Mike Doyle's Five Takeaways vs. Florida
Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 11:34 PM / Minnesota Wild | Features
By Mike Doyle - Managing Editor
What a Finnish! Yeah, I’m doubling up our Wild.com headline, but after a final 45 seconds like that you should let it slide. How nice is it to have Mikko Koivu healthy and back in the lineup? Koivu showed why Head Coach Mike Yeo calls him a difference maker, getting an assist on Erik Christensen’s game-tying goal and finishing off the game with a beautiful move for the overtime winner.
Fifteen seconds into overtime, Koivu took a tape-to-tape stretch pass from Tom Gilbert and skated in on Jose Theodore. Dmitry Kulikov tried a last-ditch diving poke check, but Koivu widened his stance and held off the stick check. Koivu then regained his footing, slammed on the breaks and jammed the puck past an outstretched Theodore. It was a world-class move that only a handful of players in the NHL could have made.
Koivu’s overtime heroics were set up by Erik Christensen’s game-tying goal with 30 seconds left on the clock. One thing you can say about this Wild team: they don’t quit. With the net empty, Koivu took the puck along the half-wall and wheeled around to the top of the circle. He fed the puck to Gilbert, who fired a slap-pass in Christensen’s direction. The puck hit Panthers’ defenseman Brian Campbell in the foot and ricocheted off the post. Christensen stuck with the play and slammed it into the open net. On both the game-tying and winning goals, Gilbert made two heads up plays. Gilbert was brought in to be a puck moving defenseman, and he certainly showed off that skill tonight.
Jason Zucker made his Wild debut, playing 10 minutes and registering three shots on goal. He was welcomed to the NHL with a solo power lap during warm ups. The Wild let the rookie lead the team onto the ice and burst through the gate like he was shot out of a cannon. Niklas Backstrom, second in line, got to the tunnel and stopped in his tracks allowing Zucker to take a lonely lap. All things considered, the rookie took the prank pretty well because he was grinning ear to ear. Maybe he was just happy he didn’t catch an edge and fall down.
Head Coach Mike Yeo saw the prank, and with a childish grin said, “Pretty good.”
After the prank it might have taken Zucker a period to adjust to the pro game, but in the second, he looked much more comfortable with the NHL speed. Although the rookie didn’t factor into the scoring tonight, he had a couple of good opportunities. In the second period, the Wild was hemmed into its defensive zone for an extended shift. The puck bounced out of the zone and, with Florida making a bad line change, Zucker was left with some room to maneuver. Even at the end of a shift, the 20-year-old showed a good burst of speed and streaked down the left wing towards the Panther’s net. He had a clean look at Jose Theodore, but just put the puck over the cross bar.
In the third period with his line creating a solid forecheck, Zucker had a few whacks at a rebound and tumbled over the top of Theodore. It might take Zucker some time to learn the Wild’s systems and the pro style of play. But, one thing you can’t teach is goal scoring, and if Zucker goes to the net like he did tonight, he should be able to help the Wild in that department.
Niklas Backstrom and Justin Falk both returned from lower body injuries after nearly a month removed from game action. Backstrom was his normal calm, cool and excellent self, making 25 saves in the win. It was his first start since March 1. Backstrom is at his best when he is limiting movement and controlling rebounds. Tonight, Wild fans were reminded of why Backstrom is one of the players nominated for the EA SPORTS NHL 13 cover.
Falk played for the first time since March 4 and logged a shade over 14 minutes of ice-time and was even in the plus/minus department. Falk can be a physical force on the blue line, and it will take a game or two before the defenseman gets his timing back. However, for missing more than a month, he played Erik Gudbranson perfectly on a one-on-one. Gubranson came down on Falk with a full head of steam, but Falk kept the Florida D-man in front of him and separated him from the puck. Just how they teach you at summer hockey camp.
Tonight was “Back on Home Ice” the Wild’s tribute to the State of Hockey’s first NHL team, the Minnesota North Stars. In a ceremony before the game, 35 former North Stars were recognized for pioneering the sport in Minnesota. Check out the Wild TV video of the ceremony.
It was exciting to see the former NHLers take the ice, but it was even better to see Brad Maxwell and Neal Broten during a second-intermission shooting contest. They had to fire pucks through a board with a hole cut out of the middle, and into the net. The ice crew didn’t take into account that these weren’t your average Joe’s walking in from the street, because Maxwell knocked the board over after a few shots. He should have just fired pucks into the empty net, but instead celebrated the overturned board. Maxwell’s hesitation wasted valuable time and he fired three pucks in the hole. Broten stepped up and looked like he still might be able to play in the NHL, firing four pucks into the back of the net on about 8 shots. The man has still got it.