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 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning:
After a four-game road trip, the Wild could use a little home cooking and got it tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The club returned a key component on the blue line (we’ll get to that) and got an outstanding performance in net from Darcy Kuemper.
After giving up consecutive four-goal games, Kuemper rebounded with a 34 save win, his seventh of the season. The netminder was on his game, especially late, making 12 saves in the third period. Kuemper got a little help from the goalies’ best friend, as Tyler Johnson rang the post with less than a minute to go.
Kuemper also got a lot of help from the goaltenders’ second-best friend(s), his defensemen. With an early injury to Marco Scandella, the blue line had to carry a heavy load and helped shut down a potent Tampa offense. Ryan Suter played 34:31 and made a crucial goal line save in the third period after the puck slipped through Kuemper’s legs. But the game’s First Star was a defenseman we haven’t seen in a while…
The Wild got a big piece of its blue line back tonight, as Jared Spurgeon returned from Injured Reserve while missing 14 games with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot on Jan. 4 against Washington. Spurgeon has been missed on Minnesota’s blue line; the most, perhaps, on the team’s power play. The Wild is loaded with skilled lefthanders, so the right-handed shooting Spurgeon gives the team with another option at the point. Spurgeon might not have the hardest shot on the club, but he has a quick release and it’s accurate.
Spurgeon immediately made an impact, earning the first assist on Nino Niederreiter’s first-period power play goal with that quick, accurate shot. Jason Zucker zipped a cross-ice pass that Spurgeon one-timed on net. Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop made the save, but Niederreiter was there to slam home the rebound. The most impressive thing about Spurgeon’s one-timer was that he got good wood on the shot at all. Often when players return from injury, timing is an issue. Well, Spurgeon’s timing was as impeccable as a Swiss watch on that shot.
Spurgeon wasn’t done, setting up the team’s second goal of the game. Spurgeon activated in the offensive zone, but lost the puck at the top of the circle. Not quitting on the play, the blueliner made a quick stop and picked Victor Hedman’s pocket. He skated in and found Dany Heatley going to the net. Heatley knew what to do from there, one-touching the puck over the outstretched pad of Bishop.
It was Heatley’s second-consecutive game with a goal. The forward saw Spurgeon regain control of the puck at the top of the circle and made a B-line to the front of the net. With defenseman Radko Gudas scrambling to cover him, Heatley made an outside-in move to free up his stick and make an available target for Spurgeon to find. Heatley doesn’t miss from there, burying his 11th of the season.
Spurgeon started tonight’s game with D-partner Marco Scandella. However, the pairing didn’t last long as Scandella went down hard on his second shift. He needed help off the ice and didn’t return to the game. This is especially disheartening because Scandella has really stepped up and was the team’s third defenseman with Spurgeon on the shelf. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo didn’t give an update on Scandella, but said he thought he’d be doubtful on Thursday as the team hosts the Nashville Predators. The one silver lining is that it’s the team’s final game before the Olympic break, so let’s hope it’s not serious and he’ll have adequate time to recover.
In other blueliner news, Jonas Brodin skated in his 100th career game tonight. In his second season with the Wild, it’s easy to forget he’s only 20 years old. He came out of nowhere last season, earning NHL All-Rookie Team honors. He set the bar so high in his rookie campaign that expectations were extremely high coming into his second year. Brodin has improved on his offensive numbers (seven goals and eight assists) and will continue to get better in all facets of the game as he gains experience. Typically, it takes defenseman more time to hit their peak, so Brodin’s best years are in front of him. State of Hockey fans can look forward to him hitting a lot more career milestones in a Minnesota sweater patrolling the blue line for the Wild.
The fifth episode of Becoming Wild, presented by Toyota, airs after tonight’s contest on FOX Sports North. The episode features a day in the life of Zach Parise. The Minnesota native spends his summers in the State of Hockey and the cameras followed him as he went through a typical day in the offseason. If you were unable watch the episode, check out the Becoming Wild page on Wild.com and catch up on all the episode and webisodes.
Last week, Parise was hotter than a toaster in a volcano, earning the NHL’s First Star of the Week honor on Monday. Although he was held off the score sheet tonight, Parise was hounding the puck all over the ice and fired six shots on goal. If you’ve been living under a rock and didn’t hear the news, he’ll captain Team USA at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Before he goes, check out his Becoming Wild episode.