Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 4-1 win against the Florida Panthers:
There will be some proud papas on the flight back to the State of Hockey as the Minnesota Wild concluded its Fathers’ Trip with a victory against the Florida Panthers.
The Wild got out to a first-period lead and never looked back, as Niklas Backstrom shut the door for his third win of the year. Jason Zucker had a two-goal game, his second of the season, while firing a career-high nine shots on goal. Captain Mikko Koivu added assists on both of Zucker’s tallies, for the Finns 107th career multi-point game.
The last Fathers’ Trip, in 2011-12, wasn’t a pleasant one, as the team dropped both games. But the team took care of business after losing in Tampa Bay on Saturday. After taking two of three games on its road swing, Minnesota returns to the friendly confines of Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday, hosting the Los Angeles Kings. Hopefully the Wild brings the good weather and vibes home from Fort Lauderdale. I know I’ll miss the sun, sand and Original Fat Cats.
After partaking in six-straight scoreless road first periods, the Minnesota Wild opened the game in Florida with a pair of tallies. After the team’s morning skate, Koivu and defenseman Ryan Suter both said the Wild needed more of a shooter’s mentality. Well, in the first period Minnesota peppered Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo with 13 shots.
The Wild was rewarded for its attempts, as two of its emerging snipers scored in the first. The club was on the forecheck and Koivu made strong play along the wall, winning a one-on-one battle with Jimmy Hayes. He settled the puck and moved it cross-ice to Zucker. The wing caught the pass and didn’t give Luongo time to get set in the crease, firing it through his legs as the netminder moved from right to left. Zucker wasn’t done on the night.
Towards the end of the period, Nino Niederreiter showed off his speed and soft hands, scoring his team-leading 10th of the season on a breakaway. Niederreiter picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and pulled away from Panthers blueliner Colby Robak like his skates were filled with South Beach sand. The wing pulled the puck to his backhand and roofed it past an outstretched Luongo.
When Zucker signed after his sophomore year at the University of Denver, he was a high-scoring sniper in college. He showed flashes of that offense in his first two seasons with Minnesota, but was shuffled between the NHL and American Hockey League while he improved his two-way play and consistency. This year, Zucker came into camp with a do-whatever-it-takes mentality and a commitment to play in both ends of the ice. The 22-year-old showed the ability to kill penalties, win wall battles and play the body on the forecheck — essentially, doing the little things. Well, he started to earn the trust of the coaching staff along with more ice time. He’s continued to do the little things and is contributing offensively as well, netting his second two-goal game of the season.
Zucker’s second of the game was a good example of his willingness to do the little things. He was the first forechecker in the Florida zone and finished a check on Erik Gudbranson. The hit caused a turnover as Gudbranson threw the puck up the wall and was knocked down by Koivu. The Wild captain slipped the puck to Zucker, who beat Gudbranson out of the corner, moved to his backhand and roofed it off the post over Luongo’s glove. His two-goal performance moves him to eight on the season and into a second place tie with Zach Parise.
It’s always nice when someone admits they’re wrong, especially those in authority. However, tonight it worked against Minnesota, as a video review reversed a call by referee Ghislain Hebert.
Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov held the puck at the blue line and threw a high wrist shot to the net. Shawn Thornton redirected the puck through Niklas Backstrom’s legs. After the puck crossed the line, Hebert waved off the goal and conferred with his fellow stripes. He then got on the horn with Toronto for a review. Moments later, he had to explain to the crowd like a public address announcer that he initially was wrong about the call and that the video replay showed that Thornton didn’t actually play the puck with a high stick.
Here’s the official word from the NHL’s Situation Room:
At 5:34 of the second period in the Minnesota Wild/Florida Panthers game, the referees held a group huddle that determined Shawn Thornton's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he deflected the puck into the Minnesota net. Video review confirmed that group decision. According to Rule 38.4 (vi) "The determining factor is where the puck makes contact with the stick in relation to the crossbar. If the puck makes contact with the portion of the stick that is at or below the level of the crossbar and enters the goal, this goal shall be allowed." Good goal Florida.
Backstrom is the king of the bounce-back game. After a start in which he is pulled, the netminder always comes out strong. Lifetime, he’s 23-3-4 with a 1.85 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. Since March 26, 2008, he’s 19-1-2 with a 1.69 GAA, .940 SV%.
Tonight, Backstrom played a typically strong bounce-back game, stopping 29 shots for the victory. The netminder wasn’t tested early, but was strong late with the Wild protecting the lead. In the final two periods, he made 24 stops. Backstrom is a Panther killer. Coming into the game, he was 5-0-1 with a 1.95 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage in six career starts against the Panthers. I’m not a math major, but I think those numbers against Florida will be improving after tonight’s victory.