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 to the Carolina Hurricanes in Helsinki, Finland.
Some NHL hockey games are hard to figure out. Some aren’t. When an entire team plays lousy, you pretty much say, “we played like crap.” But on times like Thursday night’s Wild loss to Carolina in Helsinki, Finland to start the season, you can’t quite figure it out as easily. Yes, there were some bad penalties. Yes, there were some mistakes. Yes, there were some missed chances.
But I haven’t watched too many games where even the winning team doesn’t take penalties, make a few mistakes and miss a few chances. Wild Head Coach Todd Richards pinned most of loss on a few defensive lapses. In terms of hockey knowledge, I’ll yield to Mr. Richards on that. But I will say it seemed more like just one of those games where both teams played well, and one goaltender made one more save than the other.
That goaltender was Hurricanes keeper Cam Ward. In a game where seven goals were scored, both he and Backstrom played brilliantly. In fact, the three goals that Ward gave up were all probably shots that he’d like to have back or said he should have stopped. It was the saves he wasn’t supposed to make that were the difference. He repeatedly came up huge, in particular on Martin Havlat, Matt Cullen
and Cal Clutterbuck
. That line, when they were together, looked fantastic. But it seemed like every shot they put toward the net ended up in the big lobster mitt of the Stanley Cup winning netminder.
While Backstrom took the loss, it can hardly be pinned on him. He also made some big saves, and he made one that should be on the end-of-the-season highlight reel as long as people don’t forget about it six months from now. Midway through the third period, with the Wild trailing by two, Joni Pitkanen led a two-on-one on the right side. Backstrom came out to challenge him and stopped a wrister from in close. The puck bounced out where an incoming Jeff Skinner put it right back toward a wide open goal. Somehow, Backstrom lunged back and whacked it out of the air with his stick paddle about three feet off the ice. Here it is in real time.
Talking about the atmosphere tonight should probably be at the top of this list, but we’ll get it in here. First off, this wasn’t a typical European hockey atmosphere. There weren't any chants, and not much dancing. For one thing, most of the fans in the building (with the obvious exceptions of the fans from Minnesota and North Carolina that made the trip) didn’t care too much who won. They wanted to see their Finns perform well. They did. All five European skaters notched a point, and Backstrom showed his brilliance.
Still, the Finnish fans were great, cheering for goals by both teams, and yelling a resounding “Yeeeeee!” during scoring chances (as opposed to the North American “Ooooooh!” They also got a treat when four Finnish legends appeared during an on-ice ceremony. Jyrkki Lumme, Sami Peltonen, Esa Tikkanen and probably the greatest Finnish player of all time, Jari Kurri were out there. The crowd cheered loudest for Kurri, who then dropped the opening puck for Mikko Koivu
and Jussi Jokinen.
In his Wild debut, Matt Cullen
scored a goal against his former team. Cullen became the ninth Minnesota native to play a game for the Wild, and the sixth to score a goal. Can you remember the other goal scorers?
I won’t make you look it up: Darby Hendrickson, Mark Parrish, Jeff Nielsen, Wyatt Smith and Sean Hill. Erik Westrum, Brian Bonin and Nate Prosser
are the other three.