Minnesota Wild Bring Magic of Their Own on Hockey Day In Minnesota

A 5-2 Minnesota Wild win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Hockey Day in Minnesota was a perfect time to remember I love hockey, and this morning was a good day to write hockey.

I grew up in Minnesota and lived here for half of my years on this planet. I wanted to play for Herb Brooks’ Gophers when I was a kid; as an adult, I still cry at Miracle’s “Who do you play for?”  I hate Norm Green to this day for taking the NHL team with the best logo in sports (PERIOD) from me and placing them in a city where you need to make ice.

This season is proving extremely difficult for me in terms of finding enthusiasm for the Wild.

Part of it is life. I’m just plain busy.

Sports-wise I lay some responsibility at the feet of the Vikings. I couldn’t speak – literally – for 24 hours after Cheesus got picked off in the 2009 NFC championship game. Like all other Viking fans, I’m alternately loving and dreading the ride of the 2017 Viking season. Will it end like all the other ones or is this “the year?”  I then go bang my head against the wall for allowing the thought.

So, the Wild currently function like apps running in the background of my stupid, worthless iPhone. I know they’re there and if I have time, I’ll watch a full game. If not, I’ll read about it in the morning.

Deciding to pay full attention (well, about 60 percent attention but I did listen to the whole game) to last night’s game was a risky endeavor. The Wild were playing their first game back from their scheduled mandated bye week. Historically, teams coming off their bye week play very poorly. Last season, teams coming off the bye posted a combined 9-16-5 record as the NHL schedule makers often put week-long rested teams against teams that didn’t have bye weeks. The league tweaked that a bit by spreading out the bye week schedule. The change helps the overall league approach to byes, though the Wild skipped that benefit and earned the right to play the NHL-best Tampa Bay Lightning. Thanks, Bettman?

The other Central Division teams went 8-1 during the Wild bye week. In what’s already a ridiculously unfair turn of fate, Minnesota has urgency to come out of the bye week playing well just to maintain their place in the standings. What standings? Don’t look. It’s not great. Trust me. That said, they’re ahead of the dreadful Blackhawks, who sit in the Central Division cellar (I might feel some moral victory glee at the plight of the Blackhawk fans who are despondent and leaving the bandwagon in droves after Chicago got pummeled last night 7-3 at the hands of the New York Islanders) and may face the rest of the season without injured Corey Crawford.

Add it up; rested but cold Wild team facing the league-leading Lightning who played two days ago against Vegas (I’ll talk about that Vegas team because, like, what the fuck, expansion team?) in a game Minnesota needed to win  because they play in the division of death.

5-2 win. No big deal.

Maybe it was the Hockey Day in Minnesota magic. Maybe it was the Skol spirit that’s invaded the state and the locals who wear the Wild sweater felt like delivering some minor miracles of their own. “Miracles” may be stretching it, but all the Wild native Minnesotans got in on the action. I feel Alex Stalock contributed in a spiritual, esoteric way from the bench, as Devan Dubnyk stopped 21 of 23 shots, winning the third of his last four games. Dubnyk feels like he’s back to the brilliant netminder we saw last year; 14-3-2 in his last 20 starts and 9-0-2 in his past home starts. When he has brainfart games like the 7-2 loss to Colorado, fans would be wise to look at those overall trends. Sometimes goalies are just gonna goalie. Those dudes are weird. Perhaps Dawson Paul Dubnyk will have the same positive effect on his dad that Hendrix Zucker did in his household.

New father aside, the homegrown Wild skaters were front and center during the finale of Hockey Day in Minnesota.

After a Jared Spurgeon snipe from above the left circle gave the Wild a 1-0 lead,  Shattuck St. Mary’s Zach Parise notched his long-awaited first goal of the season, stuffing a Ryan Suter pass behind Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The Wild followed up their 2-0 first period lead with a solid effort in the second when Mr. Hockey Day in Minnesota, the pride of Elk River’s Nate Prosser, snapped a wrister above Vasilevskiy’s left shoulder for a 3-0 lead. Playing in his Wild debut, former Eden Prairie Mr. Hockey and Gopher Captain Kyle Rau assisted Prosser’s goal for his first NHL point.

The Lightning got on the board with a goal from Brayden Point to bring Tampa to within two goals at 3-1. Then it was Moorhead Spud Matt Cullen’s time for the Hockey Day spotlight, assisting on Marcus Foligno’s goal early third period, giving the Wild a 4-1 lead and earning Cully a standing ovation for his 700th career point.

The deadly Nikita Kucherov-Steven Stamkos-Vladislav Namestikov line was silent most of the night. Though they didn’t figure large on the scoresheet, the Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund line shut down and frustrated the potent Lightning first line. The Stamkos line collectively finished -4 with a combined four shots on goal.  The three talented Tampa forwards earned only one point when Stamkos assised on Brayden Point’s second goal of the night, a Lightning power play goal in the third to cut the deficit to 4-2. A Zucker empty net goal sealed the 5-2 win.

You know what struck me about last night’s game? It was fun. Those guys looked like they were having fun. Hockey Day in Minnesota is an event to celebrate for anyone who loves hockey. As frustrating as the Wild season is at times, righting the ship can be as easy as remembering that, competition aside, you play hockey and watch hockey because you love it. Hockey Day in Minnesota showcases that love, and the Minnesota natives delivered.

Prosser, after the game; “It’s just cool. This Hockey Day thing has become such a big deal. All the guys kind of yell about it, ‘Minnesota guys, money on the board.’ We all got up there.”

They certainly got up there last night. Maybe the Minnesota miracle magic is contagious.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled NFC Championship game preparations. Skol.

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