The Minnesota Wild skates to filibuster one of the National Hockey League’s most dangerous duos tonight at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild faces the League’s leading goal scorer, Alex Ovechkin, and his running mate, Nicklas Backstrom, and the Washington Capitals.
Two weeks ago the Wild earned a 2-1 victory in D.C., while the Caps were without Ovechkin. This year, the 29-year-old is having an MVP-caliber season, leading the League in goals (45) and tied for second in points with Backstrom (71) and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.
“That’s the number one thing that, obviously, we’re going to talk about,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “But this is a great team we’re playing, and, Ovi, there’s no question he’s a huge part of that and what a challenge it is just trying to defend a player like that.”
While Ovechkin will garner most of the headlines, his left-hand center-man is dangerous in his own right. The Swede leads the NHL with 53 assists.
“There’s obviously going to be a lot of eyes, a lot of talk about a player like Ovechkin,” Yeo said. “But it’s easy to, because of that, lose sight of what a great player somebody like Backstrom is and how important he is when he’s out on the ice as well.”
In the team’s first meeting, Jason Pominville and Zach Parise led a third period charge for the win. Pominville scored both of Wild’s goals, assisted by Parise, but the team’s scoring depth has been a contributing factor to its second-half success.
Minnesota’s diversified forward lines make for a tough matchup against any team. It’s not just the top lines that need to chip in offensively.
“Especially this time of year, the matchups get pretty tough for the top groups and you need your big guys to come through. We’ve seen our guys do that for us, but quite often they’re canceling each other off with the other team’s top players,” Yeo said. “What you need is, you need a power play or a third or fourth line. You need a contribution from somewhere else; without a doubt that’s been a big factor in the run that we’ve been on.”
The club’s third line of Charlie Coyle, Justin Fontaine and Thomas Vanek has started to find its stride and chip-in offensively. In the last four games, the trio has combined for 11 points (5-6=11). They each bring a unique set of skills, which has created an agreeable mix.
Up the middle, Coyle has been using his big frame to create space in the offensive zone. Fontaine’s speed on the line has been a big factor in opening up gaps through the neutral zone. Vanek has used the space created by his linemates and been the facilitator.
“It’s nice to get to know guys on your line and create some chemistry with them,” Coyle said. “Fonzy’s not the biggest guy out there, but he makes things happen, he sees the ice pretty well. Same with Thomas, he’s a great player with great vision. You’ve got to be ready with your stick whenever he has the puck.”
The 23-year-old said the team has to be aware of the Caps’ offensive weapons, but it will be just as important to mind its own game.
“You definitely have got to watch him out there, he’s got a few goals this season,” Coyle smiled. “But for the most part we’ve got to focus on what we do best.”
Bergenheim To Hit Milestone
Amidst a playoff push with a new team, Sean Bergenheim didn’t have time to think about an individual milestone. The 31-year-old was pleasantly surprised to find out he’d be playing in his 500th career game tonight.
“I had some friends text me about it,” Bergenheim said. “I actually didn’t know myself.
The forward didn’t set any individual goals when he first started, only dreaming to play in the NHL since he was a child. The one thing the Finn wants is the ultimate team prize.
“If anything, it will be winning the Stanley Cup,” Bergenheim said.
On a team that’s in the hunt for the postseason, the forward couldn’t be happier chasing the silver chalice. In 2010, he was on a Tampa Bay Lightning team that came within one game of making the Cup Final. He knows there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“It’s a good groove the guys got on,” Bergenheim said. “We’ve got to get better still, because we want to win and there’s always room for improvement.”
Just as the Wild continues to push forward, the Helsinki native isn’t ready to look back, yet.
“For me, it’s not that big of a thing,” Bergenheim said. “I think, once my career is done—hopefully I’ll get to play a few more years and get some more games—and then I can look back and say, ‘You know, that was pretty good.’”
According to a WordStream analysis of the top trending searches in the US, residents of the State of Hockey have been searching for the Wild. Based on Google Trends data from the last year, Minnesotan’s search for the hockey team and Minneapolis Craigslist more often than anything else.
Let me save you some time, bookmark Wild.com in your browser because that’s the only place you need to go to find all your latest team info. But if you’re reading this, you probably already know it.