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 4-3 loss in San Jose.
Coming into tonight’s game, the Minnesota Wild and San Jose Sharks were both riding three-game winning streaks, and both were playing to move into sole possession of eighth place in the Western Conference. I’ll just go ahead and ask the question that needs to be asked: how in the crap is San Jose battling for the eighth spot in the Western Conference?
These guys have Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley
, Joe Pavelski, super-rookie Logan Couture, Dan Boyle and yes, Devin Setoguchi
, who I think played all 60 minutes in tonight’s game and scored two goals. There’s no way they should be where they are at this point in the season, although a 4-3 win over the Wild gives them four straight victories.
“They’re big and they skate,” said Head Coach Todd Richards. “I felt our execution was off a bit but I think that had to do with how they were playing the game.”
So what does it say about the Wild, who took San Jose’s “A” game and still was one shot from forcing overtime, despite playing with just five defensemen for more than half the game?
One reason the Wild was in it was the spectacular play of Niklas Backstrom
. Not since Karl Goehring’s performance in the 1996 Minnesota State tournament semifinal against Duluth East have I seen a goalie give up four goals and be the best player on the ice. Without Backstrom’s brilliance, the Wild could have been down by eight after two periods. In the second stanza alone he faced 25 shots, which tied a franchise record for most shots allowed in a period.
At least five of his 38 saves were the kind that he had no business making, and really he didn’t have a chance on any of the four goals. I find it difficult to describe how good goaltending performances are without video evidence, but just take my word for it. Displays like tonight’s are few and far between, even in the NHL.
One of the goals that Backstrom allowed was questionable to say the least. With San Jose up a goal and thoroughly dominating early in the second period, a high-rising Joe Pavelski slap shot was deflected in by Setoguchi. It was ruled a goal on the ice, but Backstrom immediately signaled that it was played with a high stick. Depending on the angle of the replay, Backstrom had a case. But it didn’t matter. The call was not overturned, and sure enough, one goal was the difference in the contest.
But a close call like that can be forgiven. What is unfathomable was how referee Brad Meier chose to handle Jason Demers’ punch to the back of Martin Havlat’s head after a whistle in the third period. Havlat, who was looking for a rebound, was already engaged with a Shark at the top of the crease when Demers took his cheap shot at an unsuspecting Havlat. Meier was standing no more than five feet away and watched the whole thing.
One might think a good way to handle that would be to send Demers to the box. Demers opted for another method, which included a motion with his hands to “calm down.” Now that’s how you cut down on shots to the head. Just tell the guys to calm down. They’ll be sure to change their ways.
The Wild hung in this game thanks to Backstrom, two power play goals by Mikko Koivu
and a three-point night from Brent Burns. It was pretty impressive that the Wild had a chance considering how well they were playing, and considering the fact that Nick Schultz went down in the second period with what is being termed an “upper body injury.”
“That’s a huge blow to lose somebody like that,” admitted Todd Richards.
The Wild has two more off days before taking on the Blackhawks in Chicago on Tuesday, but with Marco Scandella
not yet cleared to return from a concussion, the Wild may have to make a call to the first place Houston Aeros. There are a few options to choose from, including Justin Falk
, Maxim Noreau or Nate Prosser
Koivu will record a hat trick one day, but it didn’t happen tonight. This might have been the closest he’s ever come though. After notching two power play tallies for the second time this season, Koivu secured his 10th two-goal game. He had the best chance to tie the game in the final minute with Backstrom pulled, but his laser wrist shot missed just wide. Still, he moved into a tie for the team goal-scoring lead with 14.
And by the way, did you know there is a pro bowler named Mika Koivuniemi? Well, he bowled a came within one pin of rolling a 300 in a PBA match tonight, the same night that Mikko Koivu
scored two goals against Antti Niemi.