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LARSMONT… In most professional sports seasons, upon review, you can always track down that “defining” moment or play that a season may have turned on. It might be a debilitating injury to a star player that changes your teams’ opportunities for that year, or it could be a play or moment whereby something occurred that united your team and lifted them toward greatness or put them on a Championship path. The Wild had one of those moments last Friday. It might be too early to say that this was “the” moment, but if it’s not when it’s all said and done, it will be top three I can guarantee you. In that matinee tilt versus arch-nemesis Winnipeg, the Wild had a bit of a statement game against a team that has provided them with a lot of headaches in the recent past. In a bit of a true to form fashion, the Wild entered the third period trailing 2-0. I can’t say that they were playing badly, they were skating with the Jets, they just weren’t finishing on their chances.
If I was apprehensive entering the third, the team sure wasn’t. They came out ready to do battle and got their first marker at 3:06 on a goal from the big Swiss National, Nino Neiderreiter to cut the Jet lead in half. And then, here is the moment I think could go down as a potential season changer; at 7:45 of the frame, former UMD Bulldog star JT Brown put a hit on Andrew Copp that had some real authority on it. I want to make sure to emphasize the word “authority”. It didn’t help Copp’s cause that he appeared to get the side of his head hit directly into the curved glass stanchion at the end of the bench, but he went down in a heap and was on the ice face down for a bit. In real-time, it was ugly. He eventually got up and made it to the bench, for which I am glad. I have mixed feelings about stuff like this in the sport, but I fully understand its place. And far too often over the years I have seen the Wild on the wrong end of these sort of in-game occurrences.
These things can change a team’s mindset right on the spot. For the Jets I’m certain they were mad that their teammate got physically challenged like that, for the Wild, this seemed to be a galvanizing, energizing moment. Because not too long after this, Eric Fehr got the tying goal. You can’t always play effective hockey when you are mad and looking for revenge. Chess on ice requires a lot of thinking. The Wild seemed to gain in focus and energy and like I say, the club will be remembering this moment for the remainder of the campaign. The Jets were on top of them, they smacked one of them back, and then going on to win the game was as exhilarating a victory as I have seen in that building for a long time. But I digress.
The game continued at 2 each, and then the Jets Adam Lowry decided to chicken-wing the Wilds Joel Eriksson Ek. He took the elbow right to the face and went down. Upon seeing this, several Wild players were converging on Lowry who was now by the Jet bench area. As Wild D-man Nick Seeler came at him the bench door came open and Seeler was pushed into it and then all H-E-double hockey sticks broke loose. Marcus Foligno joined the fray and somehow was into the bench area as well, and many of the Jets players appeared to be getting multiple licks on the Wild players involved. Order was restored quickly, but in that brief shining moment of mayhem, a galvanized, very much together group of men emerged. And that group came back out after the dust was settled and took over this game. Having watched this league for going on 60 years now, I can say I don’t get really excited by the fighting and other stuff that goes on at times, but this was going on because this game was being played with passion. And I love that about this sport. Sure, I’ve seen some of the more Neanderthal stuff the game has put forth over the decades, but this was acceptable. No player appeared hurt or injured, but guys were sticking up for each other, and for the Wild, if they were already into this tilt, they were even more into it after this fracas.
Penalties were doled out, the contest continued and the Wild came at the Jets with a fury I haven’t always witnessed from this club. And then, for your current moment of the year, about 3 minutes post dustup, at 17:29 Eric Staal put the Wild ahead on a rebound of a Matt Dumba shot and for a moment there, seismic activity in downtown St. Paul appeared on NOAA radar. Crews must be checking the roof at the ‘X’ today to insure it is intact for Tuesday evenings game against Arizona. Zach Parise added an ENG for a 4-2 final and I am still kind of pumped up even a couple of days after. I think this will end up being one of the more important games of this season. The club went 2-0 for the week after the subpar 1-3 week prior. They bested a struggling Ottawa club 6-4 on Tuesday in a not real good game, but a win. The Wild led 4-1 at one point before allowing the Sens to comeback and tie at 4 before a Staal winner pulled it out… PEACE
WILD DATA; The ATHLETIC, 8th with an 84% chance at the playoffs, tracking for 97 points with a 4% Stanley Cup chance. The SAGARIN, 8th on a 14-9 record, 3-3 vs. T10, 4-6 vs. T16 with the 30th ranked schedule difficulty. NHL STANDINGS; tied for 5th overall at 30 points, but ahead of COL and BOS based on ROW (reg & OT wins) tied for 5th on pct. of points available. Tied for 2nd in the Western Conference, also 2nd in the Central Division on a 14-7-2 record, 8-2-2 @ home, 6-5 away, 6-4 in L10. The club is 10th in GF (75), 4th in GA (62), 12th in PP goals (21.5%), 3rd in PK (85.2%) and 20th in PIM’s with 215 penalty minutes assessed. The club is 7th in league attendance with 227,403 after 12 games for a 18,950 average at 105.5% of capacity. Only one team is ahead of the Wild in capacity, and that is Chicago who is at 108% capacity. By comparison the NYI are at the bottom with a 10,585 average. They probably can’t get relocated back to Long Island fast enough. Let’s Play Hockey! OVER & OUT!