Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 1-0 shutout victory against the Winnipeg Jets:
Once again, Ilya Bryzgalov’s magic number was zero, as the netminder earned his second-straight shutout. For the Wild, the magic number is down to one, as it needs a single point to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (we’ll get to that).
Playing against the Winnipeg Jets team, a team out of the playoff picture and with nothing to lose, the Wild allowed only 24 shots, all turned aside by Bryzgalov. In the other net, Michael Hutchinson made his National Hockey League debut with 16 saves. The only difference was a Charlie Coyle goal early in the second period.
Although Minnesota didn’t play its best game offensively, it shut down the Jets. The Wild killed four penalties in a very tight-checking game. The most important kill came in the third period, with Bryzgalov and the killers shutting down any Jets attempt at a response. After a tough stretch on the kill, the Wild seems to be peaking at the right time shorthanded—the club hasn’t allowed a power play goal in five games.
Goaltenders are known as different cats. I’ve seen all types of crazy goaltender warm-up rituals, superstitions and just plain strange behavior. I’ve seen a goaltender stand in front of a bathroom mirror before games with glove and blocker, staring at himself while he mimed saves. I’ve seen a nemdinder who juggled tennis balls against a brick wall like he was trying to join the Ringling Brothers until he was satisfied he was ready to strap on the pads. Once a goaltender repeated lines from “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” (yes, the sequel) every single game because we were on a winning streak. A goaltender once changed his entire skating stride because we told him he looked like he was doing the Carlton Banks dance as he skated onto the ice.
If you ask just about anyone around the game, they’ll tell you most goalies are a bit out there. To stand in front of a slice of vulcanized rubber traveling 100 mile per hour, you have to be a little out there. However, quirky behavior is totally acceptable as long as the goaltender keeps the puck out of the net. So tonight, when Winnipeg fans started with an IL-YA chant that you might hear at a WWE match, Bryzgalov responded with the faux pump of the crowd like a great wrestling villain. Fuddy-duddies might not like the call and response, but players don’t care what a goaltender does (as long as it’s not interfering with the team concept) if they stop the puck, which Bryzgalov has done since coming to the Wild.
One of the golden rules of hockey: Don’t take a penalty in the first or last minute of a period. The thinking is that your opponent can gain momentum going into a period break or at the start of the next. If they don’t’ score before the horn, taking a penalty in the waning moments of a period also means that your foe will be rested after the break and will have time on the man advantage on fresh ice.
Tonight, Jets defenseman Mark Stuart broke the rule, taking an interference penalty at the end of the first, and the Wild took advantage. With time winding down in the penalty, the Wild made a quick play on the right wall, Mikko Koivu chipping the puck low to Zach Parise, who one-touched the puck to Coyle in the slot. The big wing one-timed it through Hutchinson’s legs for his 12th goal of the season. On the play, Coyle found open ice by popping out high in the slot. Initially it looked like it was a power play goal, but the scorers deemed it an even strength goal, as the penalty expired as the puck crossed the line.
Between the second and third period, FOX Sports North analyst Ben Clymer asked Coyle if his recent play was a matter of comfort or confidence. “I’d say confidence is huge,” Coyle responded. “When you start scoring and things start going your way, you start feeling good and playing good, and playing the way you know how.” While the ‘playing the way you know how’ part of the answer suggests a higher level of comfort in his game, Coyle has been playing with a ton of confidence lately.
It’s an ongoing cycle: Good play breeds confidence, which leads to feeling good about yourself, which leads to more good play. These positive vibes have been apparent in the 22-year-old. Coyle has a point in eight of his last nine games (5-5=10). Since he’s been reunited with Parise and Koivu (March 29 against the Phoenix Coyotes), Coyle has five points (2-3=5) in five games. Parise and Koivu have also been fantastic since the reunion. Parise has seven points (3-4=7) and the captain has two goals and four assists. While their production has increased, they’ve been equally devastating in the defensive end; the trio is a combined plus-17.
With three games remaining in the Wild’s regular season, the magic number to clinch a playoff spot is down to one. Minnesota will get a chance to lock it up tomorrow night at Xcel Energy Center against the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins. With a win, the Wild will also clinch the seventh and first wild-card spot in the Western Conference. While both the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes have a game in hand against the Wild, Minnesota has a seven-point lead on Dallas and an eight-point cushion on Phoenix.
While offense gets much of the accolades, especially here in the Takeaways, tip of the hat to the Wild’s defensemen. A lot of its recent success has come from its blue line. In its last eight games Minnesota hasn’t allowed more than 30 shots on goal (26 was the highest shots-against total in the stretch). The Wild defenders have done a great job of moving the puck up quickly in transition and moved it out of the zone on the penalty kill. They’ve been so good as a unit, it’s hard to single any of them out, so stick tap to the boys manning the blue line.