Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 3-2 win against the Calgary Flames:
The first two periods felt about as long as yesterday’s Oscars broadcast. At times it seemed like the game dragged on because neither team wanted to give an inch and protected the front of the net like the Academy protects the identity of the Best Picture Award until it’s announced. The game did get testy between the two former Northwest Division rivals, as players were often pushing and shoving after the whistle, which bogged things down, too.
The game’s first big mistake led to the game’s first goal. Goaltender Reto Berra held the puck a little too long and the Wild made him pay for the gaffe. First on the forecheck, Matt Cooke knocked the puck off the goaltender’s stick and it went right onto the tape of Kyle Brodziak. The center moonwalked to the front of the net and popped it into the open goal for his fifth of the year.
Then in the third period, the pace picked up. It was like going from watching “Titanic” to “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Jared Spurgeon got things going with a power play goal, firing a high wrist shot past Berra. It wasn’t the hardest shot, actually it wasn’t hard at all, but it was accurate and with big Charlie Coyle screening Berra, the goaltender never saw it.
The Wild’s top line took over for the eventual game winner. After a give-and-go between Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund, Pominville zipped a pass across ice onto the tape of Zach Parise, who re-directed it home. Granlund, Pominville and Parise are becoming more comfortable with each other and it was evident in the third period, particularly on that play. Granlund won tonight's award for best supporting playmaker with two assists, but we'll get to him in a bit.
The Wild welcomed back a pair of players from Injured Reserve tonight, captain Mikko Koivu and defenseman Marco Scandella. It was Koivu’s first game back since Jan. 4, missing 17 games with a fractured ankle. The 30-year-old skated on a line with Dany Heatley and Charlie Coyle. Although the captain didn’t make an impact on the scoreboard, his presence was felt on the ice. He skated 19:21 (including time on the penalty kill), won 59 percent of his faceoffs (10-of-17) and was a calming presence on the team’s power play. Although the first unit didn’t score, it had a number of chances with Koivu setting things up on the half-wall in the second period and moved the puck well while generating a number of quality opportunities.
Along with Koivu, Scandella started tonight’s contest in his first game back. The blueliner didn’t miss nearly as many games following his knee sprain due to the Olympic break, but still was on the shelf for nearly a month. He skated along side Jonas Brodin for 20:18 minutes of ice.
There will be a little rust to shake off for both players, but it's great to have them back in the lineup for the stretch run as the Wild jockeys for position in the tough Western Conference. As important as it is for a team to peak at the right time heading into the stretch run, it's just as important to be healthy.
Mikael Granlund won bragging rights against his younger brother, Markus, in the Gralund brothers’ first-ever NHL meeting. Along with the win, Mikael added a pair of assists to extend his point-streak to three games. Since returning from injury on Dec. 22, Mikael has led the Wild in scoring with 20 points (4-16=20) in 25 games. It was his sixth multi-point game of his career and the season.
Markus, who is 20, showed glimpses of his big brother’s skills tallying his first career point with an assist in the third period. However, while Mikael is more of a pass-first center, his younger brother looks for his own shots. He leads the Flames’ American Hockey League affiliate in goals with 23. Wild and Flames fans can look forward to this sibling rivalry for a long time coming.
Tonight, National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman attended the game and watched from Wild Owner Craig Leipold’s suite. Bettman was in town after attending the Heritage Classic yesterday in Vancouver.
The big question on the mind of everyone in the State of Hockey: When will the Wild host an outdoor game? The commissioner didn’t tell WildTV, but he did visit TCF Bank Stadium and Target Field, so that’s a promising sign. I spoke to the commissioner for WildTV and he smiled as he said Leipold has “aggressively pushed” for an outdoor game.
Critics of the outdoor games have said that there are now too many with the additions of the Stadium Series this year. Well, they should’ve changed their tune after the wild success of the games at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Soldier Field in Chicago and Yankee Stadium in New York. Outdoor hockey is such a big part of the sport in Minnesota, so it’s only a matter of time and a logical choice for the NHL to host an outdoor game here in the State of Hockey.
The Wild hosted Military Appreciation Night during tonight’s contest. The “Let’s Play Hockey!” announcement was given by Lt. Col. Gregory Fix and Lt. Col. Jeff Merricks; Col. Greg Thingvold dropped the ceremonial first puck; the American National Anthem was sung by Sergant Benjamin Hanson; and the Minnesota Warriors, a hockey team comprised of veterans, skated in a scrimmage during the first period.
During the second period, Wild players Nate Prosser, Clayton Stoner and Keith Ballard and Mikko Koivu all expressed their gratitude for the men and women who make sacrifices in the military to protect our freedom. Stick tap to all the military men and women who have ever and currently serve our country.