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Hey oh State of Hockey legion! How goes the battle? Of course, the only way you're allowed to respond to that question is by saying, "It goes!" followed by some fake awkward laughter between the two of us. But now that we've got the greetings out of the way, we can get down to brass tacks. First, we should wish a Happy Birthday to Joaquin Phoenix, who turns 36 today. You might know Joaquin from movies like "To Die For," "Gladiator" and "Walk the Line." I just remember him for his stellar rap career. Phoenix is a huge Wild fan, so tonight's live in-game commentary is dedicated to him. Happy birthday J.P.!
Now then, you may have heard the Washington Capitals are in town, and they brought along a player named Karl Alzner. That must explain all of the red, white and blue jerseys packed around the Washington end during pregame warmups. I have bad news for all those Alzner fans and fans of his team. They are in trouble tonight.
The reason I sound so confident (borderline cocky) is because when I look to my right from my perch here in the Al Shaver Press Box, I see Niklas Backstrom
making repeated saves in warmups. Backy is red hot, and he'll be getting the start tonight, and I haven't talked to him today, but I know his mission will be to upset all of those Alzner fans in the building tonight.
By no means will it be a cakewalk for Backstrom and his mates tonight. For one, Washington is very good. For two, there will be three key regulars missing from the lineup. Cam Barker (groin), Guillaume Latendresse
(groin) and Antti Miettinen (illness) are all out for tonight's game. Pierre-Marc Bouchard
(concussion) remains out, and that means Colton Gillies, Casey Wellman and Clayton Stoner
are all in.
Finally, we can talk about clothing and who doesn't love to talk about clothing? The Wild will wear the home red sweaters for this one tonight. The Caps are donning the road whites trimmed in blue and red with "capitals" on the chest.
We're only going to have two refs and one linesman tonight because linesman Mike Cvik's gear didn't arrive in time. Big deal! Find an extra pair of skates and get out there in your skivvies, Mike. You can't embarrass the zebras anymore than they already do.
Since we're celebrating Hockey Fights Cancer tonight, we've got young cancer survivors/heroes Luke Letellier and Brooke Clarke here to do the "Let's Play Hockey" declaration. They nail it, and we are set to go.Period 1
18:48 - Mamma mia! This would have been the start we were looking for. The Wild buzz Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth, and Greg Zanon sends a long, low shot on goal. Neuvirth makes a pad stop, kicking it over to the right where Andrew Brunette is camped out. From a shallow angle, Bruno lifts a shot, but puts it off the inside of the far post.
15:50 - Alexander Ovechkin (never heard of him) makes a pretty move in the neutral zone to step around Chuck Kobasew. That was slick, but it's not going to work in Brent Burns. Burnzie meets the Russian at the blue line and dumps him to the ice to the enjoyment of the crowd.12:12 - MIN 1 - WSH 0 - Atta boy Chucky! There's nothing wrong with Chuck Kobasew, he just needed a little changeup to get going. He buries his first goal of the year with a layup after a perfect centering feed from Brunette that zips across the crease and lands right on the tape. Kobasew is playing his first game on a line with Bruno and Mikko Koivu, and it's working so far. As all five fans of in-game commentary know, I picked Kobasew to have a breakout year. Did I tell you, or did I tell you?
10:03 - It has not been a good night for the officials tonight. First, Mike Cvik has his luggage lost, and here, Bill McCreary is on the losing end of a collision with Koivu in the Washington corner. McCreary is not exactly moving around nimbly after that getting dumped to the ice.
5:18 - Mike Green, one of the best offensive defensemen in the game, gets some room in the Wild zone. He gets to the top of the right circle and fires a quick snapper, but Backstrom is up to the task, knocking it down with the big mitt.
2:58 - Wellman is skating on a line with Matt Cullen
and Martin Havlat, and he's fitting in just fine so far. He makes a great little dish from the slot down to Cullen cutting to the net. Cullen can't quite find the handle as he gets right in on Neuvirth and is unable to stuff it past him.
0:00 - And that's going to do it for the first period, and it's a pretty good one for the Wild. They've got a lead, a small advantage in the shot department and overall have a good attitude. What more can you ask for, really?Period 2
18:58 - Greg Zanon steps up at the Wild blueline to confront Green as he enters the zone with a puck. Both players go down in a violent collision against the sideboards, and Green seems to get the worst of it. He slowly makes his way back to his bench.
16:03 - The dangerous Washington power play is out there now, but even some tic-tac-toe passing won't work on Backstrom. The Caps move it around and then former Michigan Wolverine is set up for a wide open one-timer from the left circle. Backstrom slides to his right and makes a remarkable save with the leg pillow.
13:30 - Is the gear here? I'm looking down to my right and there is a linesman standing in the Zamboni tunnel. I'm not sure if that's Cvik or another guy, but we're about to have four zebras again.
12:28 - The Wild starts taking the play to the Caps now that both teams are at even strength. Nick Schultz winds up and sends the puck right to the front where Eric Nystrom puts his stick on it, but taps it just wide. The puck ricochets off the backboard and to the right where Cal Clutterbuck
quickly turns and fires a shallow angle shot that Neuvirth has to make a tough save on.
10:50 - Thor Nelson is now the second linesman on the ice. Welcome Thor, it's nice to see you.
9:30 - Dare I say, I "glove" it! Niklas Backstrom
robs Nicklas Backstrom from point blank range with as good a glove save you'll ever see. We are talking six feet to react to a high wrister. Just a gem!
7:35 - Players dream about that once-a-year opportunity when they come out of the penalty box right as the puck comes to center ice. Koivu gets that chance and has a lone breakaway on Neuvirth. He tries to put a quick shot on the blocker side, but he misses just wide.
4:15 - Ow! John Carlson, the hero of Team USA's World Junior Championship team last season, has a puck pop up and get him right in the kisser. Luckily, he's right by the Washington bench and he heads right off the ice and makes his way to the locker room.
2:04 - The Caps think they have the equalizer as a shot from the left side bounces off Backstrom's pad, and off the post. The puck lays behind Backy, and it goes in, but only after the refs immediately wave it off and rule that he is shoved in by a net crashing Jason Chimera. I say it's a good call, but I'm also a huge homer.0:15.4 - MIN 2 - WSH 0 - Count it! With the Wild on the power play, there's a delayed call coming against the Caps. The Wild won't need the two-man advantage because Cullen fans on a shot from the slot, which confuses everybody excepts Koivu. He scoops up the loose puck in the slot and fires a laser into the net for a huge momentum boost going into intermission. Bonus, the Wild will still get a full two minute power play after this. Period 3
19:11 - Havlat carries up the left side on a Wild power play while his teammates go off for a change. With no other option, he lets a wrister go from a shallow angle and nearly picks the far corner, but Neuvirth snatches it out of the air with the glove.
18:56 - After a turnover at the blue line, Alexander Semin races the other way on a breakway. He's got Kobasew charging after him from behind, and that may be enough to fluster him just a bit as he shoots from pretty far out and misses wide.
17:00 - Backy is in that zone tonight, and there's not getting him out of it. Ovechkin finds an open Green deep in the left circle, and he puts a one-timer right on, but the Wild keeper slides across quickly and sponges it up in his chestal region. Supposedly, he only has 13 saves, but he's easily your Star of the Game thus far.
14:08 - Neuvirth shows he's got some game on the other end. From his office behind the net, Bruno puts a perfect pass into the slot for Kobasew. He quickly gets rid of it with a shot right on, but the Caps target slides over and puts up the wall with a beauty.
7:28 - We've got some action up in this crib, yo. The Caps come racing into the Wild zone with Semin carrying the puck up the right side. He crushes a high, hard slapper right on, but Backstrom calmly snares it, and then gets bowled over by Chimera, who can't leave our keeper alone. The Wild players take exception and there's a bit of a pileup behind the net, but Chimera's going to be the only player headed to the box.
6:00 - Oh my! We're seeing a goaltender showcase tonight. Bruno has just been a set up wizard tonight, and he makes a gorgeous one-time pass from the corner into the slot. Cullen, pinching in from the point on the power play, fires a missile labeled for the upper corner, but Neuvirth again has a quick draw and flicks his glove up for the catch.1:36 - MIN 2 - WSH 1 - Ovechkin decides he's had enough of this Backstrom dominance. As he so often does, he takes over a single play completely. He skates into the Wild zone on the left side, then cuts into the slot. He waits until he can't wait any longer, and then fires a heavy wrister that squeezes through Backstrom and in. It will be an interesting final minute and a half.
0:42.7 - Timeout bad guys.
0:05.8 - Player...of...the...gaaaame. A last ditch effort for Washington is a Nicklas Backstrom wrister, but the Nik with no "C" pulls out another spectacular glove stop.
0:00 - How about that
showing for the home squad? Going up against one of the NHL's best, the Wild stands tall all game and pulls out a big victory.