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ST. PAUL… Well friends, going into their Stanley Cup playoff series versus the Winnipeg Jets the Minnesota Wild were picked by few pundits or fans to get through the “Jet wash” the high-flying club was going to put on them. In fact, in my own bracket I have the Wild losing out to our northern neighbors. Of course, that’s not what I want to happen, but all empirical data available pointed to a conclusive series win by the Jets. I have said consistently though, that both clubs have excellent home ice records, both clubs show some vulnerabilities on the road, and that if the Wild could protect home ice and steal one on the road, they could win this series and advance in the SC tournament. I still feel that way with Game 4 just hours away from us.
Games one and two went badly for the Wild. They were beaten in just about every category available in a pair of losses, 3-2 and 4-1 respectively. The Winnipeg onslaught included 84 shots on goal between the two games and massive offensive zone possession time imbalance. The physicality imposed upon the Wild was of an intimidating nature. The Jets put a huge roster on the ice and are not afraid to use that on their opposition. The boys traveled home down, but not out. Then the weather event of the year thus far hit the State of Hockey and in fact when the Jets practiced and then traveled on Saturday they ended up not being able to reach the MSP International airport and ended up being diverted to the Twin Ports and sat at the Duluth airport for a couple of hours before deciding to head back to The Peg and make another attempt on Sunday morning. Their Sunday morning travel plan worked out and they got into the Metro at about 10am and headed to their hotel for a pregame rest.
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect going into Sunday evenings game. The team had few moments you could point to in the two losses that would give you hope that they could get enough of an upper hand in a game to prevail. To say that some game adjustments were in order wouldn’t cover it. The Wild were having transition problems, seemed to have little cohesiveness in their game, weren’t playing as a five-man unit and if not for the efforts of Devan Dubnyk in goal, the two losses would have most likely been a lot worse. I was nervous and not exactly fired up prior to faceoff. The boys came out with some jump though and I thought that perhaps they could pull one out of the hat. Then just under five minutes in former Gopher star and Jet Captain Blake Wheeler scored on a fluky shot that eluded Duby as he hadn’t sealed off the post properly and I thought here we go. The team did not panic though and dug in.
About five minutes later Mikael Granlund got a power play goal to tie and then with just over two minutes left in the opening frame he setup Zach Parise for the go-ahead marker and the 1st ended with the Wild up 2-1. Matt Dumba scored early in the 2nd, the Jets got one back to close to within one and then the Wild opened up on them and by the end of the period it was 6-2 and that would serve as the final score. I was ecstatic and enthused but that was very quickly tempered with the knowledge that if the boys don’t prevail in G4 they are literally in the danger zone going back north down 3 games to one. What improved the team’s chances in G3 to put them over? They shortened up their passes, moved up ice zone to zone instead of attempting all kinds of stretch passing and played more as a five-man unit. And obviously it helped Coach Bruce Boudreau immensely to have the home ice last change advantage. That hurt their effort up north.
And what other factor helped out? The Wild matched the Jets physical play with their own with Marcus Foligno playing the role of wrecking ball out there. But really, every man up elevated their play in that key factor and it pushed the team’s chances forward. As good as the Jets are, they were 20-21 on the road in the regular season, so yes, they can be had when they are out of their element. However, the challenges continue to grow for the Wild, and I have literally just heard about one hour ago that Wild forward Zach Parise suffered a broken sternum at the tail end of G3 and is most likely done for this season, no matter how long the boys stay in the tourney. With Ryan Suter also out for the year, this puts two of the most important members of the core group on the shelf and out of play and Parise has been one of the top three players on the team so far in this series. This could be a huge blow to the team’s chances to win this series.
What can we expect for tonight’s game? It’s a given that the Jets will adjust to the Wilds G3 adjustments. They will try to close off their shortened passing game and they will redouble their aggressive physical play in an attempt to close off the Wilds skating game. The Wild were on the short end on faceoffs up north, but performed better at the ‘X’ with a 36 to 33 advantage there. The Jets aren’t without their injury challenges and will scratch D-man Tyler Myers who was injured on Sunday night in a freak play against Foligno. They were already playing without D-man Toby Enstrom. The Wild closed the gap as far as SOG went, but the Jets still had a 31-29 tally there. At The Peg the Jets easily had a 2-1 ratio shots advantage. After the 2nd period scoring blizzard the Wild put up, Coach Paul Maurice pulled starter Connor Hellebuyck for veteran Steve Mason. Tyler Ennis will insert into the lineup for Parise. Ennis isn’t a big body player, so I fear for him a bit as this series has been brutal so far, but he plays with huge energy and can make plays and is mostly defensively responsible, so I believe he will be ok, he just isn’t Zach Parise. The Wild will feed off their fan energy and I look for them to prevail in a tight one goal win tonight. The entire SC tourney has been nothing short of fantastic so far and will continue to thrill! LET’S GO WILD! PEACE