Every once in a while, the Moon, the stars and the planets all align, and that which is normally chaos makes sense. In the crazy world of NHL hockey, on Sunday night when the Minnesota Wild welcomed the Dallas Stars to the Xcel Energy Center, the chaos stopped, and everything happened exactly as it should have.
Koivu Has a Big Night on His Big Night
What we knew Sunday night was that Wild captain Mikko Koivu was skating in his 1,000th NHL game with the team riding an eight-game point streak. He reached another milestone, tallying his 700th career point when the puck found the back of the net off Kevin Fiala’s stick, following a Koivu pass.
What we didn’t know Sunday night was that the game would extend beyond overtime and result in a fourth round, 3-2 shootout win, with Koivu scoring the game-winner – ending the night of celebration just as it should have.
With the win, the Wild moved to within five points of fourth-place Dallas in the Central Division. In the 102-year history of the NHL, only 55 players have ever skated in their first 1,000 games for the same team, and Koivu became the first Wild player in the franchise’s 20-year run to reach the millennium mark.
Drafted sixth overall by Minnesota in 2001, he first stepped onto the ice donning a Wild sweater on Nov. 5, 2005. The team’s captain since Oct. 20, 2009, he is the fourth-longest-tenured captain in the NHL and has become synonymous with the Wild, and vice versa.
But, much as he’s been throughout his storied career, Koivu isn’t much on fanfare. “I don’t know,” Koivu said when asked about the milestone. “I think it’s probably something you’ll probably think about it and appreciate it more after you’re done or after the season.
“You’re thinking back and thinking about all the years that you’ve been here, and you’re thinking about the teammates and the friends that you’ve made during the time here. It’s kind of emotional, too, once you start to think about the years and how fast it’s gone.”
Now 36 years old, the native of Turku, Finland is the franchise leader in multiple rankings, including games played, assists (497), points (700), plus-minus (plus-70), shots (2,242) and faceoff wins (10,159).
Who’s in Goal?
The Wild were finally able to hold onto a third-period lead during last Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils, during a night of notable firsts which saw rookie netminder Kaapo Kahkonen earned his first career win in his first NHL start.
Minnesota has been without starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who has been away from the team tending to his wife’s health issues. The team announced on Monday that Dubnyk will not travel with the team on the upcoming road trip, leaving the netminding duties to Kahkonen and Alex Stalock.
The Wild took their three-game win streak and nine-game point run on the road this week with a swing through the southeast against a trio of Eastern Conference opponents. They kicked it off with a bang against potentially the toughest opponent down in the Sunshine State against the Florida Panthers last night.
Tuesday, Dec. 3 @ Panthers
After winning their last game against the Nashville Predators 3-0, the Panthers welcomed the Wild to the BB&T Center for a Tuesday night matchup.
Despite Florida outshooting Minnesota 46-26 and jumping out to an early 2-0 lead against the Wild’s rookie goalkeeper, they rallied from a two-goal deficit to capture the road win, 4-2.
The visitors from the north came to life after Jason Zucker got the Wild on the board midway through the second period. Zucker swiped the puck from Panthers winger Mike Hoffman in the Wild’s defensive zone following a face-off, carried the puck down the ice unopposed and found the back of the net with a backhander past Florida goalie Chris Driedger with 10:34 left in the second period.
The equalizer came after the Wild killed a Panthers power play, when Mats Zuccarello fired a wrister from the right circle that made its way through the Florida defense with 7:04 left in the second period.
With 15:11 remaining in the game, Carson Soucy took a pass from Zach Parise and found the back of the Panthers’ net to put the Wild up for good. Kahkonen saved the final 10 Panthers shots that followed the Wild taking the lead, and an empty-net goal with 1:01 left in the game set the final score
Thursday, the Wild will head up to Tampa to take on the Lightning before heading up the coast to face the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.
Thursday, Dec. 5 @ Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lighting snapped a three-game losing streak with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Predators last night.
After a playoff berth last season, Tampa Bay, who currently has a 13-9-3 record, has not had things go quite as planned this season. Nikita Kucherov leads the offense with 30 points and 20 assists, and (tied with Brayden Point) leads the team in goals with 10. With captain and superstar Steven Stamkos out due to injury, the Wild should be able to capitalize on a weakened Lightning team.
PREDICTION: Wild 4, Lightning 1
Saturday, Dec. 7 @ Hurricanes
Until the final minutes of last night’s Hurricanes game against the Boston Bruins, the Canes managed to keep the league’s top team in check, but dropped the road contest 2-0.
The Wild will need to find a way to get to netminder James Reimer, who has been solid in net lately. He made 36 saves on 38 shots for his third consecutive win during a standout showing against the Lightning, and in Boston he was once again on point. Against one of the league’s most potent offenses, Reimer saved 34 to keep the Hurricanes in the game until near the end.
Petr Mrazek has 11 of the Hurricanes’ wins in net, allowing 2.68 goals against average (GAA) and a .901 save percentage (SV%) on the season. But there are rumblings in Carolina and it’s looking more and more like Reimer is the team’s top choice in net over Mrazek, who has struggled of late.
On offense Andrei Svechnikov leads the team in points with 29, and the Wild will need to keep tabs on Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen as well. Aho leads the Canes with 13 goals, and Teravainen is pacing the offense with 19 assists. Svechnikov ranks second in both goals and assists with 11 and 18, respectively.
PREDICTION: Hurricanes 3, Wild 1
Scott brings several years of local hockey coverage with the Kankakee Daily Journal to the Hockey Writers, along with coverage of NCAA Hockey, Softball, Basketball, and Soccer with HEROSports. He is also a regular contributor to FloSoftball and Coach & Athletic Director Magazine.