The Minnesota Wild entered tonight’s game up two games to one against the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They would leave the Pepsi Center in Colorado finding the series tied at two. It could have been the thin mountain air, or maybe exhaustion from playing in their third straight OT game the night before, but whatever the case, the Minnesota Wild suffered a severe meltdown in Game 4 of this series.

The final score was 5-1.

So far it has been a hard fought first three games for the Wild; They have only led for four minutes in the series. Tonight, however, they lost the composure that has carried the team through difficult situations in the past. The players began to get frustrated, and eventually began taking boneheaded penalties which cost them any opportunity to get back in the game.

Immediately after the puck drop, the Avalanche attacked the net hard and fast. 4:01 into the game the hometown Avalanche were up 1-0 with a goal from Andrew Brunette, sneaking a shot past Wild goalie, Niklas Backstrom, on the stick side. Then a minute and a half later, Wojtek Wolski made it 2-0. Wolski was standing in the crease, unchallenged and all alone, as he beat Backstrom the same way Brunette did; On the stick side. Following the goal, Mikko Koivu of Minnesota and Peter Forsberg of Colorado got fired up and shot some challenging words to one another. This interaction between key players on both sides added to the game’s intensity. 

Unfortunately for the Wild, the pendulum of momentum would swing in drastic favor of the Avalanche. Minnesota seemed to be off of their game, playing cautiously and not hitting as often as in the previous three match ups. This lack of physical play allowed Colorado to take over and dominate the tempo of the game.  With 11:08 gone by in the first period, Tyler Arnason beat Backstrom on the glove side. It was a shot that Backstrom should have had, but the score was now 3-0. By the end of the first period, Colorado had out shot Minnesota 18-7.

Enter the second period.

The Wild could only rely on goalie Niklas Backstrom to keep them in their games for so long (he made 44 saves in Game 3- a Minnesota franchise record), and when he faltered tonight, the Wild just quit. Only being down by 3 goals, instead of trying to score and come back to win, the Wild consistently took stupid, undisciplined penalties; slashing, roughing, boarding, tripping, hooking, the list goes on. By the end of the second period, the Avalanche would have a total of 8 power play opportunities. Two of those would have goals attached to them. The first was at 7:42 when Colorado defenceman, Ruslan Solei, would make Wild left winger, Todd Fedoruk, pay for taking an unnecessary tripping penalty. The second power play goal would come later in the period.

With the progression of the second period, the referee’s seemed to begin to call a tighter game when compared to the previous three match ups. The Wild weren’t able to adapt to this change of pace, and began to focus more on hitting and fighting Avalanche players as opposed to scoring goals on them.

Minnesota seemed to quit competing with the intention to win tonight’s game. They took many roughing and unsportsmanlike like conduct penalties throughout; Perhaps the most colorful of which coming from Derek Boogaard. When the Wild took a penalty immediately after killing one, Boogaard slapped the puck down the ice in frustration and followed that with a swift punch to the face of an Avalanche player. He received 12 minutes worth of box time, and since it happened with just under 12 minutes left to play in the second period, he was sent to the locker room. Shortly thereafter, the Avalanche would get 4 more minutes of power play time when Minnesota’s Eric Belanger took a roughing call.

Still, the Wild survived. 

Minnesota fans couldn’t hold onto hope for a comeback for long though, because with 3:46 left in the second, Backstrom was caught out of position, and Milan Hejduk took advantage on a different power play opportunity. Backstrom made a save off a shot from the point, but gave up the rebound and lost sight of the puck, leaving an entire side of the net open for Hejduk to score the easy goal. With a collapse that began with the defense and spread to the offense, which resulted in affecting the goaltender, the Minnesota Wild left the second period in complete disarray, down 5-0.

To start the third period, Josh Harding replaced Niklas Backstrom in the net for the Wild. Apparently, Jacques Lemaire decided to let Backstrom take the rest of the night off in order to not burn him out for the rest of the series.

Minnesota finally got on the scoreboard 3:11 into the third when Mikko Koivu scored a short handed goal. This was the teams second short handed goal of the series, and the fourth playoff goal for Koivu. He has scored in each game and has easily been Minnesota’s best skater of the post season.

Nearly 7 minutes later, Minnesota’s Stephane Veilleux and Colorado’s Ian Laperriere dropped the gloves and squared off in a lame staring match that resulted in some shoves, but no punches. It was an odd ‘fight’ because both players talked before the play started and seemed to mutually decide to go at it, but neither had the stones to throw the first punch. The refs ended up separating them with no damage done to either player.

Regardless, soon thereafter Derek Boogaard and Cody McLeod were sent to their respective locker rooms for the rest of the game, due to roughing penalties that looked more like unintimidating shoves than roughing. for the rest of the game, more silly and ineffective pushing followed, as well as more penalties, and an increased desire by both teams for the game to come to a close. The third period ended with a pointless post game brawl with each team trying to set the tone for Game 5, to be played on Thursday night. There were 36 penalties total in the game, 25 of those belonging to Minnesota.

As a Wild fan, it was disturbing to see the teams lack of focus as the game progressed. They seemed to believe that a 4-0 deficit in the second period was an insurmountable task to overcome as they continued taking silly penalties and ceased to try and win the game. Tonight, the teams slogan,”Fight to the end,” needed to be amended. With over 16 minutes to play, the Wild had plenty of time to score 4 goals; The Buffalo Sabres did it against the Tampa Bat Lightning! Yet, the team continued to take momentum hindering penalties that denied them any offensive opportunities. It appeared as though the Wild were hitting the Avalanche in order to wear them down in the long run; Minnesota coach Jacque Lemaire’s thinking being that as this series gets longer, the Avalanche will begin to get tired from being consistently hit. Entering tonight’s game, the Wild have outhit the Avalanche 76-50. Hopefully this plan will work. 

In what has thus far been the battle of the goalies, Colorado’s Jose Theodore scored a definite victory over Niklas Backstrom tonight- Theodore stopped the shots that Backstrom let in. Of course, the fact that Backstrom received no help from his defense and that the offense has been unable to consistently produce for four straight games should be taken into account. The Avalanche out shot the Wild 40-25 in tonight’s meeting. As a side note, Wild backup goalie Josh Harding made some standout saves during the third period in a lackluster effort by his team; And his gold pads looked pretty cool too.

If the Wild hope to win Game 5, they need to make some adjustments. The first of which is putting an end to a terrible scoring drought; Minnesota has yet to score in the first two periods throughout 4 games in this series. All of their goals have come in the third period. That needs to change. Also, they need to get more production out of super star right winger, Marian Gaborik. Gaborik had 42 goals in the regular season, but has yet to attain a point in the post season. In addition, the Wild need to put more people in front of the net. More times than I can remember in this series, they would send the puck out in front, but no one was there to take a shot (this happened especially in tonight’s game). Someone needs to get in Jose Theodore’s face, because he is too good without traffic in front of him. Finally, Minnesota needs to have better puck control in their own zone. They had too many turnovers tonight in their own end, especially early on when within 10 minutes the Avalanche had scored two goals off of four Wild turnovers. The Avalanche, on the other hand, need to play better in the third period (where they have allowed 9 goals), if they hope to win Game 5. They also need to continue to get outstanding goal tending from Jose Theodore.

Well, after four games played, the series is tied at 2-2. The next time the teams meet will be in St. Paul, Minnesota at the Xcel Center.

Despite tonights game, I still think the Wild will win the next two, thus taking the series in Game 6.

GO WILD!!

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