Minnesota Wild Facing Major Challenge And The Passing Of An All Time Great

Marc Elliott

BIG SANDY…. Game 2 of the National Hockey League Western Conference Semifinals between the Minnesota Wild and the Chicago Blackhawk’s has just concluded and the Wild didn’t come out any better then they did in Game 1. The Hawks defeated the Wild 4-1 tonight to add to their G1 4-3 win to head to St. Paul with a stiff 2 games to none lead. As they did in G1 the Wild did themselves no favors and find themselves with a major uphill battle to deal with in these crucial upcoming 2 games.

In G1 the Wild surrendered a 3-0 lead to the Hawks before they finally engaged and turned the game into a contest. The 4 days off before the game showed as the Wilds timing and just about everything was slightly off kilter. Goalie Devan Dubnyk, who is the major reason the team is in the postseason was fighting the puck and not getting a lot of help from his normally solid  team. The Hawks scored 1:15 into the 1st on a Brandon Saad tally. They added 2 more in the 1st within 2:04 of each other and the Wild were reeling. The only thing in their favor was that there was still a lot of game clock left.

The Wild came out engaged in the 2nd and got 3 scores in the first 9:30 of the frame to tie the game and quiet the large United Center crowd. But with less then a minute to go in the period Teuvo Teravainen scored and that turned out to be the game winner after a scoreless 3rd period. The Hawks outshot the Wild in the 3rd by a 2-1 margin and any hopes of a comeback were decisively dashed. The tough part about this game, with everything that was riding on it was that the Hawks were ready to go and the Wild weren’t. They were deer in the headlights in the 1st. That cannot happen in this tournament, it’s an invitation for an early out.

I had some time to mentally decompress after the G1 debacle and got a pleasant mind diversion in the form of a great Kentucky Derby.  There is nothing like watching 18-20 beautiful equine athletes run full bore around a race track. It just might be the sporting equivalent of a religious experience. This eve the Fan Jr. and I watched the Habs-Lightning battle and the Habs are on a worse convergence with the off-season then are the Wild. After an 2OT loss on Friday they went down tonight 6-2 in perhaps the most undisciplined game I have ever seen a Canadiens team play. Their parade to the penalty box was steady and frequent. They dropped 2 home games and now have to go to Tampa for Games 3 & 4, and even if they split there I’m not certain this team can win 4 of 5 from the Bolts right now. My Habs will probably not survive this round.

Last year between the Wild and Hawks in another Round 2 series no road team won until Game 6 when the Hawks got a lucky bounce of off a stanchion right to All World player Patrick Kane who buried it behind then Wild net minder Ilya Bryzgalov (man that seems like a long time ago) in OT to win the game and the series. Will history repeat itself? Well, perhaps. There were flashes of solid play in the Wilds game tonight but once again mistakes doomed the team in this G2. The Wild had a nice 1st period and it was scoreless after 20 minutes. But then the Hawks got a shortie by Jonathan Toews and then Kane blew a wrist shot past Duby on the far side (stick) with 20 seconds left in the period and it was 2-0 all of the sudden. Then a sliver of hope as the Hawks Michal Rozsival took a 2 minute minor with 2 seconds left and the Wild would start the 3rd on the power play.

1:20 into the 3rd, still on the PP, a streaking Matt Dumba put a shot past Corey Crawford to make the game 2-1. It wasn’t a typical Dumba nuclear laser shot but Crawford missed it and it went in. The game went back and forth from there until another Hawk sharpshooter, Patrick Sharp, was allowed open ice in the left circle and blew another wrist shot past Duby to make it 3-1 and the way the Hawks were defending and Crawford was playing, the tilt was effectively over at that point. Chicago added an ENG with 2:07 left to make the final 4-1. There were times when the Wild were pushing the pace and had extended offensive zone time and then there were times when the Hawks had them hanging on. In the end too may gaffes with positioning and structural breakdowns gave the Hawks the chances they needed and they cashed. Simple as that.

Going back to St. Paul for Games 3 & 4, the Wild could defend home ice and turn it into a 2 of 3 series but the Hawks would still have home ice. Probably the best hope the Wild have now is to get this to a G7 and take their chances. They can win if they eliminate the mistakes that have given the Hawks a 2-0 series lead. If they don’t they will not advance. The Hawks are eyeing up a trip to the WCF and beyond. Focus and on-ice awareness must be put into warp speed. Do I see the Wild taking 4 of 5 games from the Hawks? Where is my book of sports clichés???

I SAW MY FIRST TV  pro wrestling in the very early sixties. It was an AWA show of course and at that time I think it may have been on a Monday night. I marveled at the show and at the interviews of the big, burly wrestlers in between matches. There was a chap doing the interviews and he had on a suit and tie, and sunglasses! It was the great Marty O’Neill. He was interviewing the reigning Champion, a very accomplished athlete named Verne Gagne. In the middle of their interview two other wrestlers, The Crusher and the Bruiser (the reigning bad guys of the era) came in behind Gagne and started to knock the snuff out of him.

Well I jumped up off of my chair! I had never witnessed anything like this before! A new fan had just joined the club. Gagne passed away on April 27th. I will offer up a tribute to him in the upcoming weeks…. RIP Verne, you were the greatest! PEACE