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Following Thursday night’s 5-1 victory over the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild goaltender, Manny Fernandez mentioned to the Star Tribune that he wished the Wild could have played a man short all night.
Ah, goalies. They say the darndest things.
The way the Wild penalty kill forces have been playing, you’d have to like the Wild’s chances even if that were the case. Opponents have just one goal in the last 23 opportunities four games, including an 0-for-8 night for Nashville. The only goal was scored by Phoenix on Tuesday, when the Wild was shorthanded nine times.
The Wild PK unit that typically includes seven defensemen and forwards Wes Walz, Todd White, Brian Rolston, Stephane Veilleux and Pascal Dupuis enjoyed a stretch of 28 consecutive kills over six games back in late December.
The Minnesota Wild penalty kill unit has been dominant all season long. It currently ranks first in the National Hockey League, having killed 247 of 277 opponent power plays this season, good enough for an 89.2% efficiency rate. The Wild has given up more than one power play goal in a game just five times in 50 games.
But the crowning moment for the unit came on Thursday in a two minute stretch in the second period. With the Predators within a goal, Mikko Koivu and Derek Boogaard were called for tripping and boarding respectively, on the same play. That gave the team tied atop the Western Conference standings a two-man advantage for a full two minutes.
What followed over the course of those two minutes was perhaps the most uplifting moment at the Xcel Energy Center since the 2003 playoffs.
The Predators moved the puck around diligently and fired off one attempt after another. The cheers grew louder after each Manny Fernandez save, missed shot or tipped pass. Defenseman Daniel Tjarnqvist couldn’t get off the ice for a change even when the Wild was able to clear the zone.
As Koivu and Boogaard burst out of the box after Nashville controlled the puck for the entirety of the power play, the noise level inside the building reached levels that could crush ear drums.
"That was basically the turning point in the game," admitted Nashville forward Greg Johnson. "At that point, the fans were really into it."
The standing ovation morphed into pandemonium in less than a minute later when Pierre-Marc Bouchard lit the lamp for a 3-1 lead. It was a sequence that anyone who attended the game will likely remember for a long time.
"When we killed it, (everyone in the arena) were all standing and cheering," said Bouchard. "It felt so good for us, and kept us going."
"It was neat," head coach Jacques Lemaire said of the crowd’s standing ovation.