front of Lindbäck’s net to get an on-ice pass from Sammy. The progeny of Ray got his blade in the right spot and was able to get Iowa’s first goal of the night (Anas, Palmquist; PP - 9:07).
With the 1-0 lead, Iowa had all the momentum, but hockey rarely reaches stagnation, especially with two teams like this. Less than two minutes later, Colton Beck missed a clean checking opportunity on Jimmy Oligny, who was able to move the puck in closer on Svedberg.
With Brennan Menell closing in to challenge Oligny, and Carson Soucy battling in front, Mingoia was left all alone with a net so open, I’m sure even my beer league skills would be enough to put the puck away (Oligny; 10:45). With Mingoia atoning for his earlier sins, we were all knotted up.
Only Milwaukee continued to up the intensity.
After a boarding call on Petter Granberg, Iowa got another opportunity on the power play to get back on top, or so it seemed. A pass to Palmquist at the point was poked away by Harry Zolnierczyk who took off down the ice. Palmquist was unable to catch-up and Zolnierczyk was able to get a shorty for the Admirals (unassisted; 12:18).
During the same power play, Yakov Trenin got a similar opportunity, but Svedberg was able to make a key save.
Late in the period, Gerald Mayhew was pushed back into an open door on the Milwaukee bench and needed help to get off the ice. Trenin was also a mishandled blade away from making it 3-1 before the period was over.
It only ended up 2-1 by the first intermission, but it was one of the more disheartening periods I’ve seen live this season.
“After the first, (Video Coach) Keith Paulsen said ‘we lost 15 battles’, and that’s unlike us,” Derek Lalonde said of the first period effort.
A Tale of Two Periods
Despite the first period ending as it did, Mayhew was one of the first ones back out on the ice for second period warm-ups; a much needed boost with an integral part of Lalonde’s top-scoring line toughing this one out.
It would’ve been easy for the Wild to come out, heads hanging, but the second frame ended up being all Iowa.
Just over five minutes into the period, it was Captain Cal leading the charge after an expert pass from Alex Grant at the point to hit him between the circles. The journeyman center was put one past Lindbäck easily (Grant, Ferraro; 5:22).
Then a neutral zone battle ensued with stifling efforts coming from both sides. Iowa defenders had a few times where they almost allowed for the opposition to get behind them, but they were able to button things up - allowing Milwaukee to get little going below the dots in the DZ.
“(Milwaukee’s) an interesting team in that they’re an extremely aggressive forechecking team, but they are the most ‘passive’ neutral zone team in the league,” Lalonde explained. “I don’t think (skating back into the 1-3-1) is ‘passive hockey,’ I think it’s good coaching....I think we went through it pretty well (because) they played a little tired.”
Iowa continued to up the pressure, and in the final five minutes it paid dividends. Though it took awhile to get a breakout pass, Cal O’Reilly moved the puck to Ferraro who took the puck up along the boards. After a small pass to Christoph Bertschy, the veteran broke for the slot and a 2-on-1 ensued.
Bertschy made a great pass underneath an Admiral stick and Ferraro sniped his second goal of the night, giving the Wild the lead once again (O’Reilly, Bertschy; 17:18). Only the Wild weren’t done there, and Ferraro heard his name called by the PA for the fourth time of the night.
“Considering that was a third of my points (tonight), it felt really good,” Ferraro said of his performance in post. “I feel like over the last ten games or so, I’ve started to get back to what I think I can do. It’s been a long year...hopefully I can keep building on it.”
In the waning minutes of the period, a battle down near Lindbäck’s net turned into a pass to a waiting Menell at the point. The Woodbury native had a lot of room to work, skated up, and let the little biscuit free (Ferraro, O’Reilly; 19:15).
After a couple of turnovers by the young d-man, the staff had some thoughts about the ups and downs of Menell’s game tonight. “We called him ‘god’ after the second,” Lalonde joked, “he giveth and taketh with an unbelievable goal at the end of the period.”
With the goal, Iowa carried the momentum into the dressing room, up 4-2 after two periods.
The beginning of the period had an eerily similar feeling to a lot of Iowa’s games lately. In the first two minutes, Milwaukee rang a nice ping off of Svedberg’s post and then were given a four minute power play by way of a high stick that drew blood from Grant.
Iowa did a tremendous job killing off the first three minutes of the penalties, but Bobby Butler showed why he is the Admirals leading scorer, sniping one past Svedberg from the top of the left circle, and the lead was trimmed to one (Carrier, Zolnierczyk; PP - 4:13).
Even with the goal, Iowa refused to fall victim of yet another third period push by the opposition. A little over halfway through the final frame, Lalonde’s squad bit back as Grant came down below the dots for a put-away of his own to bring the lead back to two (O’Reilly; 10:27).
The Admirals upped the pressure, pinged a few posts, but the result stayed the same as the Wild leap-frogged the Admirals in the Central Division standings with their 5-3 win.
“We’ve obviously struggled with two goal leads in the third period,” Captain Cal O’Reilly said of the effort. “That’s good for our confidence to close this one out....Both of our goalies have been unbelievable.”
At the beginning of the night, there was a specter hanging around the Wild, namely due to the fact that Iowa has only won back-to-back contests three times since their winning streak in November.
However, after the win tonight, Iowa finds themselves at second place in the division yet again as the roller coaster that is the 2017-18 season rolls on. In Lalonde’s estimation, there is more good than bad going for this club.
“Everything’s trending in a good way...we’re maybe the only team in the league that’s top five in both (penalty kill and power play),” Newsy said about this playoff hungry team. “Our goals for are now top ten in the league, (but) our goals against is still in the bottom third.”
Tonight, O’Reilly and Ferraro combined for eight points, as the veteran group has started to chip in more on offense - piggybacking on the success of the Mayhew-Kloos-Anas line that has been on an absolute tear since the team returned from Texas in December.
“If we’re going to be successful, those are the guys that are going to have to step up,” Lalonde professed. “I think it was a really good balance of all three lines...we’ve had sporadic play from our lines, but when we get all three going, we’re a good team.”
Ferraro had some thoughts of his own about the leadership stepping up as of late.
“For me and Cal and (Cannone) to pick it up and help out tonight is big,” Ferraro said of the veteran presence. “As the year goes on, you can’t just have one line scoring....that’s where playoff success comes from; having four lines that can play against anyone.
Standing in the media room, the team’s Captain, Cal O’Reilly, stood wearing a shirt that read “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough” encircling the team logo. Ferraro quipped that the shirts are simply ‘nice,’ but when asked what was the message that sends to the team from their captain, O’Reilly reiterated the truths said by Lalonde before.
“We know how tight it is in our division...it doesn’t matter what we did last game, we have to get ready for Cleveland.”
Iowa continues to battle in the Central, starting a five game road trip with the Cleveland Monsters (Columbus) next Thursday.