Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he'll remember from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 2-1 shootout win against the Toronto Maple Leafs:
For the third-straight game, the Wild went into a shootout against an Eastern Conference opponent. It looked like Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier was going to steal the team’s second win on the season against the Wild. After the game, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said that the club was positive on the bench throughout the contest with veteran leaders telling the team to continue to push even though the chances weren’t going in. That persistence showed as one of the team’s leaders drew the equalizer.
Zach Parise’s late game heroics sent the game into overtime. While it wasn’t the prettiest goal, as the puck bounced in off his skate, the old saying goes: They don’t ask how, they ask how many.
Parise might score the most goals from within five feet of the net in the NHL. It doesn’t take talent to score goals at the front of the net (of course a nice set of mitts doesn’t hurt); it takes hard work, a willingness to take punishment and the will to never give up on the puck. Parise does all of that and has a pretty soft set of hands to finish when he gets the opportunity. Parise finished the job in the shootout, scoring his 34th career shootout goal, which leads all active NHL players.
If you’ve read this space before, you know I’m not the most sympathetic person when it comes to the plight of the goaltender. From time to time, goaltenders are susceptible to incidental contact and this writer won’t shed a tear for them. However, there is a difference between ‘incidental’ contact when crashing the crease and straight running a goaltender. When a goaltender is in his crease, he should be off limits to contact from attacking players—especially when the puck is nowhere near the front of the net.
Tonight, we saw a pretty blatant run on Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom. The Leafs were pressuring in the offensive zone when the club fired a point shot on net. Backstrom made the save, and as the puck drifted into the corner, Nazem Kadri did this. Yeah, there was no intent to pump his breaks and although he didn’t follow through with the elbow, he clearly targets Backstrom’s head on the play. The Wild netminder continued for part of the opening period, but ended up leaving and was relieved by Josh Harding. The League is trying to eliminate head hits and should take another look at this one—especially since it was on a defenseless goaltender. Kadri’s hit on Backstrom wasn’t the only infraction that will get a second look from the League (we’ll get to the second one a little later).
You have to feel for Backstrom, who was getting his first start since Oct. 28. The goaltender suffered an early season lower-body injury and was sidelined for a few weeks. In his absence, Harding stepped up and played brilliantly. Clearly, Harding has shown the need for two capable goaltenders in the NHL.
Speaking to the media, Yeo said that Backstrom suffered an upper-body injury. One thing you know from the netminder: He’s a competitor. You know he was pumped for tonight’s game and one of the reasons he tried to play on. It had to be so disappointing for him to come out of the game. Hopefully it isn’t serious and Backstrom can return to form, and return the Wild's formidable one-two punch in net.
Since we’re on the topic of goaltenders, we might as well talk about how absolutely ridiculous Jonathan Bernier has been in his career against the Wild. Coming into the game, he was 3-1-2 with a 1.14 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage. He also has three shutouts in seven career starts.
Sometimes guys just have the other team’s number for some reason or another. There really is no logical explanation for it, they just play really well against a certain team. Bernier has been the Wild’s Kryptonite. Thankfully, he’s in the Eastern Conference and Minnesota won't face the Leafs for the rest of the regular season.
With the exception of facing Bernier again, it’s too bad the Wild doesn’t play the Leafs again this year because I’m pretty sure there would be a little payback on one Nazem Kadri. After taking out Backstrom, he went high on Mikael Granlund along the boards. For the hit on Granlund, Kadri was given a five minute major and booted from the game. If the League’s disciplinarians don’t look at the first hit on Backstrom, they’ll surely look at the second one.
After the game, Yeo talked about the decision not to engage Kadri. If the Wild went after Kadri, then the Leafs would retaliate on one of Minnesota’s skilled players. The Leafs are one of the tougher teams in the NHL, and the Wild didn’t have guys in the lineup that could matchup with Toronto’s toughs. However, you saw the Wild is willing to stick up for each other, as Kyle Brodziak stepped in with Mark Fraser after he dumped Nino Niederreiter to the ice.
One of the players that can matchup with the heavies of the League is Mike Rupp, who was loaned to Iowa for a conditioning stint and played tonight for the club's AHL affiliate. Rupp has yet to skate in a game with the Wild, but his physical presence is a nice thing to have coming back into the lineup when opponents take runs at the team's skilled players. But the important thing tonight was that the Wild earned two points and outplayed the Leafs.