Never a doubt! Lots of doubts!
Wednesday’s game is the perfect example of how a squad—specifically the Ottawa Senators—can be both the NHL’s best offensive team and worst defensive team simultaneously. Minnesota seemed to have the game completely in hand through the first thirty minutes against the innocuous Dr. Jekyll version of the Senators, getting out to a 2-0 lead in the first, extending it to 3-0 in the second, and opening the third 4-1. But then the terrifying Mr. Hyde version of Ottawa came out for the final twenty, and it clawed all the way back to tie the game, before Dr. Jekyll and his terrible defense could once again be exposed.
That’s the game the Senators play. It’s wide open, all offense and no defense, firewagon hockey at its finest (or worst). Once Minnesota got the lead, the Sens started pressing, and the rest of the game was just a race for the finish to see who could score more goals. A normally responsible defensive team in the Wild would get sucked right in, but fortunately compose itself with enough time to… somehow… come out on top.
I’m exhausted from this game, but let’s review it, shall we?
The Wild got off to a pretty good start, controlling the majority of the play in the first period. It seemed like things were fairly tight checking initially, but Minnesota had almost all of the offensive zone time, with just a few occasional rushes coming back the other way.
As we crept inside of five minutes remaining in the opening frame, Joel Eriksson Ek raced down the left wall and snapped a quick shot on Craig Anderson, who was off his angle. The puck looked, sounded, and felt like it went in, with the crowd reacting accordingly and JEEK partially celebrating. But the referee waived it off, the goal light never came on, and play continued. Before there was even a chance for a video review, though, Eriksson Ek came in on another rush down the opposite side of the ice, and this time went all the way down to the goal line before dishing a perfect area pass into the slot for Jordan Greeenway. Greenway skated into it and buried his third career NHL goal.
The following moments were a bit comical, as the first play was reviewed to see if Eriksson Ek’s shot would count as a goal or not. Eventually it was ruled that the puck never crossed the line, as it had actually hit two posts and come out, so Greenway’s quick follow-up ended up being needed after all.
In the final minute of the frame, with the teams playing 4-on-4, Eriksson Ek was impactful once again, as he hustled into the offensive zone and drew a penalty by driving to the net. Minnesota, then enjoying the rare 4-on-3 advantage with just 30 seconds remaining, would cash in, as Mikael Granlund sauced a perfect pass all the way across and into Matt Dumba’s wheelhouse. Dumba fired yet another beautiful Dumbbomb over Anderson’s stickside for the 2-0 lead to close out the period.
Five minutes into the second, Dumba imposed his will in a different way, laying a big hit on fiery young Brady Tkachuk at the offensive blueline. Tkachuk retaliated, and somehow took the only penalty on the play. On the ensuing man advantage, after lots of different tries to find the right look consumed nearly the full two minutes, Eric Staal finally found it. He received a pass from Granlund and didn’t hesitate, blasting it home from the slot at the six-minute mark, bringing Minnesota’s lead to 3-0.
As the halfway point of the game came and went, we started to sense—for the first time—that the Senators weren’t completely rolling over in this one. Coming through the neutral zone with seven minutes left in the period, Mikkel Boedker corralled a rolling puck, then slid it across to Chris Tierney, who was streaking to the far post for an easy tap-in.
Moments later, Staal blocked a shot with his left foot, and laid on the ice for a bit, before eventually hobbling to the bench, barely putting weight on the foot. It didn’t look good, and felt like a metaphor for where the game was going. But Staal somehow stayed in the game, which would end up being a good thing, because the Wild would need him again down the stretch.
Minnesota did respond once more before the period ended, restoring faith before heading to the dressing room. The Greenway/Eriksson Ek/Charlie Coyle line, which had been great all night, made it happen yet again. Greenway got the puck in the corner and fed a pass out to Dumba, who wristed it home for his second of the game. With Eriksson Ek providing a screen, Anderson seemed to just miss it. It was Dumba’s tenth of the season, giving him the lead for most goals by a defenseman in the entire league. Wowza!
With famed on-air personality Mark Borowiecki in the penalty box in the opening minute of the third, the Senators began setting the tone to indicate that they would now be taking over for the foreseeable future. Thomas Chabot caught a pass just inside the blueline from Zack Smith on what looked like a nothing short-handed play. But Chabot fired off an absolute laser that eluded Devan Dubnyk to pull Ottawa back to within two.
Eight minutes later, with the ice now tilted for Ottawa, Smith won an offensive zone face-off back to Christian Jaros, who hesitated for a moment to allow traffic to get to Dubnyk, before letting a wristshot go that found its way through to the top corner.
Uh oh… 4-3.
Then just seconds after that, the puck got rimmed around the endwall behind Dubnyk to Tom Pyatt, who was waiting for it and promptly found Colin White in the slot. White partially fanned on it, but the shot fooled Dubnyk enough to tie the score. After allowing three goals in thirteen minutes to let Ottawa right back in the game, Bruce Boudreau needed a change, so in came Alex Stalock to spark the team and hopefully stop the bleeding.
With Stalock in, the Wild quickly calmed down and swung the momentum back in their favor. Jason Zucker battled behind the net with six minutes left, then spun and threw a back-hander out in front. Staal—who miraculously was able to stay in the game after the earlier injury—didn’t get all of the shot, but fooled Anderson and found the back of the net to regain the lead for the Wild.
After some seriously tense moments with Anderson on the bench and six skaters on for the Sens in the closing minutes, Mikko Koivu battled HARD to get the puck out of the Wild’s zone. The Kaptain literally threw Bobby Ryan down at the blueline (a questionable non-call), then carried White through the neutral zone on his back, before chipping it to Zach Parise. Parise differed to Eric Fehr for the empty netter, making it 6-4…
Ballgame. Buttclench released.
So, just like we drew it up! Take a 4-1 lead into the third period, let the Senators come all the way back to tie it, switch goalies, and somehow come away with a regulation victory.
Staal and Dumba would end up with two goals each, Greenway had a goal and an assist, and Granlund had three assists.
Great game, Wild, now don’t ever do it again!
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Wilderness!