Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 2-1 loss against the Anaheim Ducks:
We saw a possible first round matchup tonight between the Minnesota Wild and Anaheim Ducks. If that’s the case, it looks like it will be a close, physical series. Although Minnesota went 0-3-0 against Anaheim in the regular season, all three contests were one-goal games. The Wild did outshoot the Ducks in two out of three games, including tonight. Overall, the Wild has lost six straight one-goal games at Xcel Energy Center against Anaheim. If the teams meet in the postseason, Minnesota hopes to buck that trend.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here — it will be a tough road for Minnesota to make it to the promised land. With 14 games remaining on the schedule, the club plays only one team that is not in the hunt for the playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Wild will have to earn its way into the postseason, it’s going to be a crazy final month of the season.
After today’s morning skate, Chris Stewart talked about how he expected tonight’s matchup with Anaheim to be a physical, emotional affair. Well, nothing brings out emotions like an ex. Only 10 seconds into the game, Stewart dropped the gloves with former Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner. The power forward said that playing a physical style is when he’s at his best and he must’ve been trying to fire himself and his teammates up.
One also has to wonder if Stoner’s earlier comments about his time with the Wild last season played a role in the scrap. The Ducks defenseman wasn’t appreciative about how he thought the media portrayed his words about his former team. Maybe Stewart, ingratiating himself with his new team, heard about the comments and decided on his own brand of schoolyard justice. Of course, maybe the two had some residual bad blood from 2012, when Stewart was a member of the St. Louis Blues and Stoner was still patrolling the blue line in Minnesota and the pair squared off on Jan. 14. Regardless of the reasoning behind the fisticuffs, both veterans are tough customers, enjoy mixing it up and play a rough-and-tumble style of game.
There’s one universal truth in hockey: if you want to score goals, get to the blue paint. The crease saw more flying bodies than a 1980s tag-team wrestling match involving The Rockers. In the first period, Ducks forward Tomas Fleischmann ran Devan Dubnyk for a goaltender interference penalty. Later, Matt Dumba took the rock to the house, which caused Francois Beauchemin to pile over his goaltender, Josh Gibson. In the second period, Nino Niederreiter made a power move with one hand on his stick for a chance, but Gibson kept both the puck and the Swiss forward out of the goal.
The king of crashing the crease, of course, is Zach Parise. The forward goes to the front of the net like the Macho Man Randy Savage coming off the top rope: with a vengeance. Parise scored his 27th goal of the season by heading to the front of the net, stopping and sniffing out a loose puck in the crease. They say that goal scorers find open space on the ice to create room to get off a shot, well, Parise goes to the hard, tight areas to find where the puck most often is heading — to the crease.
Tonight was the first time Minnesota faced Gibson. You have to wonder if the team had a game plan set against the netminder because it was firing the puck from all angles. On multiple occasions, Minnesota put the puck on net from near the goal line and the netminder had difficulty handling several of the shots. That’s how Parise scored, following up a bad-angle shot from Thomas Vanek.
Thanks to video technology and every NHL game now being broadcast, teams do a fair amount of pre-scouting on upcoming opponents. The coaching staff could’ve seen something in a previous game film and noted it to the players. Or, the Wild might’ve just noticed that Gibson was struggling to control his rebounds early and decided to try and throw everything to the net, regardless of where they were on the ice. Early in the first, Justin Fontaine threw what looked to be a harmless shot from the right side of the ice that nearly fooled Gibson. When you’re on the bench and see a play like that, there is often chatter along the lines of, “Goalies not sharp today, boys. Throw everything on net.”
Around the NHL, there are a handful of players on everyone’s Most Hated List. The Ducks might have a few contenders on its squad, but Corey Perry is probably the first one that jumps to mind with most opposing fans. Of course, the forward is beloved in Anaheim and when you’re hated by opposing fan bases and teams, it just means a player is probably doing a good job.
With the Ducks on the power play, Dubnyk went behind the net to play the puck. Perry was on the forecheck and ran over the netminder without trying to avoid contact. After @mnwildLIVE tweeted the play, we got a few responses that Dubnyk dove. Well, if it was anyone other than Perry, I might’ve agreed. But, because sports hate is irrational, I tend to think that the Ducks forward threw a forearm shiver into the chin of the netminder and Dubnyk was brave to stay in the game. Something tells me that Perry gives zero Ducks about what a jabroni writer thinks of him, though.