Having played a home game on the day after Thanksgiving each year in team history, the Wild’s post-Turkey match ups have become as much of a tradition as lining up outside stores at 3 a.m.
And hosting the division-leading Colorado Avalanche (whom they tied 2-2 in the 2002 post-holiday showdown), the Wild showed no signs of a tryptophan hangover, as they provided the fiery start Richards has long sought for, on their way to a 5-3 victory.
And this year, Black Friday brought the Wild more than just a hard-fought win, it marked left-winger Guillaume Latendresse first game for Minnesota since he was traded from Montreal.
For a player who didn’t practice with the Wild this week, and spent several days off the ice, coach Todd Richards thought Latendresse fit in fairly well with his new club, and has high hopes for the physical forward.
“Hockey’s hockey. There’s not going to be a lot of differences (in team styles),” Richards said, adding, “I can see that he has a good set of hands.”
But the story of the Wild’s matinee wasn’t Latendresse or his hands. It was right-winger Chuck Kobasew, who logged his second career hat trick on two great second period goals and an empty-netter in the third.
Opening the game by Peppering Avs goalie Craig Anderson with shots in the first few minutes, the Wild had some good chances, but failed to tally. Then, the speedy Avalanche quickly turned the tables when center Matt Duchene fed defenseman Kyle Quincy who flipped a shot from the slot past Niklas Backstrom at 5:58.
It didn’t take long for Minnesota to counter, however. At 9:28 Owen Nolan slipped a shot underneath an airborne Craig Anderson diving too late to make the save. And the sides headed to the dressing room tied with a goal apiece.
But as controlled as the first period was, the goals and penalties piled up quickly in the second. Minnesota took a 2-1 lead early when a bouncy Derek Boogaard pass from the side of the net found Chuck Kobasew’s stick in the slot for the first leg of his hat trick, and earning Boogaard his first assist and point of the season.
Less than two minutes later, with Robbie Earl in the box on a hooking call and Colorado on the power play, Paul Stastny chipped a goal by Backstrom from just in front of the crease, tying it at 2-2.
“For sure, it was tough. They’re a skill team. They seem to make a lot of traffic in front of the net. It’s a big challenge to play them.”
But, again, the ice didn’t stay quiet for long. Just seventeen seconds after the Stastny equalizer, Colorado’s Marek Svatos was whistled for tripping, putting the Wild on the power play, and again it was Kobasew, all alone in front of the net, putting Minnesota up with his second goal of the game.
In keeping with the period’s seesaw theme, Avs immediately began applying pressure on the power play. Backstrom made a series of saves, but it was Andrew Brunette who ultimately saved the Wild. After losing his stick, Brunette went to the ice and swept the puck out of the zone with this glove, preserving the lead as the power play expired. The Avs finally tied it back up when the Wild won a face off in the Colorado zone, but a lost control, leading to Chris Stewart and Wojtek Wolski rushing in on Backstrom and Stewart punching in a shot.
“I think at points it was a little bit frustrating,” Richards said.
“But I think the problems that happened to us tonight, we created those ourselves. Mismanagement and poor decisions that resulted in chances for them. But the players found a way.”
With just over a minute left in the period, the Avalanche came within a hair of taking the lead back. After a shot initially got past Backstrom, Colorado’s Cody Mcleod reached his behind the goal tender as the puck slithered directly across the goal line. Mcleod’s contact, however, sent the puck underneath Backstrom, stopping play and sending the teams to the second intermission still tied.
“You’re not going to see to see the puck bounce your way every night,” Backstrom said. “But it was nice to it bounce our way tonight.”
The Wild came back out for the third period clearly rejuvenated, attacking the net early and created swarming chaos around Anderson. Richards chalked some of the uneven energy level up to the game’s unusual start time.
“We hit a lull a little bit. But I think that was partially about the time of day,” he said. Richards commented that during most game days many players are napping during the afternoon, not in the midst of a divisional showdown.
After Andrew Brunette knocked in the go-ahead goal midway through the final period, Colorado returned to the attack. In the final minute, Mikko Koivu and Kobasew charged out of the Minnesota zone toward the empty Colorado net. Kobasew slid in, and headgear rained down from the fans.
Tomorrow the Wild travel to Colorado for the second part of the two-game home-and-home series, with a little more confidence that the team is starting to gel.
“You don’t want to jinx it, but I think we’re getting out identity. It seems like we believe in what we’re doing. And if we’re down one goal, we believe we can come back. That’s huge for us,” Backstrom said.
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