Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 4-3 shootout victory against the Boston Bruins:
The Wild needed a point to punch its ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and locked up the first wild-card spot and seventh seed in the process by earning a shootout win against the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins. Although the Wild learned it would be heading to the playoffs regardless of the outcome (we’ll get to that), but earning the way in feels so much better.
Something we’ve seen time and time again, the Wild showed its resiliency in the third period. After a called off icing, the Wild started in its own zone with 1:27 left in regulation, trailing 3-2. After a mad dash up the ice, Jason Pominville (who had a pretty good night) moved the puck to Ryan Suter in the slot. Suter put the puck past goaltender Tuukka Rask to send the contest into overtime. There was such a scramble in front of the net that Suter didn’t even react to the goal until he saw his teammates celebrating.
The five minutes of overtime might’ve been the most exciting extra frame we’ve seen this season. It was a back-and-forth, high-tempo five minutes (and an argument for the NHL to extend overtime). It came down to a shootout and Mikko Koivu’s patented backhand top-shelf move held up. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov stopped all three Bruins shooters to remain undefeated in regulation with Minnesota, improving to 7-0-3.
The Wild is playoff bound for the second-consecutive season.
Pominville had an opening period that would equal a month for some; scoring twice and retaking the team goal lead (29) from Zach Parise. The winger showed that he’s not a one-trick pony, displaying his range on two very different types of goals. First, with the Wild on the power play, Pominville wired a one-timer past Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask. The right-winger was playing the left point, started drifting backwards toward the top of the left circle. What made the shot so impressive was that the righty went against the grain, putting the puck back to where Rask just came from and by his glove.
On his second goal, he showed his nose for the net, getting to the crease and redirecting a pass from Matt Moulson. After a faceoff loss, Moulson snuck past Bruins defenseman Corey Potter and picked up the puck in the corner. He slipped it through Zdeno Chara’s extra-long legs onto the tape of Pominville, who put it home.
Pominville’s second goal showed why wing support is so crucial on faceoff plays. Initially, it looked like a clean win for Boston center Patrice Bergeron. However, his defenseman, Potter, was caught looking and flatfooted. Moulson made a quick first step to the puck and picked it up clean.
The consensus in hockey is that anything over .500 in the faceoff is good for a center. Well, at least .150 (conservatively) goes to battles at the hash marks. The best center/wing combos have a plan going into the faceoff. There are a dozen moves centers can use in the circle, along with multiple places the center will try to direct the puck to win the draw. The best centers tell their wings what they are attempting to do (win it back, push it forward, tie up the opponent, to name a few), and the wings will anticipate where to go, giving them the best chance to help win the faceoff.
During the game, the Twin Cities chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) announced the nomination of Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding for the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, presented annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
This season the 29-year-old is 18-7-3 and still leads the NHL with a 1.65 goals-against average (GAA) and a .933 save percentage (SV%) in 29 contests this season, setting career-highs in wins, shutouts (3), shutout streak (131:36), GAA and SV%.
Harding is the personification of the award as he continues to battle multiple sclerosis. Of course, Harding won the award last season and would be the first back-to-back winner. I don’t think anyone would object to Harding winning the award again, as he’s continued to fight MS. Although he’s been on IR since Jan. 4, Harding has started practicing with the team again and is trying to get back into action.
Between the second and third period, we learned that the Wild clinched a spot regardless of the outcome of tonight’s game. The Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Phoenix Coyotes in overtime, 4-3, and any type of loss from Phoenix meant the Wild would be assured a spot in the postseason. However, the Wild wasn’t satisfied and came back to tie the game late in the third to earn its way in.
Even though the Wild is in, there is still a battle for the West’s final playoff spot and games remaining with playoff implications. Phoenix can overtake Dallas, in action tonight against the Nashville Predators. The playoff order and matchups are yet to be determined, as well. There are still a number of scenarios depending on the final few days of the regular season, including a Sunday matchup with the Stars and Coyotes. So relax, enjoy these last few Wild games and Fan Celebration, but know they still mean something.