Glen Andresen's Five Takeaways vs. Phoenix
Saturday, 12.31.2011 / 9:15 PM / Features
By Glen Andresen - Manager of Social Media
I was certain that we would see overtime tonight. I haven’t been as confident in anything recently other than that Canada is going to beat the United States in their World Junior Championship matchup tonight.
When Matt Cullen buried a penalty shot to trim a Phoenix Coyotes lead to 3-2 with 11:48 to play, a loss didn’t seem possible. Despite a sluggish performance for the majority of the game, the biggest Xcel Energy Center crowd of the year was in a frenzy. The Wild came in wave after wave to try and bury the equalizer. But Curtis McElhinney either made the saves or the puck hit him, and the Wild closed out 2011 with a 4-2 loss.
“Ready to close out December,” said Head Coach Mike Yeo. “Bring on January.”
Yeo typically says he wants his injured players to get at least one practice in before rejoining the lineup. That rule might have been thrown out the window for a player as important as Jared Spurgeon. We haven’t seen much of Spurgeon since Cody McLeod ran him from behind into the end boards on Monday.
All we knew was that he suffered a lower body injury, and that it wasn’t “too serious.” Still, we didn’t expect to see him out there tonight until word came in late this afternoon that he would take warmups and see how he felt.
He felt good enough to play 20 minutes, and he came the closest to tying this one when his slap shot with McElhinney out of position hit the netminder as he stumbled back toward his goal crease.
Radim Vrbata is already in the Wild record books as the first opponent to ever register a hat trick against Minnesota. That happened when he was just a youngster in the League, skating for the Colorado Avalanche. He’s now a wily veteran, playing for his fifth NHL team, and he’s still finding a way to torment the Wild.
In a tight-checking 1-1 game that looked like it would require just one third period goal to decide it, Vrbata exploded for two quick strikes. He found some room with a shallow angle shot to break the tie. Two minutes later, he scored on a nifty wraparound that proved to be the game-winner.
Cullen needed that penalty shot to snap out of his goal scoring slump that had him scoring just once in 21 games. And the fans needed it to get jacked up. It served its purpose. The most exciting play in hockey came through for both parties.
Cullen whipped a wrister past McElhinney that hit the crossbar, bounced off the netminder’s pad and trickled in. A relieved Cullen skated faster to the bench to high-five his teammates than he did on the penalty shot when he slowly glided in before picking his spot and hitting it…kind of.
With that, 2011 is in the books. There were plenty of highs and lows, but I think the key takeaway from the year is what it bred for the future. This current team is in a good position to make a serious push for the playoffs, if not a second Northwest Division title. The franchise added a glut of high-end prospects to a pool that had already deepened significantly the year before. The young players on the current roster are showing glimpses of why they’ll be stars for years to come. And we’ve got Yeo, who appears to be the right coach to guide this team to the Promised Land.