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Ahoy there State of Hockey legion! Welcome to another Florida edition of live in-game commentary, where the sun is shining, the temperature keeps rising and professional football teams win games. And yet, I can't wait to get out of this place and back to the State of Hockey. I think everybody in a Minnesota Wild uniform feels the same way, but there's still some business to take care of.
The business I speak of is a pummeling of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and I don't mean to be harsh, but they are in the way. The Wild has dropped two in a row on this trip, and the boys are going to be a bit surly today. I'm sure the Lightning players are all stand up gentlemen, like former Wild players Dominic Moore and Adam Hall. But this is show business, not show friends and it's time to make life miserable for a team's fans other than the ones who religously put on purple jerseys and horned helmets every Sunday.
Fortunately, nobody in Minnesota knows how to make fans in other cities feel bad like Niklas Backstrom
. He's all about making saves and causing ulcers for the opposition. He'll be getting the start tonight after getting a night off on Friday. That means he's rested and focused in. Sorry Tampa.
The bad news gets worse for the folks in Lightning jerseys. Marek Zidlicky is returning to the lineup after missing three games with a lower body injury. And, Robbie Earl is back in a Wild uniform. We all remember what he did last year during his first call up - scored two goals against the Carolina Hurricanes. I expect him to double that output tonight and put up a cool four tallies. It looks as though Clayton Stoner
will be the only healthy scratch tonight, while Pierre-Marc Bouchard
(concussion), Guillaume Latendresse
(lower body) and Chuck Kobasew (lower body) are out with injuries.
As for attire, the Wild are going with the road whites for the third time in four days, and they have to be getting a little pungent at this point. I'd hate to be Assistant Equipment Manager Matt Benz who is going to have to clean all those garments tomorrow. The Lightning are going with their blue third jerseys, trimmed in black, white and silver with "Bolts" writting diagonally across the chest. I assume "Bolts" is slang for lightning.
Today should be highly entertaining because I am sitting directly to the right of Star Tribune beat writer Mike Russo, the most intense beat writer in the NHL. He's fuming right now because "Tonight's Going to be a Good Night" by Black Eyed Peas is blasting in the St. Pete Times Forum. I can't print what he's saying, but I can tell you that he's starting to bob his head now that the song as switched to a Ke$ha song.
Remember when I said it's time to take care of business? That time is now. Time to punch in and do work.Period 1
15:23 - The Wild has some good jump in the legs early, and looks to have an opportunity here. Cal Clutterbuck
pokes a pass away from former Clarkson Knight Randy Jones at the Tampa Wild blueline, and races the other way. The puck skitters away pretty quickly, and Clutter has to go a long way to retrieve it. When he does, he's got John Madden burning down the slot, but Jones dives and makes a great play to knock away Clutter's pass.
13:28 - Minnesota catches a break here. The puck is poked out to center, and Greg Zanon is in a foot race with former Vermont Catamount Martin St. Louis in the neutral zone. That's a race that would usually be won by St. Louis, but luckily Steve Downie had tripped Marty Havlat earlier and the whistle blows when St. Louis toughes the puck and is about to get a clear breakaway.12:44 - MIN 1 - TBL 0 - This is what you'd call "justice." Clutterbuck cruelly had a goal taken away from him by a blown call in Florida. But these things have a way of evening out. On the power play, Clutter gains the zone and rips a shot that misses well wide, but the puck caroms hard off the backboards. It bounces right into the crease and off the back of the leg of former Nebraska Omaha Maverick goaltender, Dan Ellis. Clutter will get the credit, and he's now moved into the Wild lead for goals with six.
9:44 - The Lightning very nearly get this thing tied up, but Backstrom stays nimble to make his first big stop of the night. The puck gets kicked around behind the Wild net, and ends up at the side where Johan Harju tries to put it in off Backy. The Wild keeper gets over quickly to make a skate save, and then he does a great job of holding out with former Harvard Crimson Moore there to whack at the rebound.8:29 - MIN 1 - TBL 1 - You could sense this one coming. On their first power play, the Lightning open up a shooting gallery on Backstrom. Nik makes a couple of tough saves, but the puck keeps landing on the sticks of guys in blue sweaters. The puck is finally worked around the perimeter before St. Louis crushes a one-timer from above the right circle that beats Backstrom on the glove side.
7:25 - A turnover in the neutral zone leads to a partial break the other way for St. Louis. He gets to the right circle, and is obviously feeling pretty good about his slapper after the last goal. He drills another slapper from close range, but Backstrom is way out of his net and ready to swallow up the blast. 7:05 - MIN 2 - TBL 1 - Set ups don't come much prettier than this one as the Wild quickly answers with a spectacular play. Havlat gets a full head of steam as he races behind the net. Ellis goes to his right to stay with him, but Havlat throws a pass back from whence he came and that's where Madden easily punches it into the empty net to grab the lead again. After a day full of runs for no gain and small dump passes, seeing this early offense is a nice surprise.
3:59 - On a Lightning power play, the puck is sent back to Mattias Ohlund at the point. Ohlund, who of course is the guy that took the vicious chop at the back of Mikko Koivu
's legs a few years back, winds up for a shot and then just falls over. I enjoy seeing that, and hope to see it many more times tonight.
1:54 - Clutter is incensed right now after taking a high stick to the face by Steven Stamkos. After not getting the call, Clutter offers a few whacks at Stamkos and holds onto him a bit as the play goes the other way. The League's best goal scorer may have just moved to the top of Cal's hit list.0:29.4 - MIN 3 - TBL 1 - Boom goes the dynamite! The top power play in the NHL strikes again, as the "big dogs" get to eating. Koivu rings the puck down into Andrew Brunette's office behind the net. He grabs the puck and looks up just enough to see Antti Miettinen cutting down the slot. He puts it right on Antti's tape, and number 20 buries the one-timer past Ellis for a huge goal in the final minute of the first.
0:00 - Despite getting outshot by a 16-6 margin, the Wild leads where it counts on the big board. After scoring two goals in the first two games of the trip, the Wild has exploded for three in the first 20 today. I think I might start serenading Russo with "Tonight's gonna be a good, good night!"Period 2
19:14 - A shot from the point gets to Backstrom, and Moore and former St. Cloud State Husky Ryan Malone are both behind the defense. Fortunately, Backstrom sponges up the rebound with both of them looking for a juicy opportunity.
13:18 - Just seconds after setting up a great scoring chance in the offensive end, Earl saves a goal in his own end. Stamkos gets the puck alone in front of the net and has he shifts the puck to his shooting side, Earl drops him to the ice with a well-timed check, forcing a shot just wide of the cage.
10:25 - Clutter and his 'stache are everywhere tonight. After Zanon chips the puck out of his zone, Clutter is sprung on a breakaway the other way. He had to stop and change direction, which allows Steve Downie to catch him from behind. Clutter still gets a shot off, but he misses wide with the wrister.
8:59 - Right in front of the zebras in the Wild zone, Malone holds on to Justin Falk
's stick for a good five seconds. Finally realizing he's not going to get a call, Falk responds by just blasting Malone to the ice. Malone responds with a slash, and that about does it for Falk. He wants to go and grabs Malone by the collar, but he skates off to the other end where Kyle Brodziak
is robbed of a great scoring chance.
4:33 - Backy to the rescue again! The Lightning have had their scoring chances cut down considerably in the second, but Downie has a great chance racing down the slot. He fires a heavy wrister from point blank range that Backstrom stops, but gives up a rebound. Downie has another crack at it, but no dice there, either. Backstrom finally scrambles out high and pounces on a loose puck.
2:25 - Eric Nystrom is still in search of number one in a Wild sweater. After a shot gets deflected on Ellis, Nys is right there on the doorstep looking at a wide open cage. He looks like he's got this on in the bag, but someone gets a stick on him at the last instant and he punches the shot over the net.
0:15.6 - After a shaky-at-times debut, Marco Scandella
has rebounded with a stellar performance in outing number two. He has been playing a great defensive game, and he's showing a nasty streak as well. After Backstrom covers up a puck in his crease, Downie tries to get at Backy, but Marco's not letting that happen. He stands his ground and those two start grappling a bit. Both are going to get a couple minors, but Scandella serves notice that he doesn't get moved easily.Period 3
20:00 - Due to the loss of a wireless internet connection, live, in-game commentary will not be available for the rest of the game. Sorry for any inconvenience.