Oh yeah! It's Opening Night State of Hockey legion, and this time it's for real. Yes, we've had a preseason opener, and I vaguely recall a couple games in Europe. But this is where it's at. I need to view a regular season game from my beloved perch in the Al Shaver Press Box high atop the ice at Xcel Energy Center before I can deem any season official.
Brothers and sisters, let's make it as official, but first let's wish a hearty happy 46th birthday to scratchy voiced sports talk show host, Jim Rome. You know him as the brash smack talker on the radio, but I'll always know him as the guy who called former Rams quarterback Jim Everett, "Chris" and then got shoved to the ground in a golden television moment. Huh-larious.
Now that the birthday wishes are out of the way, we can get to the task at hand, which is taking care of these upstart Edmonton Oilers, in-game commentary style. The Oilers have young guns like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi, but they've never faced Niklas Backstrom
. Right now, Backstrom is taking the brunt of pregame warmup shots and he looks locked in, or as Rome might say, "he doesn't suck."
Another thing that doesn't suck is Andrew Brunette is healthy and in the lineup tonight. That means everybody on the current roster is good to go, and there will be only one healthy scratch: Clayton Stoner
As for the duds, the Wild will ring in the new home season with the snappy red jerseys tonight. The Oilers will don the road whites trimmed in blue and copper with the oil drip on the chest.
Video tribute to the Year One team? Check. Unveiling of the top ten moments in Wild history? Check. An intro of the whole team? Check. Nothing left to it but to do it. And here we go.Period 1
16:20 - The Wild successfully kills its first penalty of the night, and they killers gave up nothing in the way of chances. The sellout crowd is appreciative of the early effort.
15:38 - The first great scoring chance of the game goes to the Wild. Cal Clutterbuck
carries the puck in on a two-on-one with Matt Cullen
on his right. You know Clutter likes to let that high wrister go, and he does, trying to pick a spot above Nikolai Khabibulin's glove. The Oilers keeper flashes the lobster mitt and just gets a piece of it to pop it over the net.12:12 - MIN 1 - EDM 0 - Booyah Stuart Scott. Boo ah yah! The Wild grabs that all-important first lead on a typical goal by the top line. Brunette glides into the Edmonton zone and he knows Antti Miettinen is going to cut right to the net. When you need a pinpoint pass, Bruno is your guy. He lays one right up for Mittens at the top of the crease and he punches it through the hole in the Bulin Wall. That's how you start off the home opener.
9:26 - Minnesota has completely taken over this game, pinning the Oilers in deep and playing keepaway with the puck. The crowd is responding, and when Edmonton is forced to ice the puck, the fans let out a hearty collective roar.
8:48 - Greg Zanon absolutely plasters Ales Hemsky to the ice as he tries to gain the Wild zone. The fans love the hit, but the zebras do not. They're giving Zans two minutes for a cross check. Replays show its the right call.
6:45 - Clutter is going to keep trying to surprise Khabibulin with that heavy snapper of his. While killing another penalty, he unloads one from a shallow angle that Bulin has to jump up to get with his shoulder. The puck pops up high into the air and then drops straight down, about a foot away from the left post.
1:24 - Backstrom has not had to be spectacular so far tonight, but he's been solid when needed. He stuffs a wraparound by Colin Fraser, and then squares up on the rebound to snuff out Fraser's second attempt. Fraser, along with John Madden, received his Stanley Cup ring today, so he's probably not too miffed about missing this one.
0:00 - Other than taking four penalties, the Wild has a very nice start to this one. They'll consume some energy drinks in the locker room and come out replenished for the next 40.Period 2
17:44 - Justin Falk
, who has a had a great start to his rookie campaign, fires a long shot toward the goal. The puck hits traffic in front and bounces right toward Khabibulin, but nobody can punch in the rebound.17:03 - MIN 1 - EDM 1 - We've seen some extremely suspect calls against the Wild tonight, and the fifth one finally yields a power play goal for the Oilers. Former Maine Black Bear Dustin Penner gets the puck in the high slot, and with a quick release he beats Backstrom with a rocket on the glove side. That is met with a chorus of boos from the home crowd.
14:46 - Theo Peckham absolutely clobbers Chuck Kobasew in the corner. That Peckham is a beast, and I wouldn't mind seeing Brad Staubitz look for some revenge.
12:29 - After Marty Havlat and Marek Zidlicky play hot potato with the puck, Havlat feeds a wide open Clutterbuck in the left circle. He doesn't get enough on the shot, and that gives Khabibulin enough time to get over and make the stop. Clutterbuck then gets it back to Havlat, who crushes a one-timer but puts it off of Cullen in front of the net. 11:36 - MIN 1 - EDM 2 - It's a new Oiler team here in the second period. The Oilers win a faceoff in the Wild zone and former Wisconsin Badger Tom Gilbert steps into a slap shot from the right point. The puck hits something on its way in and skims over the shoulder of Backy. The Bloomington native is going to get credit for the tally, and the Oilers have quickly taken the lead.
5:29 - MIN 2 - EDM 2 - Oh it's as pretty as a sunset. The Wild power play strikes for the second time tonight, and this one is just how you draw it up. Cullen gets the puck at the top of the right circle. He patiently waits and then fires a perfect pass to the opposite side of the net where Mikko Koivu taps it in and converts his first of the season. That brings this crowd to life, and I have to think it was the Taio Cruz song, "Dynamite" that pumped up the team just before this goal is scored. It's the party anthem of 2010!
4:37 - MIN 3 - EDM 2 - Wooheee! This is getting fun now. The power play strikes again! Zidlicky unleashes his howitzer from the left point. It makes its way through traffic and its on Khabibulin in a hurry. He makes the save, but the puck lays in front where Koivu pounces and somehow pushes it in with all kinds of bodies in the net. It does cross the line, and the ref emphatically signals a goal. Right now, they're giving the goal to Brunette, but I'll wager to say that gets flipped to Koivu. And it does. Koivu gets his second.
3:36 - Big Mo nearly goes back over to the Edmonton side when Ales Hemsky tries to finish a two-on-one with a wide open net. He puts his shot right off the post, and the puck bounces back into the crease where it hits Backstrom. He gingerly flops down on the puck to get the whistle.
1:54 - Brunette and Hemsky collide at center ice, and Bruno gets toppled and actually looks like he's standing on his head. The first image that comes to mind is Atlanta catcher Gregg Olson standing on his head after Dan "Dazzle" Gladden slid into him at home plate during Game 1 of the 1991 World Series. Remember when the Twins used to win playoff games? That was awesome.Period 3
19:11 - Yikes! Zanon makes a valiant and smart play at the end of an Edmonton power play, but it nearly costs the Wild. Without a stick in his own end, he dives to bat the puck over to Brent Burns on the other side of the net. The problem is there is a broken stick laying 10 feet in front of the goal. The puck hits it, and bounces right in on a surprised Backstrom. The Wild keeper stays calm and makes the save.
17:54 - This Wild power play is distributing the puck like a Vegas blackjack dealer right now. Havlat finds a wide open Cullen in the right circle. The former St. Cloud State Husky rips a wrister that should be in the upper corner, but Khabibulin somehow gets his glove up and makes his biggest stop of the night.12:23 - MIN 4 - EDM 2 - We might score a million power play goals this year, and I'll have to check later, but I'd assume that would be an NHL record. Off a draw in the Oiler zone, Koivu wins the puck back to Cullen at the point. Number 7 takes a few strides to the middle and then blasts a shot toward the goal. The puck hits off a couple Oiler legs and then bounces in. Cullen has his first goal in his new home arena.
6:19 - Backstrom is currently laying flat on his back, but it's all good because the puck is underneath him. That ends a furious flurry as another Edmonton power play comes to a close. Backstrom has been quietly brilliant tonight, stopping 21 of 23 shots thus far.
3:57 - No, the Wild didn't just score a goal, but a huge cheer goes up when Randy Moss appears on the Jumbotron to congratulate the team on 10 years, and the Superfreak signs off with a "Go Wild!" I will always love that guy, no matter how many times he fake moons Packer fans.
1:40 - Khabibulin is out of there for an extra attacker.
1:07 - Backstrom makes a huge save with the leg pillow to sponge up a Kurtis Foster
howitzer from the point.
0:00 - Just like that, the Wild evens its record and has three points. It took the club eight games to get more than two points in the standings last year. We're well ahead of that pace. The club is now 9-0-1 in home openers and has won 14 straight contests against the Oilers at Xcel Energy Center.