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Good morning State of Hockey legion! Welcome to a special edition of live in-game commentary coming to you from the other side of the world in a lovely land called "Finland." As you know, today is Opening Day in the NHL, but it's also Taylor Hicks' birthday. As you know, Hicks was the salt and pepper haired American Idol champion in Season Five. He has since pumped us up with tunes like "Just To Feel That Way," "I Live On A Battlefield" and my personal favorite, "Dream Myself Awake." So let us raise a Lapin Kulta to Mr. Hicks on this, his 35th birthday.
Taylor is from Birmingham, Alabama, which means there is a chance he's a Caniac and rooting for the Carolina Hurricanes against our
Minnesota Wild today. I got news for you Taylor, your happy day is about to become a nightmare. I'm currently sitting in a makeshift press row at one corner of Hartwall Areena, and I am watching our Wild churning their legs during pregame warmups. They look ready to start this season with some good juju.
Much to the delight of almost everyone in the building, Nik Backstrom is getting the start for Minnesota today. I haven't seen a warmup shot get by him yet, and I expect that dominance to last into 60 minutes of regulation.
As for the lineup, you can cross Marek Zidlicky off your game program, which I hope is written in Finnish in honor of the NHL Premiere. Zid is having some groin issues and will not play. That means Clayton Stoner
will play his first-ever season opener. The lone healthy scratch tonight is going to be rookie Casey Wellman. That means Brad Staubitz will be one of four players making their Wild debuts tonight.
As for couture, the Wild is the home team for tonight's game and will be wearing the classic reds for this one. The Canes are in their road whites trimmed in black and red with the spaceship on the chest.
The starting lineups are announced and all three Wild Finns have their name called. There's no doubt, the biggest response is generated by Koivu.
Before we kick things off, we'll watch a wonderful pregame ceremony honoring Finnish hockey legend and Helsinki native Jari Kurri, Jyrki Lumme, Esa Tikkanen and Sami Peltonen. Kurri has his Finnish number 17 hanging from the rafters. I'm not sure if that number is retired country wide, or just here in Helsinki. Either way, he is a hero here in Finland. He drops the opening faceoff for Mikko Koivu
and Jussi Jokinen.
We are good to go. Let the season begin!Period 1
20:00 - First off, we've got a great crowd in here, and they are obviously thrilled to see Kurri on the ice. There are a few empty sections in the upper reaches of the areena, but for the most part, people are packed in here. The Minnesota fans on the trip are not seated far from the Carolina folks who traveled here, so things could get interesting.
18:53 - Backstrom gets that all important first save of the year out of the way. He stands up to an Eric Staal wrister with a midsection save. You never want to give up a goal on the first shot of the year, so we're good there.
17:17 - The Finnish fans get a look at what we love to see from Cal Clutterbuck
. He lines up another 22, former Ohio State Buckeye Zac Dalpe and buries him on the ice. The first big "Oooooh" rises from the crowd.16:27 - MIN 1 - CAR 0 - How's that for a start? Guillaume Latendresse, who was questionable to even play this game, picks up where he left off last year. Koivu gets the puck behind the net and then sends a nifty backhand pass into the slot. From about 15 feet out, Latendresse one-times a low shot through the wickets of Cam Ward. That's usually a little out of G-Lat's range, but the guy scores goals. What can you do?
14:39 - I have missed hockey that actually counts. We've seen more solid action in the first five minutes than all of the preseason. After another bid from Latendresse is snubbed by a nice save from Ward, the Canes race the other way. The play ends with Anton Babchuk rocketing a riser toward the top shelf but Backstrom makes a brilliant glove save and hangs on.
13:23 - I am literally sitting right next to fans since my "workspace" is in the seats. I'm next to a Porboo, Finland native named J, who used to live in Florida. He just asked me if that is Mike Russo sitting down the row from me, because he used to read him when he lived in Miami. Oh great, just what we need is more reasons for Russo to talk about his time in Florida.
8:28 - We've got a rather lengthy delay as something seems to be amiss at the scorer's table.
5:16 - Backstrom gets knocked down by a Cane as he comes out to cut down an angle. Luckily, the shot is deflected wide as Backstrom gets knocked to his stomach. He is clearly unhappy and saying something to the refs. He does not enjoy being hit in his crease. He's very much like Dwayne Roloson in that respect.
3:49 - Oh my word. Ward makes his best save of the night on Cal Clutterbuck
. Clutter gathers the puck at the top of the right circle and wheels around to let loose with that blistering wrister of his. This one looks pegged for the upper corner but Ward flashes the leather and snares it with his arm snapping back.
1:04 - The Cullen line does an outstanding job of working the puck around the Carolina zone. From behind the net, Cullen quickly fires a hard pass out to the top of the left circle for Clutter. He one-times another perfect shot, but Ward again has his number.0:09.7 - MIN 1 - CAR 1 - Tie game. A late Wild penalty leads to a very late power play goal. Brandon Sutter camps out right in front of Backstrom and he tips home a perfect centering feed from former U.S. Olympian Tim Gleason. That puts a damper on what was a great first period for the good guys.
0:00 - The horn sounds to end a very entertaining opening period to the season. I might go see if they have any reindeer steaks somewhere.Period 2
18:41 - The Wild power play gets its first crack at some ice time. The top unit makes a beautiful tic-tac-toe play with Koivu dishing to Cullen, who quickly hits Antti Miettinen cruising down the slot. Mittens puts a one-timer on goal, but Ward makes another big save.
18:07 - Mittens has another great chance. He gets loose in front and puts a wrist shot right at the top corner, but Ward makes a spectacular blocker save. Does anybody have worse puck luck than Antti? J looks over at me and jokes, "trade that lousy Finnish player."
16:26 - Ward seems to have found his rhythym. The Wild's third line works the puck free in the Carolina zone and Chuck Kobasew makes a nice feed to an open Eric Nystrom. The former Michigan Wolverine steps into a slapper and tries to get Ward going the other way. It's not to be. The keeper flashes his left pad out for an acrobatic stop.14:02 - MIN 1 - CAR 2 - With Ward holding them in, the Canes reward him by marching into the Wild zone and taking the lead. A shot hits traffic in the slot and bounces every which way. With Backstrom down on his side, Babchuk gathers the puck and quickly spins around with a backhand shot that lifts over the Wild keeper and in.
12:32 - Backstrom comes up big on a rush by the Canes, followed by a flurry in front. He stops the initial wrister, but then has to quickly regroup to make a huge point blank stop on Jokinen.10:08 - MIN 2 - CAR 2 - It's the Minnesota Kid! The Wild gets a power play and it's Cullen becoming the fifth Minnesota native to score a goal for the Wild. A loose puck bounces right to Havlat in the slot. He turns and puts a hard, low shot on goal. Ward makes the stop but the rebound pops right back out to Cullen, who knocks it in against his former team.
9:21 - This isn't ideal. Cullen takes a slashing penalty and the Canes now have a two-man advantage for 1:50.8:44 - MIN 2 - CAR 3 - The Canes don't need the 1:50. Jokinen gets the puck in the right circle. He tries to send a pass to the opposite side of the goal, but it skims off the stick of Nick Schultz and fools Backstrom. Joni Pitkanen gets one of the assists, meaning two Finns figure in the goal.
3:20 - Backstrom has made some big stops to keep his club within a goal, and this might be the biggest. Chad LaRose gets loose in the right circle and one times a rocket, but Backy slides over and is perfectly positioned to swallow it up.1:57 MIN 2 - CAR 4 - The Canes finally do pad the lead. Patrick Dwyer rushes the puck up the right side. While fighting off a check from Nick Schultz, Dwyer gets a shallow angle shot off. Backstrom makes the save but the rebound pops right out to a net crashing Sutter, who buries his second of the night.Period 3
19:16 - In battling for the puck directly behind the Carolina net, Clutter inadvertently chips the puck over the top of the net. Ward has no idea where it is and it drops right in front of him in the crease. Nobody can knock it home.
18:59 - Cullen is a man possessed tonight. He very nearly bags his second on the power play, unleashing a wrist shot from the left circle that clanks off the post.
9:53 - I was expecting to wait a little longer to see the save of the year, but I think I just witnessed it. The Canes come rushing down the ice and a long shot is stopped by Backstrom. The rebound bounces all over the place, and is put right back on goal at a wide open net. Backy is on his knees at the top of the crease, but somehow he reaches back and hits the puck out of the air about three feet off the ice. Unbelievable! Unfortunately, I can't get a replay in this building to save my life.
8:45 - Brent Burns causes a turnover in the Wild zone and races the other way on a pretty rush. With Miettinen on his right, he makes a nifty backhand pass over to him, but Ward stacks the pillows while sliding over to make another big time stop.
4:58 - Tempers are getting short for this first time in this game. Gleason and Latendresse have some words behind the Carolina net just seconds after Havlat and G-Lat generate three scoring chances in less than a minute. Unfortunately, Ward either makes the stops, or the shots are missing by inches.
4:49 - Former Wisconsin Badger Jamie McBain takes a holding penalty, and the Wild appears to have one more chance at mounting a comeback.
4:14 - I really hope Cam Ward gets tomorrow off. It is the second of back-to-backs after all. He continues to come up big. Havlat, who has been very good tonight, streaks up the left side and gets in a alone on Ward. He tries to steer one by him, but once again, he's denied.3:21 - MIN 3 - CAR 4 - There it is! The Wild power play connects, and we've got ourselves a game. The puck comes out to Burns at the blue line, and he's got some space. He takes a few big strides and when he's even with the top of the circle, he sends a low shot toward the goal. He definitely does not get all of it, but he finds a perfect spot between the pads of Ward.
1:29 - The Wild calls timeout.
1:27 - This would have been nice. Off the faceoff in the Carolina zone, Gleason tries to ring the puck around his own goal, but he actually puts it on goal and bounces it off the skate of his own goalie.
0:00 - Not enough time in this one. A very entertaining game, and a solid Wild effort comes up short in the season opener.