Minnesota fans hurried their freezing little behinds into the Xcel Energy Centre tonight, because this is one city where the weather is not very pleasant this time of year. The Habs were looking to heat things up, on the ice that is, but the future looks bleak down 1-0 after the first period.
Things didn’t start off all that quiet for Mathieu Garon, but the talented backup was impressive when called upon, only letting 1 of 9 shots elude him; a Jason Marshall point blast.
Marshall began the period looking for some action in the offensive zone. Early on in the first frame the Wild defender sent a wicked shot from the blueline hard on Mathieu Garon, who was also dealing with the pesky Pascal Dupuis in front. Marshall’s blast slid by Garon, narrowly missing the left portion of the goal.
It wasn’t long after when Alex Daigle beat (yes, he was working hard) a Hab player to the puck at centre ice and burst in upon the Habs defenders, Markov and Rivet, with hopes of giving his club the lead. The speedy Daigle exploded through the defencemen but couldn’t beat a composed Mathieu Garon. Daigle regained control of the puck to the left, behind the goal, and was quick to throw it back through numerous skates in front of the Habs goal. Luckily there was no Wild attacker to pounce on the oppurtunity.
Sergei Zholtok had a breakaway not long after, after he beat Stephane Quintal in a race for the puck which began at the Minnesota blueline. Zholtok sent a decent shot at the lower part of Garon’s body, which the goaltender handled easily and sent the puck aside. Sooner rather than later Daigle was at it again. He found his way to the front of the goal and took a crafty centering pass perfectly, coralling the puck and failing to convert on two cracks alone in front of Theodore. Garon let the rebounds fly (as he did all period long) but his opponents could not capitalize.
With Craig Rivet and Jim Dowd serving roughing penalties and the teams playing four-on-four, Patrice Brisebois clipped a Wild player in the face and was sent off for two minutes, leading to some 4 on 3 action. Jason Marshall was at it again, this time positioned directly at the top of the Habs zone. The rearguard took a pass from a fellow teammate who was positioned on the side boards and slammed a shot through the legs of Garon for his first tally of the seaon to give the Wild a 1-0 lead.
It was by no means a great start to the period for the Habs. Darren Langdon looked to spur his teammates by dropping the gloves with Matt Johnson. It was a dull fight until Langdon popped off Johnson’s helmet and from here on landed four solid punches in a row. The strategy seemed to work. The Habs looked better in the final five minutes of the frame, and grabbed a powerplay.
Patrice Brisebois slid in from the point but was stoned point blank by Roloson on a slick play by the veteran d-man, in search of his first goal of the year. Niklas Sundstrom would later make a nice play with about 3:00 to go in the period, feeding a streaking Joe Juneau down the right side of the rink. Juneau swooped in but was stopped by Roloson as the puck slid into the corner.
With the shots 16-15 after two periods, there appeared to be a little bit more life in the Habs, but not much. A pair of goals from both sides have seen the score rise to a 2-1 Minnesota advantage, with Antii Laksonnen and Pat Brisebois bulging the twine. A Jason Marshall first period marker has us right where we were after one period, with the Wild carrying an impressive one goal lead.
Minnesota has been playing some good hockey at home, going 3-1-2 since January 4th, a sign that doesn’t bode well for the Habs and those faithful to them.
Things didn’t start off well for our boys. Just over 5:00 into the frame, with all five Habs skaters firmly planted in the Minnesota zone, the Wild defender sent the puck from his own corner off the boards, as the puck somehow snuck by Pat Brisebois who was standing strong at the right point. Brisebois looked to turn around, but was already beaten by an oncoming Wes Walz.
One of many speedy Wild forwards, Walz darted for the puck and caught up to it along the left hand side of the Habs’ end. The speedster coralled the puck, stopped, and quickly looked in front. Francis Bouillon hustled back into the play to cover his opponent, and after seeing Brisebois tie up Andrew Brunette at the right of the Habs goal, Walz patiently waited for another option. And he found that option in Antii Laaksonen. The forward darted right threw the middle of the ice, uncovered, and slid firmly into the slot, where he received a nice pass from Walz and buried one by Garon, giving the Wild a 2-0 lead.
Soon after going down two goals, Josef Balej was looking to put the Habs on the board. He raced up the ice after a loose puck, showing great speed, but a strong defensive play by Jason Marshall foiled the oppurtunity created by the rookie.
The Habs responded though, making it 2-1 at 14:12 of the second. Doing what he does best, Yanic Perreault won an offensive zone faceoff in the right circle. The puck was drawn to the right boards, where Darren Langdon beat his man to the mini black disk and tapped the bouncing puck to Brisebois, who was calmly waiting for his oppurtunity to bury one. And that he did. Brisebois sent a well placed, although fairly weak, shot through a few skates that crawled through Roloson’s fivehole. It was Brisebois’ first goal of the year, a total he hopes to build on.
The Habs saw some nice defensive work by Joe Juneau and Niklas Sundstrom in their own zone nearing the end of the second period, but it is offence that will need to start appearing too. If not from those two defensive specialists, who seem to thrive playing with the energetic Jason Ward, than from the likes of Saku Koivu, Mike Ribeiro, and Andrei Markov. All three players have had their moments where they have looked good on the ice, but some third period production will be key.
Richard Zednik has two shots on the Wild cage so far, look for the sniper to step it up big in the third period.
The Wild came out hard to start the third period, with Richard Park and Jason Marshall, among others, grabbing strong scoring oppurtunities. However, it did not take long for the Habs to respond.
After strong work from the Habs’ forward line of Saku Koivu, Jan Bulis, and Michael Ryder in which all three players were buzzing around the Minnesota zone, the Habs did something we may not have expected them to do; come back from a two goal deficit.
Michael Ryder’s hard work to outmuscle Marshall in the right corner of the Minnesota zone saw the puck slide back to a well-positioned Patrice Brisebois at the right point. Brisebois stepped up and placed a beatiful pass slightly above the ice, directed clearly at the blade of Ribeiro. 2-1 Habs, as Ribeiro found the scoresheet for the 12th time, deflecting the beautiful pass to the top of the goal.
With 3:00 left in the game, the Habs were looking for more. Chad Kilger burst through the neutral zone and over the line, where he reached the top of the circle and sent a blistering wrist shot high on goal. This flick of the wrists tested Rolson, an All-Star this season, and had him make a very strong glove save. About a minute later, Richard Zednik burst down the right side and into the right corner of the Minnesota end. He cut sharply towards the goal, beating the impressive Nick Schultz and placing a chip shot on Roloson, which was easily saved.
As predicted by your’s truly, Richard Zednik stepped his game up; although it was a little bit later than expected. Minnesota again came out strong, but the Habs had planned to match them; they wanted the two points.
Paired with Jason Ward for the 4 on 4 period, Mike Ribeiro brought the puck over the line, before being stripped of it. The puck found it’s way onto the blade of Jason Ward, and the warrior of a winger fired a decent shot on net.
Not long after, Garon was put to the test and made a great blocker save in tight on a Minnesota attacker, and was also up to the challenge on other occasions. Wild defenceman Michalek was impressive all night, and nearly slid a puck in as he came off of the Montreal blueline.
However, tonight was a night of Zednification. The Habs sturdy winger found himself parked in the slot, when Mike Ribeiro grabbed the puck and took his time rounding the Wild net. There were a few split seconds where it looked like a previous pass was in order, but Ribs waited it out long enough to spot his favourite winger sitting pretty in the top left corner of the slot. Zednik stopped, set up, and blasted a shot by Roloson for the 3-2 triump and the extra point. His 19th of the year, and the moment the puck touched his blade you could see the game was over. Zednified!