Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sacre Blue: Latendresse's 2 goals spark Wild win

By Wild Road Tripper

Minnesota Wild fans just can't thank Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey enough. The Habs' insistence of getting rid of what they thought was dead weight, just might be the catalyst for a Wild playoff run, as improbable as that seemed after their disasterous October start left Minnesota for dead in the NHL's Western Conference.

Led by Guillaume Latendresse's first and third period goals, the Wild helped themselves to a post-Christmas 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues before 18,554 merry revelers at Xcel Energy Center Saturday night. Latendresse's two goals, his 7th and 8th of the season, started and finished (respectively) the scoring for the Wild, as Kim Johnsson's breakaway goal and Shane Hnidy's patience, while a screen set up in front of St. Louis goalie Chris Mason, paid off in Hnidy's 2nd goal of the year.

The crowd seemed not quite into it as the two teams went back and forth in the first period. Long, long multi-zone passes that didn't quite connect, went awry time after time for the Wild in the first two periods, creating a very sloppy hockey game. They cut the pass length down considerably in the third period and scored three times for their efforts, but still had to turn the Blues back time and again down the stretch as the intensity racheted up, and the clock wound down.

It really wouldn't be fair to not acknowledge the efforts of Marek Zidlicky is keeping the play alive, single-handedly playing thru the St. Louis defense, in order to feed Latendresse for the game-winning goal. If you want to see how Zidlicky can really play when he is motivated, watch the play that sets up the Wild fourth goal in the third period, and you'll ask yourself: "Where in the hell has THAT been these last two seasons?"

The only real drawback of the night occurred when Chuck Kobasew went knee-to-knee with Blues' winger Keith Tkachuk near the Minnesota net in the third period. Kobasew had to be helped off the ice, not putting any weight whatsoever on his left knee. No word as to his status came from the team following the game, but it is assumed he will not be making the two-game road trip to Southern California on Sunday.

St. Louis, playing their fourth and final game on an extended swing thru the Northwest division, wound up with a 3-1 record on the circuit, as they dropped only their 4th road game of the season. The Blues have earned 25 of their 39 points on the road. If there are 'key stats' in this game, here's one for you: the Wild were 35-for-53 (66%) on face-offs in this game. Another: the Blues' top line (David Backes, Paul Kariya, T. J. Oshie) were a combined -11 on the night.

The Wild now are 19-16-3, good for 41 points and solely in 11th place in the West, two points behind Dallas and Detroit and four points behind Vancouver, who is in 8th place after tonight's 4-1 win against Edmonton. All-time, the Wild are now 2-2-3 on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas, for those of you who've never been into the Dominion to the north of Minnesota), including 1-0-1 at home.

The Wild broke a team record for wins (9) in a single December; if they win one more game this month, they can tie the single-month record for team wins in a calendar month (10, set in March, 2007). They can achieve this record in their Next Game: at Los Angeles, Monday, Dec. 28, 9:30 PM Central (7:30 PM Pacific) Time, STAPLES Center. (Wild TV: FSNorth; Kings TV: FSWest; both feeds in HD; XM NHL Home Ice, Ch. 204)

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