Saturday, January 24, 2009

Contraversial "no goal" call allows Wild to escape with 2-1 home victory over Columbus

In some ways, tonight's game is like a story of two siblings. The older (in this case more traditional) sibling goes on to have great success. While the other sibling is annoyed at being in the shadow of the other. For the Columbus Blue Jackets, they have been in many ways the antithesis of the Minnesota Wild. While the Wild steadily improved since their first season in 2000, Columbus has languished in mediocrity and in the words of the team's beat writer Aaron Portzline, "has yet to play any meaningful games in March." Blue Jackets fans have tried to be patient, but its clear the patience is wearing thin. Attendance has been steadily falling, and the fans are growing restless of being out of the playoff hunt more or less by the end of the February. The organization recognized the need to win now; so it made some moves this offseason by making trades for RJ Umberger, Fedor Tyutin, Raffi Torres (who is currently hurt), as well as free agent defensemen Mike Commodore and center Kristian Huselius. Yet frustratingly, the Blue Jackets enter tonight's game just 3-4-0. The Wild were expected to have a bit of a setback this season as the team let 9 players leave via free agency; but so far the team has continued to showcase the ability Minnesota's defensive system as well as its coaching staff, to be successful despite the plethora of changes to the roster. Minnesota is coming of a disheartening late 3rd period collapse at the hands of the red hot Buffalo Sabres; which team will get revenge tonight in this battle of expansion rivals?The Blue Jackets had good speed to start the game and Columbus had the first good chance when Kristian Huselius wove his way into the high slot before uncorking a slap shot that Niklas Backstrom would knock down and cover up for a save. Colmbus kept swarming in the Wild zone and their youngsters line of Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek would force a turnover in the Minnesota defensive zone and Backstrom had to make good save on a point-blank range chance by Voracek. The Wild tried to respond with its top line and a nice play along the boards by Antti Miettinen pushing the puck to a waiting Andrew Brunette almost behind the Columbus goal who gave a little pass to Mikko Koivu whodrove to the crease and he attempted to jam it through Pascal Leclaire but he held on for the save. The Wild would earn a power play on a strange decision by RJ Umberger to hook Owen Nolan as he appeared to be headed for the Minnesota bench. On the power play the Wild moved the puck well but were unable to create many quality shots on Leclaire, and the Blue Jackets would get the key early penalty kill. The Wild would showcase some strong defense in their own zone and this would lead to a chance in transition as Mikko Koivu was quick to push a puck up to Miettinen who raced up the ice in a 2-on-1 with Nick Schultz but the Columbus defenseman played the pass and Miettinen unloaded a shot that whistled over the net. A minute later the Blue Jackets woulget their first power play when Marc-Andre Bergeron got a minor for elbowing when he got his arms a bit high on RJ Umberger. The Wild's power play was solid, keeping the Blue Jackets to the outside and Columbus was only able to fire a few shots from the perimeter that did not give Backstrom many troubles earning the kill. Minnesota would be given another power play when Marc Methot was called for hooking. On the man advantage the Wild were working the puck from high to low rather well and when they finally worked the puck to the slot they'd draw another Columbus penalty when Rostislav Klesla hooked Andrew Brunette as he drove towards the Blue Jackets' crease. With the 5-on-3 the Wild were moving the puck as Columbus was sitting in a triangle fairly close to the crease and Minnesota was blasting shots, the best one coming from the stick of Koivu that Leclaire deflected away with a pad save. In the waning seconds of the power play Minnesota would get one last quality chance when Eric Belanger found Owen Nolan in the slot who rifled a shot that Leclaire kicked away. Minnesota was playing with some good physicality as Cal Clutterbuck and Brent Burns were taking their opportunities to deliver some big hits. The State of Hockey kept attacking and and their persistance would pay off as a nice little pass by to Owen Nolan who was all alone and his shot would bounce off Leclaire and Nolan would knock the puck down with his glove but he could not get his stick on it for a shot but the puck would pop back out to the point where Marek Zidlicky would fire a shot from the point. The puck would strike the boards but the puck would bounce to Pierre-Marc Bouchard who chipped the puck in mid-air into the Columbus goal to give the Wild a 1-0 lead with under 30 seconds left in the period. The Blue Jackets had some good jump in their skates to start the 2nd period, as well as trying to take the body early but Minnesota would quickly match Columbus' intensity as Craig Weller nearly checked Christian Backman back into his own bench. Minnesota had good strength along the boards and this led to a great chance for Nolan who one-timed a shot that struck Leclaire in the shoulder causing the big French Canadian goaltender some discomfort. The Wild kept attacking and Mikko Koivu would make a great move to get around a Blue Jackets' defender but could not get a shot on goal. Pascal Leclaire who has struggled against injuries throughout his career appeared to be wincing and finally signalled to his bench he needed to get off the ice. During the next stoppage the Blue Jackets' Head Coach Ken Hitchcock pulled Leclaire in favor of Fredrik Norrena. The Blue Jackets would create some good chances by moving the puck down low and this would have the Wild scrambling a bit but Backstrom bailed the team out with a few close-range saves. Minnesota would pay the Blue Jackets back with two incredible shifts where the Wild operated in the Columbus zone for almost 2 minutes firing pucks on the net but Minnesota was unable to get their sticks on the rebounds. It was a great show of puck control but despite the excellent pressure the team still only carried a one-goal lead. The Blue Jackets tried to ramp up the pressure and for a short time they controlled the Minnesota defensive zone but the Wild did a great job at harassing Columbus so they could not set anything up. Columbus would show some off some of their ability to create turnovers and this would yield a few shots on Niklas Backstrom and the steady Finn came up with the saves. The Blue Jackets had a great chance with about 2:30 left in the period when Jason Chimera gave a little saucer pass to a charging Derick Brassard who moved in all alone on Backstrom but his bakchander was denied by the Wild goaltender. The Wild suffered an odd casualty of sorts as the team's head trainer Don Fuller who was struck by a stray puck fired by a Blue Jacket player; and he would retreat to the team's lockeroom. It was a roller coaster of a period, but Minnesota had to feel good still carrying a 1-0 lead going into the 3rd. Columbus would get a terrific chance early in the period when Rick Nash would move in on a breakaway but his attempt was stonewalled by a great save by Niklas Backstrom. Jakub Voracek would get called for tripping. One player who was not happy during the power play was Jason Chimera who took a stick to the face that caused him a cut but no call was made and he had some choice words for members of the Wild once he got to the bench. The Wild had a great shift from Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Stephane Veilleux and James Sheppard who cycled the puck effectively in the Columbus zone. Minnesota would continue to pressure down low with Mikko Koivu driving beneath the Columbus goal line for a quick pass to a waiting Owen Nolan about 10ft from the Blue Jackets' crease who blasted a one-timer by Norrena to give the Wild a 2-0 lead. Shortly after the goal, the Blue Jackets' young agitator Derek Dorsett blatently tripped Niklas Backstrom behind the Wild goal with no call, and the Wild goaltender was clearly feeling some discomfort but he would stay between the pipes for the duration of the game. Dorsett also was a bit worse for the wear after the collision and he would leave the game and not return. The Blue Jackets would cut the Wild's lead in half on a rather innocuous wrist shot by Rostislav Klesla that Backstrom apparently did not see. Columbus could sense a change of momentum as the Wild and started to press the attack. Columbus would pull Norrena for an extra attacker with about a minute left, and there would be some controversy early when Christian Backman wound up and fired a puck that Rick Nash reached out to deflect causing the puck to bounce along the ice and beat Backstrom. The goal was reviewed and after a some very tense moments Referee Dan Marouelli announced was a "no goal" much to the consternation of the Blue Jackets and understandably so. In the replay; Rick Nash who is a taller player at 6'4" reached out to deflect Backman's shot, and the stick appeared to be slightly beneath his shoulders which would likely have been over the cross-bar which does constitute a high stick but there was no real high quality camera angle to capture that making the call a rather speculative one at best. The Blue Jackets clearly were insensed and they would squander the last few seconds as the Wild would escape with a 2-1 victory. Derick Brassard personified his frustration by breaking his stick over the back of the Wild goal and there is little question this will be one the Blue Jackets will likely be yelling at the league offices in Toronto about for some time. Despite the controversy, the Wild got great goaltending from Niklas Backstrom who made 25 saves on 26 shots. He was a huge source of stability for Minnesota and made several great saves from shots taken from in close. The Wild's defense again allowed a team to get dangerously close to eliminating a lead in the 3rd period but early on the team did a good job at limiting the Blue Jackets' scoring chances. Minnesota continues to get great work out of the top line of Koivu, Miettinen, and Brunette but the other lines need to find ways to contribute more offensive pressure. Pierre-Marc Bouchard had a solid night as well, but still could use a finisher on his line and perhaps Owen Nolan will be that guy. Wild Head Coach Jacques Lemaire summed up tonight's game when he said, "You know why we lose our hair, this is the reason" adding "sometimes less is better because we try to do too much." The win was big, and perhaps makes an already bitter Blue Jackets squad that much more nauseated by their more successful sibling but Wild fans sure won't be complaining. Minnesota stays at home for a game against another young and dynamic team; the Chicago Blackhawks when they come to town on Monday. The Wild must be prepared to take on a team that can transition the puck well and are hungry to pull themselves back towards the top of the Central Division. Wild Notes:~ The Wild lineup tonight was: Owen Nolan, Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, Stephane Veilleux, Derek Boogaard, Benoit Pouliot, James Sheppard, Cal Clutterbuck, Eric Belanger, Craig Weller, Marek Zidlicky, Martin Skoula, Nick Schultz, Kim Johnsson, Marc-Andre Bergeron, and Brent Burns. Josh Harding backed up Niklas Backstrom. Colton Gillies, Tomas Mozjis, Erik Reitz were the healthy scratches and Marian Gaborik is still out of the lineup with an injury. ~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected by Let's Play Hockey were: 1st Star Mikko Koivu, 2nd Star Niklas Backstrom, 3rd Star Owen Nolan~ Owen Nolan's goal in the 3rd period was his first regular season goal in Minnesota since 1991 when he scored as a member of the Quebec Nordiques against the Minnesota North Stars. ~ In WCHA action, the Minnesota Golden Gophers men's hockey team tied their game yesterday (2-2) and won tonight's matchup against arch-rival Wisconsin Badgers 5-2 at the Kohl Center in Madison. The Badgers are still winless this season at 0-5-1. Source

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