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What is up State of Hockey legion? Is it 9:30 yet? I refuse to speak for you, but I've been up since 3:30 in the a.m. because I've been bouncing off the walls in anticipation of tonight's big game between the San Jose Sharks, and your Minnesota Wild. It might be late, but I've got so much adrenaline coursing through my body, that it might as well be mid afternoon. I just wish all the neighborhood dogs weren't outside my Como Park palace barking their heads off because they can sniff out the adrenaline and their back hair is sticking straight up.
This will be the last time I'll have to deal with that racket for awhile because I'll be with the team for the next three road games.
In case you didn't know, tonight's game is a battle for sole possession of eighth place in the Western Conference. That's right, y'all. Eighth. The loser of tonight's battle will remain on the outside of the playoff picture. Spoiler alert: The team on the outside will be the team that wears teal jerseys. Does it get any bigger than this? Well, yes. Tuesday's game in Chicago will be just as big, but let's stay in the here and now, because that's key when trying to extend a win streak.
It's also key to playing goaltender. If you're an NHL goaltender, you have to erase the memory of the past, and think about the next save. As the Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan would say, "live in the moment." Nobody does that better than my "dawg," Nik Backstrom. He just happens to be the starting goaltender tonight, and he just happens to be the guy that posted yet another shutout a couple nights ago in Edmonton. I'm not trying to jinx anything, but I see no reason as to why it can't happen again. After all, he's already skunked the Sharkies once this year.
Backstrom will be backed up by Jose Theodore who has returned to the bench after some hip issues. John Madden has also been dealing with a lower body injury, but he's ready to go for this one. Guillaume Latendresse
(abdominal), Marco Scandella
(concussion) and Marek Zidlicky (shoulder) are all out of the lineup with injuries.
For you fashionistas out there, I can tell you the Wild will wear the road whites for the third straight game, although I've got to think there might be some yellowish stains forming in the under arm area. The Sharks are sporting the home teals trimmed in white and black with the stick-chomping fish on the chest.
It's about time to do this. Eighth place. It will be ours. Oh yes. It will be ours.Period 1
18:14 - The first scoring chance of the game goes to San Jose's Devin Setoguchi
. He is hit with a home run pass and goes in one-on-one with Nick Schultz. The Wild's all-time games played leader does a nice job to force him to the outside and his backhand is fired off the side of the cage.
13:34 - The Sharks are on their first power play of the evening and they nearly cash in right off the word "go." The puck is worked back to former Miami University Redhawk Dan Boyle who crunches a slap shot off the post.
11:32 - What is with Antti Niemi sticking his left arm straight out every time a Wild player skates anywhere near his crease? This is the second time I've seen it tonight as Andrew Brunette goes by him, but the play is up ice and he's in no way coming close to Niemi. Relax Antti. If Bruno wants to get his rear in your crease, you'll know it.
10:45 - My word, what a save! A shot by former Boston College Eagle Benn Ferreiro is blocked in the slot, but the puck richochets to the side where Niclas Wallin rips a slapper at a seemingly empty net. At the last instant, Backstrom lunges headfirst and makes a scintillating save. Unbelievable. Unfortunately, I'm not seeing a replay of it.
9:20 - Jumbo Joe Thornton dances into the Wild zone, and he shows his passing prowess by dropping one back for Marc-Edouard Vlasic who is wide open. He steps into a shot from 10 feet out, but Backstrom again comes up huge with a toe save. Bacy's been teh story so far. 8:27 - MIN 0 - SJ 1 - The Sharks finally solve him and it comes off the stick of Rookie of the Year frontrunner, Logan Couture. He races up the right side and unleashes a wicked wrist shot that clanks off the near post and in. That's his 22nd on the year, which leads all NHL rookies.
6:51 - Big opportunity for the Wild here. Already on the power play, they'll go on a two-man advantage for 1:13 after Couture gets caught leaving the bench too early on a change. That kid just isn't a smart hockey player. The Sharks should bench him for the rest of the night. Maybe even look at traing him? I don't know. I'm not a GM, but that's what I would do.6:41 - MIN 1 - SJ 1 - Jackpot! When the penalty on Couture was called, Todd Richards used his timeout, and it worked wonders. Just 10 seconds into the two-man advantage, the power play cashes in. At the top of the zone, Brent Burns and Mikko Koivu play catch with the puck until Koivu decides to unleash a one-timer that zips past Niemi on the blocker side. That's how you take advantage on a five-on-three.
3:21 - Jared Spurgeon
is a killer! After Setoguchi completely interferes with Backstrom in the crease (which goes uncalled), Spurgeon takes down the much bigger forward with a forceful shove (which also goes uncalled). And this just in, your Houston Aeros are now in first place after a 2-1 win over Lake Erie tonight. Robbie Earl and Warren Peters
with the Houston tallies.
2:01 - After Martin Havlat fires a shot from the right side, he has his stick knocked out of his hands and it very nearly ends up in the netting above the glass.
0:00 - An action-filled first period comes to an end. You've got to be happy you decided to hang out in front of your computer tonight, am I right?Period 2
18:47 - Cal Clutterbuck
is down on the ice for a bit and slow to make his way to the bench after taking a stick in the teeth from Setoguchi. That also does not get called. Setoguchi must do a lot of helping old ladies cross the street because he's getting some free passes tonight.
17:59 - Backstrom is out of his mind tonight. He has already made two saves he had no business making, and this is the third. Couture makes a pinpoint pass across the slot to former Wisconsin Badger Joe Pavelski who is streaking in all alone. Backstrom reads it perfectly and slides across in the butterfly to stuff him cold with an arm save.16:04 - MIN 1 - SJ 2 - Again, Backstrom makes a ridiculous save, but there's nothing he can do about the rebound. Patrick Marleau sends a fluttering pass to the front where Setoguchi redirects it right in front, and Backy somehow stops that. But the puck bounces right back to the stick of Setoguchi, and this time he puts it in. What more can the Wild keeper do? He has been stellar tonight, and yet he's given up two.
13:24 - MIN 1 - SJ 3 - Help us out Toronto. It's going to come down to video review as it looks like the Sharks convert on another power play. Pavelski fires a high-rising slap shot toward the goal, and Setoguchi, who has been all over the dang place, lifts his stick up high and deflects it in. Backstrom immediately says it was a highstick, and it is very, very close. The review comes back and although the ref doesn't have his microphone turned on, his gesture toward center ice leaves no doubt that the goal will stand. The Wild needs a drastic momentum shift as the Sharks have completely taken over this period.
12:33 - MIN 2 - SJ 3 - Koivu and Burns have been workin' it like Richard Simmons on the power play tonight. Once again, they find each other with the man advantage. This time, Burns pulls up along the sideboards and then dishes to Koivu cutting through the right circle. The Wild captain lets a high backhand go and it seems to surprise Niemi, who lets it squeeze through. That is a cold bottle of water on a stroll through the desert as the Wild really needed it.
7:07 - I'm running out of superlatives for the types of saves Backstrom is making tonight. Again, he makes a remarkable (have I used that yet?) stop on a point blank chance by former Wisconsin Badger Dany Heatley
. Backy gets a pad on that, and then he reaches back with his arm to deny Setoguchi trying to stuff the rebound in at the side of the net. My words aren't doing this goaltender performance justice. I need some video evidence to back up my claims.
4:08 - The Wild power play (and Backstrom) is the reason the Wild is just one goal back, and the unit nearly comes through again. Matt Cullen
cranks a shot right on, and Niemi stops that. For a brief moment, the puck sits in front, and Andrew Brunette tries to bang it in. He takes a few shoves from Vlasic for his efforts, but order is quickly restored. You don't see too many guys go after Brunette for long. His reputation as a class act precedes him. Period 3
18:20 - Word from PR guru Ryan Stanzel on location at HP Pavilion is that Nick Schultz suffered an upper body injury and will not return tonight.16:03 - MIN 2 - SJ 4 - There just aren't many playmakers out there like Thornton. He makes passes look so easy, as he does here. From the high slot, he doesn't even look in the direction of the net where Ferreiro is camped out at the side. Big Joe zips a backhand pass to him and when Backstrom slides over to his right, Ferreiro cuts to the front and stuffs the puck in.
13:51 - The Kyle Brodziak
line hasn't made much noise tonight, but the trio nearly connects here. After Clutterbuck absorbs a big hit in the slot, the puck comes to Brodziak who gets it down low to Havlat, but Niemi goes down into the splits and makes a big stop with the right leg pillow.
10:59 - Four goals aside, Backstrom continues to amaze. He throws out the left leg to stop a one-time missile off the stick of Ben Eager from the slot. Eager has a chance at the rebound but he fans a bit, and Backstrom is able to lunge on top of it for the whistle.
10:41 - I don't have a rulebook handy, but are punches to the back of the head acceptable now? After a Burns rush results in a Niemi save and cover, Havlat is battling one Shark, while Jason Demers deems it necessary to punch Havlat in the back of the head about five feet in front of the ref. The ref's response? He motions to Demers to "calm down." Atta way zebras. That's how you prevent senseless injuries. Tell the guys to "calm down." I'm sure Demers learned his lesson from that punishment.3:25 - MIN 3 - SJ 4 - You can hear the screams of Burns and Clutterbuck all the way back here in Minny. From a bad angle, Clutter just throws a low shot on goal, and Niemi butchers it by kicking the rebound way out. Burns is on the prowl and he swoops down low and roofs the rebound over Niemi. We've got a game here folks!
0:40.2 - Backstrom is off for the extra attacker.
0:29.2 - Koivu just misses with a wrist shot from the slot.
0:00 - The horn sounds and now the ugliness ensues. Brunette reacts to an earlier hit be drilling former Cornell Big Red Douglas Murray into the glass from behind. Murray responds with a punch to the back of Brunette's head and then everyone gets into the San Jose corner. Nothing too crazy happens, but Brunette is barking at Murray, and that's something you don't see often. That's it for tonight. Catch you from Chicago on Tuesday.