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Ho ho ho State of Hockey legion! I am using my customary Christmas greeting tonight, because alas, I will not be manning the live in-game commentary board on Thursday. In fact, in-game commentary will be non-existent on Thursday, as Carly Peters will also be off to do the family thing at the holiday time. Hey, we commentators need some family time, too.
But I'm not complaining. What do I look like? A punter for the Vikings? Tonight, we'll watch a team that plays through icy conditions every
night, and would do just about anything short of poking a gaping hole in the ceiling to get the chance to play a game outdoors in the snow and the cold. In the hockey world, we call that a Winter Classic. In the American football world, apparently they call it a reason to whine about players getting hurt if they fall on the hard surface. Well, welcome to our world NFL punters. When you start playing on the frozen pitch like our Wild boys and the Calgary Flames, we'll start feeling sorry for people that make their living kicking a ball and holding snaps for another kicker.
I know one guy who's got no sympathy for punters, aging quarterbacks or Calgary Flames players. His name is Nik Backstrom, and he's getting the start in goal tonight. While you might be in a giving mood this time of year, he might as well be heretofore known as Ebenezer and the Flames are a bunch of Bob Cratchits. They will get nothing this year, and I don't care how many ghosts visit Backstrom in his sleep tonight. You won't see Backy in his nightgown and nightcap running through the streets of St. Paul tomorrow and handing out goals against. And if you do, it will be too late to count in the standings.
I wish I had nothing but good news to share on this snowy night, but I do have to tell you that Nick Schultz is out of the lineup tonight with an upper body injury. Marco Scandella
, who was recalled today, will take his place in the lineup. Guillaume Latendresse
(abdominal) is also out due to injury. Brad Staubitz and Cam Barker are going to be the healthy scratches.
As for their holiday attire, the Wild will go with the festive home reds for tonight's game. The Flames are in the road whites trimmed in red, black and yellow with the burning "C" on the chest. It's almost as if I've seen these jerseys a lot recently.
See what happens when you "friend" the Minnesota Wild on Facebook? You could win the chance to declare "Let's Play Hockey" before a Wild game like Kari and Steph. Now my friends, we can let this game begin.Period 1
18:27 - The first great scoring chance of the evening goes to the Flames, but the first great save belongs to Backy. Former Michigan Wolverine David Moss finds former Alaska Anchorage Seawolf Curtis Glencross in front from behind the net. Glencross smashes a shot toward the upper corner, but Backstrom lunges across and throws his body in front of it like a Secret Service agent taking a bullet for the president. In this case, the president is the goal mouth.
15:39 - Clayton Stoner
is the only defender back on a three-on-one for Calgary, but he can breathe easy because the Flames make one too many passes and the puck slides harmlessly into the corner.
15:16 - This time, the Flames do get a shot off, and it's a good one as Matt Stajan gets a shot off from in tight. Backstrom is able to get his arm on the shot, but the puck is still in the danger zone and actually gets pushed behind him and slides through the crease. Yet, we're still scoreless so it's all good.
12:31 - I'll wager that Backstrom has dropped at least five pounds in the last seven minutes. He has been diving around in his crease like a toddler in a bouncy castle. After diving headlong to shuffle away an Alex Tanguay shot that was rolling toward the goal line, he makes another lunging save on Mark Giordano.10:42 - MIN 1 - CGY 0 - And that is how that's done. As they are known to do, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Martin Havlat put on a passing clinic to gain the Flames zone. Havlat then drops a pass to a hard-charging Scandella, and the young defenseman does the smart thing of sending a hard shot toward the goal with Kyle Brodziak camped out all alone in front. Miikka Kiprusoff stops the Scandella shot, but Brodzy scoops up the rebound and shovels it around Kipper for the big early advantage. Pencil Brodziak in for another goal tonight, but I can't guarantee it will count.
8:46 - The Wild nearly pads the lead as Mikko Koivu
leads a shorthanded two-on-one with John Madden on his right. Koivu's first pass is blocked, but he's able to get his next attempt over to the Mad Dog. He catches the pass and tries to go against the grain to put it in, but Kiprusoff is doing his best "Nick Punto sliding headfirst into first base" impression and it actually works in this case as he knocks the puck off Madden's stick.
1:51 - The Wild has played a pretty good first period, but the Flames have had some chances thus far. This is their best as Tanguay has a clear breakaway from his zone in. Greg Zanon is in hot pursuit, and that may be enough to scare Tanguay into shooting before he wants to, and he puts it over the net.
0:00 - The fans appreciate the effort in the first, and the Wild heads to the locker room with their collective heads held high.Period 2
17:53 - It's nights like this that you hope Wild fans realize what we have in Backstrom. Yes, he's had a few rough outtings, but I challenge you to find a goalie who hasn't. Keep in mind, Boston's Tim Thomas, who has been brilliant this year and won the Vezina two years ago, was yanked last year in favor of some guy named Tukka Rask. Anyway, the reason for my mini-rant is because Backy makes a very difficult save off a tip from Moss look exceptionally easy. 16:37 - MIN 1 - CGY 1 - Sure enough, I mention how good Backstrom is, and the Flames score. But this one isn't his fault, it's just another notch on the tally board for Jarome Iginla against the Wild. From the slot, he's able to muscle a pass to teh low right circle where Olli Jokinen pumps it on goal. Backstrom slides across and nearly makes a remarkable save, but he can only get a piece of it and it bounces over the goal line. This one won't be easy.
15:29 - Playing with some supreme playmakers, Brodziak shows some of his passing magic by flicking a backhand feed into the low slot for Bouchard. He gets a quick shot off, but Kipper plays this one perfectly and slides across to make the stop.
10:12 - Now this is what I'm talking about. Backstrom comes up with two ginormous saves on the doorstep on a mad scramble in front of the Wild net.
5:09 - In what I believe is a first since the Wild played in Finland, there is a wave going on right now in the crowd. It's not the biggest wave I've ever seen, but it's slowly gaining steam.
1:16 - Once again, Backstrom = stellar. Just seconds into a Wild power play, Glencross is racing in on a lone breakaway. Some critique Backy in the shootout, but he comes up big on this breakaway. He gives Glencross nothing and sponges up the shot so he can't have a crack at a rebound. Huge save going into the second intermission. Period 3
16:49 - As former Michigan Wolverine Brendan Morrison maneuvers behind the Wild net. Backstrom attempts a sweep check and catches Morrison in the skates, and that's going to be the first penalty of the year for the Wild keeper. The Wild will need a big penalty kill right here.13:47 - MIN 2 - CGY 1 - Oh that's just delicious! On the power play, Havlat gets the puck along the boards in the left corner. Facing the net, he just decides to head right for it while simply ignoring Jay Bouwmeester in his way. He gets to the crease and then flicks the puck into the far corner to put the good guys up a goal. In basketball, you'd call this "taking it to the hole." On Wild.com, we call it an early favorite for next week's Plays of the Week.
10:01 - MIN 3 - CGY 1 - Boom! That's just John Madden being John Madden. He loves to play hockey, and great hockey players love to play hockey. On the power play, he gets the puck along the goal line to the left of Kiprusoff. Rather than putting a pass out front, he just throws the puck at the side of the net and banks it off Kipper and in for a huge insurance marker. The Wild had been zero for their last 27 power plays at home, and now they are two for their last two.
1:46 - The Flames have pulled Kiprusoff for an extra attacker and now have a 6-on-4. A Wild clearing attempt pops right to Iginla in front, but again, Backstrom builds the wall and snuffs out that chance.0:45.1 - MIN 4 - CGY 1 - The sweep is nearly complete. Cal Clutterbuck fires one into the vacated net to seal the deal. That's four huge points for the Wild in this home-and-home series and another step toward the rest of the pack in the West.
0:00 - Sound the horn! That's a big win for the good guys. Next stop...Denver! In-game commentary will be on a hiatus for that game, but will be back with a vengeance for the December 26 showdown against Detroit. Happy holidays everybody!