Chasing the Blues away
By Jamie MacDonald
February 11, 2011
If Wild fans hadn't already considered capping Hockey Day Minnesota 2010 by watching St. Louis-Minnesota on Saturday night, the two teams on Friday offered three periods, an overtime and nine shootout rounds to tempt the hockey soul in the front end of a back-to-back set.
Minnesota took the first of four meetings between the two teams by way of a 4-3 shootout win, but it sure wasn't easy getting there. The Wild and Blues skated through 60 minutes of tight, physical and mostly sharp hockey in a game where the visitors trailed four different times. Minnesota needed a Martin Havlat goal at the 19:02 mark of the third period to force overtime before taking a second standings point in a marathon shootout. Jose Theodore sealed it with his fifth straight extra-extra-frame save.
Theodore made 31 saves overall, while Cal Clutterbuck scored twice and Mikko Koivu added two assists for a victory that vaulted the Wild back into the Western Conference's top eight. As was the case Wednesday night, however, that distinction would be short-lived as a late Calgary win bumped Minnesota back to No. 9.
CHASING THE BLUES AWAY
Against a Blues team that has been good at home this season, the Wild fell behind, 1-0, only 1:50 in to the game. Minnesota tied it less than a minute later on Andrew Brunette's 15th goal of the year. A St. Louis goal at 15:34 of the first sent the home team to the intermission with a 2-1 lead. Only 1:30 after the break, Cal Clutterbuck, who had only scored once in 12 games since a three-game goal-scoring streak in January, knotted things at 2-2.
On that goal, the Wild were at their forechecking best. Havlat, below the goal line, cut off a pass behind the net, gathered the puck and hit Clutterbuck. Clutterbuck, from the slot, took the puck and turned it right back around with a wrister that beat Jaroslav Halak with a shot that was, somewhat uncharacteristically, low and to the blocker side.
St. Louis again extended the lead only :19 into the third. And again the Wild responded quickly, this time less than :30 later, on another Clutterbuck goal made possible by the hard forecheck of a linemate.
Within six minutes, however, it was 4-3, and it appeared such an even game would, quite literally, come down to the bounce of a puck. The St. Louis goal was scored when a shot from the Blues blue line bounced off David Backes, down off the ice, through traffic and over Theodore's glove at 6:20.
Havlat's late goal pulled the game from the loss column in the waning minute.
The Wild had just squandered a late power play, but, with Theodore pulled for an extra attacker, made the most of their chances in the Blues' end. A Koivu shot made it to Halak as the seconds ticked off the clock, and it was Havlat, camped at the top of the crease, who whacked the puck in with :58 left on the clock.
Friday's shootout featured 18 shooters, with the advantage clearly held by the goaltenders. Only seven goals were scored, though the Blues converted on two of their first three shots to force Koivu to extend the shootout in the third round. Koivu went to a tried-and-true move, pulling from his forehand to his backhand and shooting seemingly in one motion.
From there, Brent Burns also scored on a patented move he's used before, skating across the crease, turning his body while dragging the puck with him and waiting for the goaltender to drop. Alexander Steen answered to knot the shootout at 3-3, which was followed by eight consecutive saves.
John Madden, who later said he had every intension of shooting because he'd seen pucks rolling on Antti Miettinen and Andrew Brunette, instead drove closer to the net, brought it to his backhand and fired in what turned out to be the shootout winner.
"I just wanted to see what he was going to give me, and kind of take it," Madden told Dan Terhaar and Mike Greenlay afterward.
ET TU, BACKES?
Thought by many to be set up as the final pick in the All-Star Game's draft (he wasn't; that "honor" went to Madison, Wisc., native and former Gopher Phil Kessel), Minnesota native Backes is having an excellent season. On Friday, he scored his 19th and 20th goals of the season.
In addition to the would-be game-winner, Backes also opened the scoring in the Blues' third period goal when he completed a two-on-one with Brad Boyes. (It's never a good sign when Koivu is ahead of Burns on a mad dash of a backcheck into their own end, which is what happened on St. Louis' third goal.)
A desperate team is a dangerous team, and that's what St. Louis is battling at this point of the season. Earning a point helped the Blues jump in front of Colorado by a point, but they remain No. 13 in the West. They are, however, getting healthier, with T.J. Oshie and Andy McDonald returning in recent weeks. St. Louis does have plenty of skill to go along with some physical players, a recipe that will likely lead to another spirited effort Saturday in Saint Paul.