Wild set series tone with Game One win

Marc Elliott

Photo: Minnesota Wild

ST. PAUL – In a furious tilt that just concluded, the Minnesota Wild have beat the Vancouver Canucks in Game One of their qualifying round series in the 2020 Stanley Cup tournament.

Head Coach Dean Evason gets his first playoff win as an NHL Head Coach and in electing to go with Big Al Stalock in goal, made a good choice and got Stalock a shutout win in the series opener.

This game had an edge to it from the get-go when after a minor bit of bumping in the corner after a whistle, the Wild’s Marcus Foligno and the Canucks’ Michael Ferland dropped the gloves for an early dustup to get the juices flowing for their respective teams. Even though Foligno suffered a minor cut to the bridge of his nose, I believe I’d have to award him a split decision in this one.

I was somewhat surprised to see Ferland get into this as he missed a great deal of the past regular season due to concussion symptoms. But make no mistake, he is a tough, hard-nosed player that you have to respect. You’d like him if he was on your team. He made a name for himself while playing for the Calgary and Carolina clubs.

Tonight’s actions didn’t play out for the Canucks though as the fight seemed to disrupt any chance for them to get some early rhythm and Ferland never seemed to be that effective afterwards either.

Then as soon as Foligno and Ferland went into the penalty boxes the Canucks took a tripping call and the Wild scored 3 seconds into the PP to take an early 1-0 lead.
This isn’t a path the Canucks wish to be on in a short five-game series.

With a strong veteran presence on the Wild with a load of playoff experience besides, the Wild already had established game control.

But the Canucks do have a lot of skill and talent and they showed it in spurts at times this eve, but every time they did Stalock was there to gobble up shots and rebounds. In fact, Big Al played such a controlled game I don’t remember an instance where he had to do any significant scrambling to shut down a Vancouver opportunity. Give credit to the Wild D-corps for that.

I had several spirited online exchanges with Canuck fans who weren’t enjoying my analysis of the Wild veterans, with their experience and abilities to defend strongly as five- man units likely winning this series due to the youth and inexperience of the Canucks upper level stars.

I just don’t like the chances of young skilled players in this tournament without being game tested in the pursuit of a Cup. It IS that hard of a tournament to win.
Just look at the Maple Leafs in consideration of this. They have some of the top young players in the game today. They also have lost in the first round of their last three playoff appearances.

Just consider how many seasons it took the Detroit Red Wing core to mature enough to consistently win playoff series. Same for the Penguins.

It takes more than talent and skill to win in the playoffs in the NHL and some Canuck fans I encountered just didn’t want to hear that. I understand.

Years back, before I had accumulated many years of wisdom from watching this league, I was the same way. I’m still lousy at prognosticating and this series has a ways to go, but I’m hanging with the Wild here.

From the box score, the Wild outshot VAN 31-28. They were 2 for 4 on the PP while Van went 0 for 1. VAN won the faceoff battle 36-25 and outhit the Wild 40-28. The Wild had more blocked shots 15-14.

The two clubs will meet again on Tuesday eve for Game 2, with Game 3 slotted for Thursday, gametime TBD. At this point I’m not certain what adjustments the Canucks could make before G2.

Their checking game was somewhat strong, albeit not at its strongest when they needed it the most. They got shots, but the shot chart for the game shows that the Wild mostly negated any prime high percentage opportunities.

They dominated the faceoff circle for the most part, and Jacob Markstrom played fairly well in net for them. It would be merely cliche-like to state that the young Canuck skill players need to “step up” but that’s what needs to happen and with the Wild vets in the way that just might not happen.

We’re right back to that experience thing and the guys that VAN needs to come through the most do not have that. It’s the playoff hockey ‘X’ factor.

In a short best of 5 series, G1 couldn’t be more important and the Wild just put it in their column. The youthful Canucks just might be about to learn a most painful lesson.

IN OTHER NHL ACTION, the Hurricanes beat the NYR on Saturday in their G1 by a 3-2 score.

I had the Rangers here as they were one of the best clubs going at the time of the shutdown. They didn’t show that in G1.

The Blackhawks surprised the Oilers in a 6-4 win and chased EDM goalie Mike Smith in the 2nd after only making 18 saves on 23 shots.

CHI outshot the Oilers 42-29.

The Isles beat Florida by a 2-1F. The victory here was courtesy of the Isle’s stifling defensive play.

The Canadians surprised Pittsburgh with a 3-2 OT win to take a 1-0 lead in that series. I am quite anxious to see how the Pens respond to this.

Also on Day one of the tourney Calgary beat the Jets 4-1 in a game where the Jets lost star player Mark Schiefele early and Patrick Laine late in the game to injuries. Their G2 status is unknown at this time.

Schiefele’s loss  appeared to be a freak injury in a way, but since Flames player Matthew Tkachuk was very close to him, perhaps it wasn’t that freakish at all. Jet Coach Paul Maurice stated as much in his postgame presser. Either way, the Flames had the upper hand for most of this tilt.

Also today, the Arizona Coyotes held on to beat Nashville 4-3 in their opening game and the Preds started Juusi Saros in goal, breaking an 89 game streak of playoff appearances by long time netminder Pekka Rinne.

As I had thought, the Columbus Bluejackets beat Toronto by a 2-0 final with Joonas Korpisalo getting the shutout for the CBJ. This is another matchup where the veteran experience favors the Jackets. It’s just the way I see it. TOR actually played a respectable defensive game and still came up empty.

In Round Robin play Philadelphia outclassed Boston in a 4-1 win and the Avalanche beat the STL Blues 2-1 on a PP score with 1/10th of a second remaining on the clock and the tally held up under review. It was a bit on the crazy side, just like SC play in August!