Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he remembers from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 3-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks:
Like a hot hand in a dice game, the Minnesota Wild wants to keep on rolling. The team won its fourth straight game, tonight blanking the Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild seemingly played with house money and controlled the game from the opening faceoff, like a pit boss watching over a casino floor.
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk played cooler to the Blackhawks, earning his third shutout in a Wild sweater. Although it didn’t seem like the Hawks skilled offensive players ever tested the 28-year-old, he turned away 24 shots and made key saves when the team needed him.
The Wild jumped out to a two-goal lead in the opening period and never looked back. Center Mikael Granlund put the game out of reach, scoring his first goal since returning from a broken wrist on a bomb of a one-timer. The pivot bounced out into the high slot and wired a pass from Zach Parise off the post and in.
Like a card player on a string of bad beats, the line of Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Jason Zucker were due for a good hand. On the team’s three-game Canadian roadie, they played excellently and generated plenty of chances. They were snake bit, or maybe more appropriately frost bit, North of the Border. In the three games, they combined for 26 shots but only one goal, Zucker’s empty netter against Vancouver. Well, they warmed up back in the State of Hockey with two goals on the night.
The line applied pressure, forcing the Hawks into a bad play and Koivu finished the play winning a puck battle — something the entire line has been consistently doing for the last few games. Like taking a lazy Sunday stroll on the Vegas Strip, the Hawks were casual as they retrieved a puck out of its own D-zone. While Chicago was taking its sweet time, Zucker and Pominville raced into the zone and the puck ended up on the tape of Jared Spurgeon at the point with time. The blueliner moved it to Pominville, who fired it on net. With the puck loose in front, Koivu continued the line’s work by battling with three Hawks players around him and pushed a backhand past Chicago’s netminder Corey Crawford. Of course, the Finn has one of the best backhand shots in the National Hockey League…
For years, Koivu has had the best backhand on the Wild. Well, Jason Zucker is making a claim for the captain’s Best Backhand in Minnesota corner. Following Koivu’s opening backhander, Zucker put in his bid with a dynamite shot on the wrong side of the stick blade. After a pinpoint blue-line-to-blue-line pass from Marco Scandella (fantastic pass by the way; I could use an entire Takeaway on the amount of flex on his stick), Zucker took off for a clean breakaway past Chicago’s Duncan Keith — no easy task in itself. Coming in on the right side, he made a quick move to his forehand and returned it to the backhand before going top shelf.
The impressive thing about both Zucker and Koivu’s backhands is how quickly they are able to get it into the upper-quadrant of the net. While Koivu uses his patented backhand move in shootouts by taking the puck across his body while moving left to right and going to the far post, Zucker moved in from the right side and slammed on the breaks after faking like he was going to the forehand. Zucker’s was a very different move from the captain’s shootout staple, but had a very familiar result. Their backhands are so money, baby.
The Wild was firing down shots like it was getting comped at a Vegas hotel. The club outshot the Hawks 43-24 and set a team record along the way. The 24 shots Minnesota tallied in the second set a franchise record for most in a period (topping 23, last accomplished in the second of a 3-0 win against Edmonton, 3/22/09). The number also ranks tied for third most against the Blackhawks in a single period. Individually, Scandella set a career mark with eight shots on goal.
What makes tonight’s glittering gulch of a shot differential so impressive is that coming into the game, the Hawks led the National Hockey League in shots per game (34.9). Minnesota leads the League in shots against per game (27) and those odds will go down slightly after tonight.
Maybe it was because they hadn’t seen the home team in 15 days or they were pumped about the division rival in town, but the crowd inside Xcel Energy Center was fired up for tonight’s contest. On the opening shift of the game, the Minnesota faithful dusted off the “Craw-ford” chant from last year’s second round playoff series. Throughout the night, “Let’s go Wild!” was reverberating through the arena. When Dubnyk made a crucial save, “Doooobs” echoed onto the ice. Following two consecutive shifts from the team’s top two lines in the second period, the crowd cheered like they scored. While it wasn’t as rowdy as a playoff game, it was one of the best weekday games I’ve been to and a fun game to watch from press row.
The only place Minnesota fans need to step it up for Saturday night as the Wild hosts the Colorado Avalanche: The Dance Cam. We’ll give Wild fans an excuse, just this one time, because it was the unveiling of the Dance Cam on the big board. Just be prepared to shake a leg on Saturday if you see yourself on the jumbo screen.