Saturday afternoon in St. Paul saw an excellent hockey game marred by controversial offsides reviews. The main separator of the two teams appeared to be not one, but two offsides reviews which were correctly called back in favor of the Bruins. While the calls were correct, it will no doubt have Wild twitter talking about the NHL’s offsides rules all day, perhaps instead of what should be the main takeaway: Minnesota was able to keep the chances and the score close throughout the game, in spite of playing without several lineup mainstays.
The game started off slow for the Wild, trailing the Bruins in shot attempts and shots. Around the five-minute mark, Minnesota started to find their legs. Many times the Wild have been critiqued for slow starts in afternoon games, but you won’t hear anybody bringing that up today. Trading chances with the Bruins with excellent pace, they were soon rewarded.
Marcus Johansson has been playing his best forest-green hockey since he made his return at this year’s trade deadline. Here, he should probably gets the least amount of credit on this goal (except of course on the scoresheet), starting the play with a questionable pass to Joel Eriksson Ek. True to his own game though, Eriksson Ek gathered the 50/50 puck and made an ugly pass that found the skilled Matt Boldy. With both Bruins left in the wake of Eriksson Ek’s puck-winning ability, it became a warm-up drill between Jojo, Boldy, and Linus Ullmark at the goalmouth. A beautiful goal scored in the blink of an eye.
Minutes later, Ryan Hartman earned a penalty in the defensive zone corner, and as the penalty expired it appeared that Minnesota was going up 2-0. Matt Dumba finished a beautiful feed from behind the net. Unfortunately, the play had been a mile offsides on the zone entry, so the goal was called back.
While this could have been a major momentum-killer, Minnesota actually kept their foot on the gas. On the ensuing faceoff they nearly entered the zone and scored again, but were stopped by Ullmark. For the remaining minutes of the period, the Wild kept Boston out of the high-danger areas and dominated the scoring changes, largely driven by more quality play from the Johansson-Eriksson Ek-Boldy line. Unfortunately, the Bruins were able to make a “good road period” out of it by tying the score in the final minute of the period.
If you’re wondering why goal scorer Jake DeBrusk is so open, note that he is coming from the bench and driving straight into the high slot. It’s a tough play to defend — a second before the shot, the Bruins appear contained with two players below the goal line and nobody penetrating the net-front. Suddenly, DeBrusk is coming into the play open and it’s tough to determine which forward should be assigned to him. Gustavsson slides out to challenge the shot, but DeBrusk pulls off the extremely difficult far-side top corner shot. It may also have tipped off of Mats Zuccarello’s stick, making the save especially impossible. A tough break, and the period ended 1-1.
The second period began with a chippy shift from the line of Mason Shaw-Connor Dewar-Ryan Reaves. Shaw was lining up a hit on one of the Bruins defensemen, who tripped just before Shaw made contact. The contact got messy, Reaves entered the scrum, and eventually Shaw ended up accompanying Boston forward Garnet Hathaway to the box. This led to an exciting 4-on-4, but both goaltenders were stellar and the game remained tied.
Minutes later, the refs gave Jon Merrill two minutes for slashing on a retaliatory play which goes uncalled more often than not. One could speculate that the refs doled out those two minutes in an effort to control the game. The Wild were able to kill the penalty rather uneventfully, outside of a one-timer from David Pastrnak that missed wide.
Just after coming out of the box, Merrill took another penalty, this time for high-sticking. This time, the dangerous Bruins unit wasted no time, scoring 30 seconds into the power play.
Head coach Dean Evason responded by sending out the Johansson-Eriksson Ek-Boldy line, who had been excellent all night. They delivered the response he wanted, throwing three quality shots on net before beating Ullmark. This time, it was Johansson’s turn to feed Boldy an easy goal.
Unfortunately, the play was once again challenged and determined offsides. This one was paper-thin, but appeared once again to be the correct call. I would like it noted for the record that this author’s personal tastes prefer offsides reviews to leave a little more room for the “spirit of the rule” — this is so close that you’d never call it with the naked eye, so I don’t see why we need to start calling these goals back. It’s simply taking excitement out of the game, much more so than getting in the right call.
Already with several injuries to their typical starting lineup and playing what may be the best team in the NHL, it’s tough to win with two goals overturned. This one was a serious momentum-killer. This time, it was the fans’ turn to respond after the challenge, shaking the rafters at the X with a thunderous “ref you suck” chant. With the crowd at their backs, the Wild drew a penalty and generated an exciting flurry in the slot, but they were again stymied by Ullmark.
The second power play unit closed out man-advantage with an ineffectual shift which really made the game start to feel out of reach. Boston’s fifth man came out of the box, and they started to dominate possession until they beat Minnesota goaltender Filip Gustavsson once more.
If you want to learn about the modern game of hockey, watch this give and go by David Krejci, one of the smartest hockey players of our generation. After passing off the puck, he loops to the point and uses crossovers to quickly generate speed into the high slot. The high-to-low drive into center ice is a cornerstone of Tampa Bay’s strategy which generates tons of chances in the slot. Like the DeBrusk goal, this makes Krejci very difficult to cover due to the pass-offs that would be required by the Wild forwards. Suddenly he’s moving to his forehand, wide open in the slot, and the only guys left to defend him would have to abandon their passing lanes in order to help. While there are a lot of Wild players near Krejci, he has all the time he needs to wait out Gustavsson because they can’t abandon their assignments.
At the end of the period, things did get interesting. Sammy Walker won a race to a puck in the corner of the offensive zone and was shoved face-first into the boards by Hampus Lindholm. In the words of the Department of Player Safety, “this...is crosschecking.” While killing the penalty, trade deadline acquisition Dmitry Orlov flipped the puck over the glass and out of play, leading to a long 5-on-3 power play opportunity for the Wild. As crucial as this stretch was, they were unable to capitalize. The Wild had 34 seconds left on the power play as time expired, and the Bruins had a two goal lead.
Minnesota did not score in those first 34 seconds of the third period, and found themselves quickly on the back foot. Boston seemed to know where the Wild forecheckers were going to be before they got there, and they skated around green sweaters with ease. Whenever Matt Boldy and Marcus Johansson weren’t on the ice, the offense was tepid and the Bruins were speeding through the neutral zone on the counterattack. With 13 minutes to go in the period, the Wild got a break when DeBrusk slashed Walker and Minnesota would try again on the power play.
Early in the power play, Frederick Gaudreau found himself half-open, with time and space to wait out Boston’s defense. Ever the heady player, he noted only one Bruin at the front of the net, with two Minnesotans crashing the net: theoretically, this is an impossible defensive task, and Professor Freddy proved this theory right.
Spurgeon’s net-front drive forces Charlie Coyle’s hand, opening up Sundvist for the tap-in. The feed is millimeter-perfect, and Ullmark was unable to get across to the post because he had to honor Gaudreau as a shooting threat. An excellent play from Minnesota’s oft-maligned second power play unit.
The Wild had brought it back to a one-score game, and suddenly things were opening up. Boston’s defensemen were activating offensively rather than trying to park the bus and maintain the lead. Consider it a sign of respect, or just marvel at an elite team playing their game. Either way, it worked out for the bad guys.
Spoked Z says it all here: the Bruins force three puck battles, and they eventually win one. If you want to understand why Calen Addison is such a polarizing defenseman, watch the two plays that he makes: one is a soft clear that doesn’t get to a teammate, and the next is a drop down low defending a pass to nobody. Merrill is not on the left post to help him because of the earlier bad clearance, which Merrill went to clean up. It’s important to note that the initial clear was in the face of physical pressure, which seemed to be an earlier complaint of the coaching staff when Addison was last scratched.
It’s the type of play that rookie defensemen make when they’re learning to play at an NHL-level, so it’s not totally unforgivable; on the other hand, it’s making the game harder on his teammates. It also essentially puts out-of-reach what was a one-goal game for Minnesota. At a time when his offensive skills are needed to tie the game, his defensive warts were showcased instead.
The Wild were unable to overcome the two-goal deficit, eventually pulling the goalie and giving up an empty-net goal, yielding the final score of 5-2. Missing so many every-night players against a team of this caliber, the team performed admirably. In the face of offsides review-based adversity, the team’s secondary scoring line stepped up, and the team generated plenty of scoring chances against one of the truly elite teams in the NHL. In the end the only bad taste fans should have about this one is frustration, because this one could have been a statement victory for the Wild if a few bounces went the other way.