Glen Andresen's Five Takeaways vs. Los Angeles
Tuesday, 02.01.2011 / 11:07 PM / Features
By Glen Andresen - Manager of Social Media
Something is going on with this Minnesota Wild team. At times, it’s tough to explain. But sometimes, hockey can be tough to explain. I, for one, am having a difficult time thinking of how to dissect what I just watched, a 1-0 Minnesota Wild shootout win over Los Angeles. All that matters is the Wild pulled two points out of a huge game against a team it was tied with in the standings coming out of the All-Star break.
The first two periods looked like they were played by two teams coming off seven days rest. The third period looked like both teams realized how important this game actually was. The Wild began generating enormous pressure in the Los Angeles zone, but Jonathan Bernier stood his ground.
The game wasn’t ugly, but it certainly wasn’t pretty. But the Xcel Energy Center crowd appreciated the Wild’s effort on several occasions, and they were finally rewarded when Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored the only goal of the shootout.
“That was a good way to start coming off the break,” said Head Coach Todd Richards. “Guys battled and competed, and it’s all about wins. We found a way to win the game.”
If this game hadn’t been so important in the standings, it would have been all about Andrew Brunette. And still, a lot of it was. This wasn’t a farewell game or a comeback from injury game. It was a celebration of a great achievement for a player who overcame some deficiencies in his game to become one of the best playmakers and most underrated offensive players in the game today.
Brunette was on the ice for the opening faceoff, thus making his 1,000th game official. During the first TV timeout, he was honored on the big screen and received a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd. Brunette acknowledged them with several waves.
It was the second time a Wild player reached the 1,000 game mark. With all due respect to Keith Carney, a great veteran and locker room presence, this one was different for Wild fans. Brunette is one of ours. He’s had some of his best years here, and he was instrumental in the Wild’s best season. And, as his coaches and teammates are quick to point out, he’s a great presence to have around, on the ice and off.
In a 0-0 game through regulation and overtime, there’s going to be some good goaltending and defense. But there’s usually some guys generating offense and just not getting the goals. For the first two periods, that group was the Wild’s checking line of Eric Nystrom, Brad Staubitz and John Madden. That trio has combined for eight goals this season, but scoring isn’t their main duty. They’re supposed to bang the other team with hits and apply pressure. And they did that to perfection tonight. It seemed that every time the Kings were threatening in the first two periods, it was the fourth line that got the puck out of the Wild zone and started pinning the Kings in their own.
If there was one knock on Niklas Backstrom coming into tonight, it’s that he’s suspect in shootouts. He had lost seven straight shootouts dating back to his last win on December 4, 2009. He looked plenty confident tonight, stopping all three Kings attempts, including yet another jaw-dropping save.
In the second round, with zero goals on the board, Jack Johnson deked Backstrom to the ice and put the puck on his forehand. Backstrom looked to be toast. Johnson did what he was supposed to do and lifted the puck up high. But then the goaltender’s skate freakishly popped up in the air and knocked the puck out of the air. By my count, that’s’ three straight games that Backstrom has turned in a save that tops his best ever. This one was up there.
Since returning from injury, Backstrom has registered a 3-1-0 record with six goals against and two shutouts. His shutout performance was followed up on the Xcel Energy Center ice by Twins manager Ron Gardenhire who strapped on the goalie pads to face shots from Terry Steinbach and Darby Hendrickson.
“That’ll put a smile on your face right there,” said Richards. “You get to see a good goalie, and then you get to see a bad goalie.”
There’s usually a handful of old hockey players at every Wild game, working as scouts or with a team’s front office to broadcast crew. But tonight, the Al Shaver Press Box was filled with famous sports figures. Gardenhire and Steinbach were there, as was former Viking All Pro, Matt Birk. I like all three of those guys, but I enjoyed seeing gymnast Alicia Sacramone more than any of them.