Following Wild games, Managing Editor Glen Andresen will give the five takeaways that he'll remember from each contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.
Tonight’s contest pitted the 13th place Calgary Flames against the 14th place Minnesota Wild, and yet, with two-thirds of the season to play, it was evident this one would be treated like a playoff contest. But I’ve always contended that a Game Six is more entertaining than a Game Seven because one team is playing with its back against the proverbial wall and doing everything it can to save its season. The other team just wants to get this over with and is looking to roll the vulnerable team out of the building.
Tonight’s game felt like a Game Seven. Neither team appeared to want to take a risk. Neither team wanted to take a penalty. Neither team wanted to let a shot get in on their goaltender. For a long time, this looked like a sure 1-0 game, but suddenly, the Wild found the offensive rhythm that was missing on Thursday against Ottawa and struck for two quick goals at the end of the second. A Chuck Kobasew goal in the third put this one out of reach for the Flames who had few answers for Niklas Backstrom
in a 3-1 Wild victory.
“Getting the lead in a game like this was big,” said Todd Richards. “Mikko was tremendous in the game. He stepped up and the rest of the team followed.”
We’ve seen that Mikko Koivu
can take a game over at times, and it’s just a matter of him doing it more times. When Koivu has a night like this where he picked up three points, one word gets tossed around repeatedly: beast. Koivu was a beast, and I’m about to get all melodramatic up in here with my next comparison.
As a child of the nineties, I watched a lot of Michael Jordan in NBA playoff games. When he sensed his team on the ropes, Jordan would just take over at will. Now, I’m not calling Koivu the Michael Jordan on skates, or even the Finnish Jordan, which we all know is racecar driver Kimi Raikkonen. But Koivu seems to have that mentality of being able to say, “Enough of this cow dung, I’m about to do my thing.”
The Wild’s first power play of the game came late in the second period and for a full minute, the puck barely entered the Calgary zone. The second power play unit went off the ice, and Koivu’s unit stepped on. He simply forced his way into the enemy zone, fought off a check and put a pass in the only spot that a covered Antti Miettinen could knock it in. Minutes later, Koivu skated through the slot while wearing Anton Babchuk like a jacket, but still found a way to tip a Brent Burns shot past Kiprusoff.
I’m starting to think that the life of an NHL goaltender is similar to that of an NFL kicker, except for the fact I would consider a goaltender an athlete. But in Minnesota, all we’re going to remember Gary Anderson for is his one field goal missed in 1999 as opposed to all of the kicks he converted that season. And it seems like Nik Backstrom can string together a bunch of outstanding starts, but if there is one clunker, we’re steeped in a goaltending controversy.
Backstrom was exceptional tonight…again. He has now had three very good performances in his last four starts, so hopefully we can think about his game in Anaheim about as much as we do the toothpaste we spit out of our mouth before bed. It seemed that every shot the Flames put on goal hit something on the way there. But Backstrom hung with those, and he also made stops on shots that appeared destined to hit nothing but mesh. He snared a rising Alex Tanguay shot with the score tied in the second, and then robbed Jarome Iginla with a sprawling pad save in the final minute to preserve the victory.
Backstrom is now 5-1-1 in his last seven against the Flames, and I think we’ll see him again on Monday night.
After Wild losses, the clamoring is often about the Wild playing an awful second period. So let’s make sure we also talk about the Wild playing a good second period when its warranted. Sure, the Wild mustered only four shots in the middle stanza, but when you score on two of those, that’s forgiven. Minnesota hadn’t turned on the red light two times in a second period since October 19 in a thumping of the Vancouver Canucks.
With Cam Barker tending to a personal matter in his native Winnipeg, Clayton Stoner
was very good in his first action since November 26. In fact, Richard called Stoner’s effort his best of the season. That could be a huge confidence boost for Stoner, who may see more action even with Barker expected to return on Monday. Nick Schultz left the game in the third period with an upper body injury, and his status for the Calgary rematch is currently in doubt.