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Wild Depth Downs Wings, 3-2

The comeback fell short, but it felt like it was going to be real for a minute.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Detroit Red Wings Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Well, today was the anniversary of the 1980 Miracle on Ice, which is the most important day on the calendar in Minnesota, and the Wild were playing a team in red, sooooo emotions were high I guess. An easy game for them to get up for. Or more likely, they are fighting for their playoff lives with Chicago, Colorado, and Arizona all giving chase on that last wild card spot. At any rate, Minnesota came in with a more sustained effort than Detroit, and the result was reflected on the score board.

Tough one to take in Detroit, as Larkin, Nyquist, Bertuzzi, DeKeyser, and Hronek were very good all night and the rest of the team was lukewarm.

First Period

Was it just me, or was that lower bowl particularly empty tonight? The Wings got the better of the match up in the first few minutes, until Kronwall got onto the ice and did not look good. He then got called for hooking Luke Kunin to put the Wings down a skater. I am not on the Kronwall hate-wagon, but it wasn’t the best start for him. Detroit didn’t give Minnesota many good looks on the power play, except for one streaking puck fanned on by Jared Spurgeon.

The penalty kill seemed to take some wind out of Detroit’s sails, or at least give Minnesota some confidence. Afterward, Minnesota kept standing up Detroit at the blue line, forcing a lot of dump and chase. This Red Wings iteration is a lot better at dump and chase than previous versions thanks to their speed, but they couldn’t get any magic going.

Larkin’s line plus Ericsson and Daley managed to hold light pressure on the Wild in their zone through repeated icings, but eventually the Wild broke free and Bernier robbed Jonas Brodin in the slot for Minnesota’s second great chance of the night. And Ericsson somehow got into a scrum with Jason Zucker, who’s like, six inches shorter than E? Okay, sure.

Mantha then got sent to the box for hooking because Parise skated his hands into Mantha’s stick. The Wings cleared it, Dubnyk went out to the side board to play the puck, then hesitated. Helm sneaked around him and picked Dubnyk’s pocket and threw the puck on net. Mikael Granlund made a great heads up play to skate into the paint and save Helm’s shot from making it 1-0. Real weird stuff.

Wings killed off the penalty and seemed to be rejuvenated, probably because the top line was out there. Once they went off then the Wild regained the initiative, which was by now an established pattern (IF ONLY WE STILL HAD JENSEN.)

Eventually this would come back to bite Detroit, as they couldn’t afford to lose three of four match ups time in and out. The Wild’s third line got matched against Detroit’s fourth and the Red Wings just couldn’t seem to knock Ryan Donato, Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin off the puck, eventually resulting in Kunin scoring on a wrap around attempt after shaking off two Wings to make it 1-0 Wild.

I took a look at the shot counter as the first period wound down and realized damn, they’ve really had their say of things in the second half of this period and literally right after that Jordan Greenway poked an errant puck past Anthony Mantha to give himself space in the slot and slapped one past Bernier to make it 2-0 Wild. Blashill got his best players back out for the waning seconds of the period, and they buzzed Dubnyk multiple times, especially on a strong opportunity by DeKeyser, but the buzzer rang and the Wings had to settle being down two in the hole for the remainder of the period.

Score: 2-0 Wild
Shots: 14-9 Wild
Standouts: The Top Line and Top Pairing

Second Period

Blash got his best players forward line once again and in what was in some ways a repeat of the Kunin goal in the first period, the Wings cycled the puck clockwise around the zone, behind Dubnyk, then off Larkin’s stick to Hronek, who took a shot from the point that was bound to go high and wide until Beautiful Bertuzzi had one hell of a tip to cut Minnesota’s lead in half, 2-1! Just a gorgeous tip. Almost as nice as his hair and that gap between his front teeth.

The first 5 minutes of the period was all Wings, with the Wild failing to register a shot until the end of that span. A broken stick ruined a nice chance for Green. Then we got treated to a clean Kronwalling against Nick Foligno. This drew a roughing penalty from Foligno and yeah, this period felt much, much better in the early going than the first.

On the ensuing power play Vanek made a wonderful cross-ice feed to a wide open Athanasiou, who was positively robbed by a sprawling Dubnyk who just barely got his blocker on it. Absolute robbery.

The penalty fun didn’t end there, though! Zucker got on his horse and drew a holding call from Ericsson, or as the Minnesota play-by-play guy said, all Ericsson could do once Zucker got past him was to go water skiing.

The penalty kill was a total mess as PKers got turned around and Wild forwards crashed the net. Eight skaters piled up in front of Bernier as Eric Staal grabbed a loose puck and slipped it around Bernier to make it 3-1 Wild.... Fiddlesticks.

The Red Wings got caved for the next several minutes as the ice tilted back in Minnesota’s favor, which meant Larkin, Nyquist, and Bertuzzi rebuilt the momentum once again. If you didn’t watch the game and you feel like I’m harping on this point, I can’t emphasize enough how apparent it was that this line was the best unit on the ice for either team.

And to be fair, it’s not like Nielsen or Glendening’s lines or Ericsson and Daley never had their moments; it’s just that they took a lot more than they gave, which is part of the reason why, as the period came to a close, the Wings could not muster any more shots on goal.

Score: 3-1 Wild
Shots: 25-17 Wild
Standouts: See Above

Third Period

Within two minutes of the period Zucker managed to hook Ericsson on a totally unnecessary penalty, but Detroit fans were glad for the lack of focus. Hronek quarterbacked the first unit, which was a cool nod of confidence in the young blue liner, as he earned himself an assists off a fast shot from Mantha on the power play to make it 3-2! Cue the comeback train, everybody!

Seriously though, two seasons ago the Wings always folded like a house of cards I’d build if I ever tried to do that. Now the narrative around the league is that they’re plucky comeback kids. The Minnesota broadcast crew, at least, seems to believe good things are coming for Detroit down the road based on their comments, which is a nice form of external validation.

Despite this narrative, Minnesota wasn’t going to lay back and let the Wings dare to tie the game; they knew and expected the Wings to push hard to tie the game on home ice and knew that the best way to stop the guys in red was to hold onto the puck, or, barring that, make the Detroit defenders handle the puck instead of the Detroit forwards. Throughout the middle of the period Minnesota got several great chances. Bernier managed to stop them all, but his rebound control was not the stuff of beauty. In his defense, the Wild were trying to replicate their power play success by crashing the net and shaking him off his game as much as possible. In particular, he had a nice save against Zucker with less that nine minutes left.

Nielsen nearly tied it up with a nice spin move on Dubnyk’s back door in what might have been his best play of the night. Then more scrums with Abdelkader in the middle. It’s the seeds of the rivalry NBC always wanted us to have but never developed (/rolls eyes.)

The scoring effects came calling home in Detroit’s favor, though, as the Wings controlled the last five minutes of play, but Minnesota did a nice job pushing the Wings back into the neutral zone, keeping Bernier in net until the last 90 seconds. Detroit couldn’t get any truly dangerous looks with the man advantage however,

Score: 3-2 Wild
Shots: 35-28 Wild
Standouts: The Usual Suspects