Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways he'll remember from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 3-2 shootout home win against the Chicago Blackhawks:
Tonight’s game between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks broadcast nationally on NBC Sports Network and was billed as part of the station’s Wednesday Rivalry Night. While Minnesota and Illinois might be geographically relevant as rivals, you can’t really call the Wild and Blackhawks rivals, yet. Rivals are built up over years of bad blood between divisional opponents or a particularly heated playoff series (think Colorado vs. Detroit in 1996).
However, if the NHL realigns, the Wild and Hawks could develop into a serious rivalry. Dating back to last year, four the last five games between Minnesota and Chicago have gone into a shootout. If they continue to play these close games against each other, maybe even meet in the playoffs (I know it’s a long way off), we could see some contentiousness that would match the old North Stars and Hawks battles. If tonight’s game is any indications, these two teams will be close, and good, for years to come.
When Niklas Backstrom came to the rink today, he thought that he’d have the night off after yesterday’s 3-2 win against Columbus. However, Backstrom came in for relief of Josh Harding in the first period. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said after the game that he wasn’t thrilled about pulling Harding and inserting Backstrom, but felt it was the right thing to do with Chicago building momentum after two quick goals.
“He was there for us,” Yeo said about Backstrom.
The netminder was there for all 28 saves when he was inserted into goal. He might’ve saved his best for the overtime period. With Marian Hossa bearing down on him, Backstrom made a huge glove save to keep the game going. Backstrom is known more for his positional play, but that save showed his athleticism and quick reactions.
After six games, the Wild’s top line looked nearly unstoppable, despite being hounded by the opponents’ top checkers. However, Minnesota couldn’t go the entire season relying solely on the scoring of Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley and Zach Parise. The Wild’s second and third lines need to provide ancillary scoring. Tonight, the top line was quiet on the stat line, and the other lines provided a big boost.
In the second game of back-to-back contests, head Coach Mike Yeo relied on the third lines to provide a spark and they were rewarded with additional ice time. Five of the six forwards on the second and third lines played more than 16 minutes, and they were needed to gut out the shootout win…
Matt Cullen might’ve been the most snake-bitten of all the Wild’s forwards. He has had several quality scoring chances throughout the first six games of the season, but was just unable to convert.
Tonight though, Cullen broke through just 90 seconds into the game, and helped create the chance after a faceoff win. The faceoff was at the right circle and Cullen was lined up on the left hash mark. He helped Mikael Granlund win the puck back to Devin Setoguchi, creating a lane for him to enter. Setoguchi took a shot that Crawford saved. Meanwhile, Cullen busted back to the front of the net, beating his defender and slid the puck past Crawford. After the goal, Cullen looked to the rafters and you could almost see him mouth ‘finally’ as a sizeable monkey was lifted off his back.
Confidence is one heck of a thing and there is no telling if his earlier goal helped Cullen in the shootout. The veteran eased his way into the Chicago zone before firing a quick wrist shot through the legs of Corey Crawford for the game-winning shootout goal.
Also getting the monkey off his back tonight was Cal Clutterbuck. His goal also came off of a faceoff play. After some battling inside the circle the puck slid out to defenseman Tom Gilbert at the right point. He calmly collected the puck and fired a wrist shot into traffic in front of the net. Clutterbuck was stationed near the hash marks and made a beautiful redirection with his backhand. I cannot begin to explain how difficult it is to tip a puck out of midair with the backhand, let alone knock it into the net, so I’ll let you see for yourself.
Clutterbuck has been his usual hard-hitting self in the early part of the season and tonight was more of the same. He leveled Johnny Oduya in the second period, bringing a roar from the home crowd. Clutterbuck plays hard and tonight he was finally rewarded in the goal column.