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Welcome back State of Hockey legion! Break's over, and it's time to get down to brass tacks. But before we do, I'd be remiss if I didn't wish you a Happy Backward Day. As you know, today's the day when you're supposed to do everything backward, like eat your dessert before your dinner, or walking backward to your car or wearing your clothes the wrong way like Kris Kross. I suppose in keeping with the holiday tradition, I should start off tonight's commentary presented by Sun Country Airlines by mentioning that the Wild beat the Nashville Predators by a score of 4-1. We can fill in the rest of the details later.
I am coming to you live from my perch in the Al Shaver Press Box, and while I'd like to face away from the rink out of respect to the holiday, I just can't do it. The games are too big now that the All-Star break is over. There's just 33 games left in this season, and if the Wild wins out, they're assured of a playoff berth. I'm not saying that's guaranteed to happen, but I'm also not saying it won't happen.
It all starts with one game, and I feel good about tonight's because Josh Harding
is getting the start in goal for the good guys. Harding is getting the lion's share of work during pregame warmups and if I can be quite candid, he looks phenomenal. It could be a rough night for the Preds and their rabid fan base led by Carrie Underwood.
The Wild players are starting to heal up from injuries as well, and that bodes well for a 35-game win streak. But tonight, the club is still going to be without Pierre-Marc Bouchard
(concussion), Mikko Koivu
(upper body), Guillaume Latendresse
(concussion) and Jarod Palmer
(concussion). Mike Lundin
, Brad Staubitz and Marek Zidlicky are going to be the healthy scratches.
If fashion is your thing, I've got what you're looking for now. The Wild will be wearing their home reds for this one. The Predators are sporting the road whites trimmed in yellow and blue with the snarling prehistoric cat on the chest.
The Concordia Volleyball team, which pretty much just dominates on the hardwood, gets us started with the "Let's Play Hockey" declaration. Let's get it started.Period 1
18:29 - Fresh off his appearance at the All-Star Weekend when he was a designated passer in the skills competition, Nick Johnson
shows his skills once again. From deep inside the Nashville zone, he throws a great pass to the front of the net where Kyle Brodziak
puts a mean tip on it. Pekka Rinne does a nice job to stay with it as he makes the save with his shoulder.
16:59 - Harding faces his first test as another All Star youngster Craig Smith gets loose in the slot. The former Wisconsin Badger rifles a quick shot but Harding gets an arm on it and then gloves the floating puck to prevent a juicy rebound.
13:14 - The Wild catches a break as David Legwand leads a rush into the Minnesota zone. He throws a pass across to Patric Hornqvist, who has Harding down and an open net. But he's in a little too deep and puts his shot off the outside of the iron.11:56 - MIN 1 - NSH 0 - Dare I say that Dany Heatley is...heating up? You don't know how excited I was to use that joke. Almost as excited as Heatley is to put the Wild up a goal with his third tally in three straight games. The dirty work on this one is done by Johnson, who outworks three Predators behind the Nashville net and then puts one out front to the Heater. He one-times one over the glove and off the post and in to turn the red light on. From one All-Star to another.
9:16 - The Preds are on the power play, but the home crowd gets a kick out of some miscommunication between Hornqvist and Martin Erat who collide in the offensive zone, allowing the Wild to clear the puck.
7:54 - What an effort by Brodziak. At the end of the Wild's kill, he chases a loose puck into the Predator end. He then challenges All-Star defenseman Shea Weber. The star defenseman has to hold Brodziak, who still fights it off to get in on Rinne with a great backhand. Rinne makes that save and several more before the whistle is finally blown and the Wild goes on the power play. 7:24 - MIN 2 - NSH 0 - He's officially feeling it, folks. Heatley can't be stopped right now, and this time he does it on the power play. Matt Cullen puts a centering pass out front, but the puck is airborne. Not a big deal for Heatley, who bats the puck down and then smacks it out of midair past Rinne. That's now 17 goals for Heatley, and 30 goals seems very realistic. Maybe not in this game, but definitely for the season.
4:25 - Look out Craig Smith. That's big Matt Kassian
that has you lined up, and he's not missing. He crunches the prized rookie against the glass and drops him like a sack of bricks.
2:54 - Former Boston University Terrier Colin Wilson puts a centering feed to the goal mouth for Hornqvist, who is stoned by Harding, who absorbs it in his equipment. Hornqvist uses his stick to push Harding all the way across the goal line, and that's not going to sit well with the Wild defensemen, who jump all over Hornqvist and Nick Spaling nearby. There won't be any penalties, but a message has been sent to stay away from Harding.
0:00 - That's how you start off the post All-Star break season. We'll keep that going for another 40 minutes and then we'll walk out of here (backwards) with a win.Period 2
18:53 - The Wild has definitely had the better of the physical play tonight. The Nashville forwards are taking a beating, and that continues here as Nate Prosser
smashes Erat against the glass behind the Wild net. 18:31 - MIN 3 - NSH 0 - That's in baby! The cushion grows to three goals as Cal Clutterbuck takes a neutral zone pass from Cullen and wheels up the left side. While fighting off a check from Kevin Klein, Clutter throws it on net from a shallow angle. Rinne makes the save, but the rebound bounces off Clutterbuck's skate and trickles over the line. That guy just finds a way to come up with big goals.
15:21 - We almost just saw a mess of hats thrown onto the ice. Brodziak gets into the Preds zone and throws a pass to the left for Heatley. He makes a bid for the trick with a wicked snap shot but Rinne flashes the lobster mitt for a big save. Heatley takes an extra second to look in at Rinne, wondering where he gets the nerve to deny him the hatty.
13:07 - This isn't good, and not because Brodziak is stopped on a rush. At the end of the play, Jared Spurgeon
, who had raced ahead to join the rush, takes a slash across the arm from Sergei Kostitsyn. Spurgeon skates right to the bench with his left arm hanging and he heads straight for the locker room.10:27 - MIN 3 - NSH 1 - The Predators are alive. Weber cranks a shot from the point toward the goal. Hornqvist, who has been all over the place tonight, reaches to his right to put a perfect deflection on the shot to bounce it past Harding. Still, I don't get that feeling that this one will turn the tide. The Wild has played too well to this point.
3:54 - The Preds have picked up their play since denting the scoreboard. Harding has had to be strong, and he makes another solid stop off a Ryan Ellis one-timer from the point that is sponged up in goalie gear.
1:58 - Cullen is feeling it tonight as well, although he's in dish off mode. He screams up the left side and then feeds one to Devin Setoguchi
who is going to the net hard. Seto puts a quick shot right on from five feet out, but Rinne just does get enough of it to keep it from crossing the line.
0:27.8 - Clutterbuck tries to line up Weber with a big hit in the neutral zone, but the big blueliner gets out of the way and Clutterbuck goes flailing to the ice. You can't connect everytime.
0:00 - Like the first, the second period ends with the Wild up by a pair. Look for a couple insurance goals in the third and we'll pack away the two points.Period 3
19:44 - MIN 4 - NSH 1 - Kyle Brodziak has had so many chances over the past few games, but only had one goal to show for it. This time, he's got an easy tap in, and he usually doesn't miss from two inches away. But again, the bulk of the work is done by All Star Johnson, who wheels to the front of the net and tries to stuff a backhand in. The puck wriggles its way through Rinne and stops just shy of the goal line. Brodzy is right there to tap it in and we've got a 4-1 lead. You've got to love these early period tallies, am I right?
12:15 - After getting knocked to the ice, Harding scrambles in his crease while former Colorado College Tiger Jack Hillen attempts to stuff one in. Despite being on his belly, Harding denies him a couple times before the puck is finally cleared.10:38 - MIN 4 - NSH 2 - It looked like the Wild might catch a break, but a review of this one gives the Predators a goal. Matt Halischuk darts to the front of the net from the corner and tries to stuff one in. The puck is underneath Harding and the whistle is blown. But when Harding lifts his pad, the puck is over the line. The call is overturned after review, and former Boston University Terrier Brandon Yip is somehow going to get credit for it.
6:01 - Clutterbuck does some nifty dancing and dipsy-doodling all around the neutral zone until he finally steams into the Nashville zone and fires off that high wrister of his. Rinne gloves it, but the crowd gets a kick out of the impressive rush.
4:47 - Wow! Rinne saves the game for the Preds with a highlight reel save. Clutterbuck cuts through the right circle and then puts the puck right on Cullen's tape on the other side. Cullen appears to have a lay up, but Rinne stacks the pads to his right and comes up with a spectacular stop with the leg pillow.3:21 - MIN 4 - NSH 3 - Things are going to get very interesting. Hornqvist finally breaks through, and Harding doesn't like it. After putting a shot off the side of the net, Hornqvist gets the puck, and goes back to the front to try and stuff it in. Harding makes the stop and attempts to cover up, but Hornqvist keeps poking away and jams it over the line.
3:00 - MIN 4 - NSH 4 - Not good, unless you're an American Idol winner, or her husband. The Preds don't take long to get the equalizer. A pretty passing play by Wilson to Erat to Wilson to Mike Fisher in front for a tap in has this thing knotted up. The Wild calls timeout, and what seemed like a sure victory is now anybody's game, and the Preds have the momentum.
0:20.8 - MIN 4 - NSH 5 - What just happened? Not only is the Wild in danger of not getting two points, it's now on the verge of not getting any. This one isn't pretty, as Fisher just intercepts a clearing attempt along the sideboards and flicks a low wrister in on Harding. The Wild keeper seems to be suprised by the shot and the puck slips underneath him. This place is silenced suddenly.
0:00 - That's deflating. The Wild has a sure victory snatched away and they come away with zero points. A tough one to swallow, but they'll have to get those two points back on Thursday in Colorado.