Bruce Boudreau said on KFAN Radio Wedneday morning that he’s treating the game against the Avalanche like a playoff game. It is both team’s last games prior to the All-Star break, so each team was going to leave it all on the ice. When the final horn sound, it was the Wild leaving the ice to cheers from their fans in the enemy building after a 5-2 win. Eric Staal scored twice and added an assist to lead the way for the Wild in the victory.
Much was made about Colorado’s top line being so incredibly dangerous. With so many points coming from the Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen line, Bruce Boudreau did everything he could to get the line of Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund matched up against them. A tall task for Koivu who can’t match MacKinnon’s speed, Granlund who can’t stand up to Landeskog’s on-ice antics, and Jason Zucker who’s main focus is creating offense and not negating the playmaking of Rantanen. Could they do it?
The speed was evident early. Though the Wild got the first two shots on goal, the Avalanche love to play in transition. More often than not, the Wild weren’t covering the late man coming in, or back-checking strong. The Wild also needed to manage their emotions after Carl Soderberg put the Avs up 1-0 just past the five minute mark of the first period. In the past, these games against Colorado had a tendency of getting out of hand quickly. A quick goal against, a raucous crowd, and the Avs’ ability to strike quickly and pull the game out of reach could have made matters worse for Boudreau’s Wild squad. But Eric Staal’s goal just 68 seconds after the Soderberg goal helped quell the sinking feeling of the team. Charlie Coyle got the assist on Staal’s 16th of the season.
Minnesota’s 2nd ranked PK couldn’t keep the Avalanche off the score board. Tyson Barrie caught Dubnyk leaning around a screen ans shot the puck on the open side. The Wild didn’t panic. Instead they put together a solid shift to push back. Jared Spurgeon tied the game at 2 after receiving a seam pass from Ryan Suter. Spurgeon pinched in at the blue line to keep possession of the puck. He ushered the puck along to Suter with a rink-wide pass. Suter then worked down the left wing boards. Spurgeon worked his way into the right circle and sniped a shot over Phillip Grubauer’s shoulder.
It was a terrific period of hockey.
The best period for the Wild this season has been the second period, as has been the case for the Avalanche. Despite the chances going in favor of the Avalanche early, the Wild found the net twice. Staal got the Wild their firs lead of the game on a early second period 5-on-3 power play. Granlund fed a beauty of a pass to the back door for the Staal slam dunk. The physicality amped up in the period as both teams treated it as a playoff-style game. There were ebbs and flows in momentum as the Wild would get a push, only to have to defend the other way for a chunk of minutes. One such series saw Nick Seeler block three shots in the span of about 12 seconds. Marcus Foligno was even laying out and sacrificing his body to block shots. A minutes after one of the most gritty shifts from the Wild in recent memory, Charlie Coyle got a pass from Parise after Staal won a battle in the corner, to give Minnesota the 4-2 lead.
Colorado could have easily come back in the third period, but like Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera essentially shortened the game because of his dominance, the Wild clogged up the neutral zone and kept the pressure on. Minnesota tallied 8 shots to the Avs’ 5 in the period. The Wild also got a second 5-on-3 in the game. MacKinnon was called for a faceoff violation after using his glove hand to win the faceoff back to his teammates. Then while on the kill, Patrik Nemeth fired a zone clear that...well...cleared everything as it hit the protective netting above the high glass behind Dubnyk. Ryan Suter cashed in on the ensuing 2-man advantage to extend Minnesota’s lead.
A couple things to take note from the game. When players like Nikita Zadorov tried to get under the skin of Eric Staal, the veteran answered back with 2 goals and an assist. When Gabe Landeskog tried to pull his antics, Koivu calml shut him down. When Joel Eriksson Ek was getting shoved by MacKinnon, Eriksson Ek didn’t back down, and almost told them the bring it on. When Landeskog ran Dubnyk early in the third period, Jared Spurgeon pulled him out of the blue paint area like he was a trash bad ready to be brought out to the dumpster. The team didn’t shy away from the challenge Wednesday and instead met it head on.
Minnesota is off for a while. Enjoy the break.