For years since their inception into the National Hockey League, the Minnesota Wild have stifled the Vancouver Canucks with trapping, defensive minded hockey. Last night, the roles were somewhat reversed.
To begin with, let’s evaluate the game for what it really boiled down to: Goaltending. Niklas Backstrom, named the games’ Crown Royal 1st star by CBC, stopped 37 of 39 shots, for a .949 SV%. At the other end, with half the workload, Roberto Luongo earned his 3rd home win of the season, stopping 17 of 18 shots, for a .944 SV%. Backstrom made a huge stop with a ton of traffic in front, with Henrik Sedin 25 feet to his right in the slot, to keep the game close. Luongo had his moments as well, making a quick, butterfly save on Mikko Koivu, who capitalized on a quick turnover after the faceoff, with Luongo partially screened. Roberto also benefitted from some help of the iron, with 2 going off the post in the 2nd period.
Ryan Kesler, named the games’ 2nd star, played a very good 2 way game for the Canucks. He led all shooters with 8 shots, and scored the game tying goal at the 4:23 mark of the second period, on a nice set-up from Kevin Bieksa. Kesler was also a +1 on the night, and was very good in the faceoff circle, in 20:48 of icetime.
It was the Canucks first win in the Northwest division after losing their first three. Last season, they went 5-0-1 versus Minnesota, though 4 of the 6 games were decided by 1 goal. Mikko Koivu was a standout on both sides of the ice for the Wild, and is still one of the most underrated players in the game today. Mason Raymond was flying around the ice like it was his first chance to skate again after some indefinite hiatus. He energized his linemates a number of times, and broke in around Wild defenders twice on the left wing boards, nearly slipping the puck 5 hole both times. Raymond was named the games 3rd star.
Captain Roberto Luongo was pleased with the teams effort. “By far this was our best game of the year,” said Luongo, who wasn’t tested until the 9 minute mark of the 1st period, and had the 2nd shot deflect off teammate Kyle Wellwood. “It’s tough to stay in the game, but we know how crucial these games are even though it’s October.”
Indeed, sitting in 13th place in the Western Conference sure beats being tied for 15th (and last), even though the season is still young.
The Canucks, who have lost their first 3 road games, are in Edmonton Monday, and Chicago on Wednesday, before returning home for 3 games.