Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 3-0 road win against the Edmonton Oilers:
One of the big questions on everyone’s mind tonight: How would the NHL players respond after a three-week layoff due to the Olympic break? The Wild answered that query with a convincing road win tonight in Edmonton. While there is bound to be a little rust, Minnesota played an all-around game in its first contest back.
The Wild scored early and never looked back, limiting the Oilers’ chances while capitalizing on a few more of its own. One area the club should be happy with after tonight’s performance is its puck protection and defensive zone coverage. The Wild took care of the biscuit—not giving Edmonton many odd-man chances off the rush and played sound defensively all night.
Showing no signs of rust was goaltender Darcy Kuemper. With the exception of a first-period scare that saw Jared Spurgeon help his netminder out after he lost track of the puck, Kuemper was out challenging, controlled his rebounds and didn’t give Edmonton any second chances. Kuemper earned the game’s first star and made a strong case for the cage tomorrow night, as the Wild is right back at it traveling to Vancouver to face the Canucks.
Well, if you were wondering if there would be an Olympic break hangover from any of the Wild players, they quickly dispelled any fears. Just 2:04 into the first period, Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise hooked up on a beautiful four-on-four goal. Granlund skated over the blue line, cut across the middle and dropped the puck to Parise. The winger returned it to Granlund in the slot and the center fired it into a wide-open net.
While all eyes were on Parise and Granlund (except maybe the Oilers’ defenders because he was WIDE open), it was Keith Ballard jumping into the play that opened things up. While Granlund slowed the play up along the wall, Ballard went hard to the net and brought Edmonton defenseman Andrew Ference with him. This had a two-pronged effect, as the two screened Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens and created enough space in the slot for Granlund to sneak into. Ference also was unable to recover when Granlund was wide open for the return pass. The 22-year-old, who celebrated his birthday yesterday, was named the game’s second star.
In the first period, Nate Prosser took a big hit from my former St. Cloud State University teammate, Matt Hendricks. Prosser was driven hard into the glass and was on the ice for a while. Kyle Brodziak stepped up and dropped the gloves with Hendricks (somehow they were each only given two minutes for roughing even though attempted punches were thrown). Prosser skated off the ice under his own power, but went to the locker room with Wild head trainer Don Fuller.
I thought that would be the last we saw of the blueliner.
However, in the second period Prosser came back and on his first shift blocked a shot. He wasn’t fazed by the big hit as he continued to mix it up for the rest of the game. Prosser got in on the offense too, springing Erik Haula with a long outlet pass that eventually led to a Stephan Veilleux goal. Haula tracked the puck, made a great play to protect the puck coming from behind the net by sticking his leg in front of an Anton Belov slash attempt, then slid a backhand pass to Veilleux for a one-timer.
Fair warning: If you’re the squeamish type you might want to skip this Takeaway. In the second period, Clayton Stoner dropped the gloves with Luke Gazdic. After the fight, Stoner headed to the locker room. Although there was no blood on the ice, I figured it was for stitches, as cuts tend to happen from time to time in hockey fights. However, after a little while, this (once again, don’t open this link if you’re squeamish) photo surfaced on Twitter. I’m no doctor, but that sure looks like a dislocated finger to me.
While I can’t describe what every hockey injury feels like, I have dislocated my finger in action. I was playing in junior hockey in Sioux Falls and was taking a faceoff. I went to crosscheck the opposing center, but somehow my left hand got caught up in his body. I could feel my left pinky pull out of its joint and felt like it bent like a 7 in my glove. As I pulled my hand out of my mitt, it straightened back out. By no means is it the worst pain ever, but it is a very, very uncomfortable feeling. Like Stoner, I finished the game, but there is no way I would’ve fought anyone, something the blueliner tried to do when he dropped the gloves with Hendricks in the third period, but the refs intervened before any punches were thrown.
Tonight was both the Wild and Oilers’ first games since the end of the Olympics. The Edmonton game-night operations used it to pump up the home faithful with a little Olympic national pride, while trolling the Americans in the building. During the Canadian National Anthem, the big board in Rexall Place showed Canadian Olympians winning medals and standing on the podium in Sochi.
While the men’s U.S. hockey loss to Canada in the semifinal was a tough pill to swallow, it was the women’s loss to the Canadians in the Gold Medal Game was much harder to watch. In fact, after the Canadians tied it in the third period, I didn’t watch the rest of the game; I didn’t want to see the disappointment on their faces if they lost that game. I’ve lost games like that before—when you’re in complete control and things turn on a dime. There is no worse way to lose, after being in the driver's seat for the entire game, you give it away for a soul-crushing, gut-punch loss that leaves you in absolute shock afterwards. No, I didn’t want to see that happen to those women and didn’t see Canada win it in overtime.