An overflow crowd of 19,174 fans flooded into the Xcel Energy Center last night. 19,174 people were, quite honestly, hoping against hope that the Wild could show some life and pull out a win, though most were prepared to bid farewell to what has been a fantastic season for the white, green, and red.
What they got was a performance by the team that they should have seen in every game this series, the team with speed, the team with quickness, the team with toughness, and the team that can score and win.
The Minnesota Wild did win, in decided fashion, 4-1. 5-1 if you don't talk to the ref. More on that in a minute.
Things seemed to start as expected. The Wild were quick and energized. They took it to the Ducks. Branko Radivojevic took a crosscheck to the back from Rob Niedermayer, a hit so hard that Radivojevic's helmet came off, and there was no call. Stephane Veilleux, a spark plug player whose energy and hits have translated to chances, took two shots to the face from Duck defenseman Travis Moen that went uncalled, then he, and he alone, received a roughing minor after two guys exchanged shots in front of the net. The Ducks continued their pattern of interfering with Wild players chasing after loose pucks on dump ins, stepping in front of players or actually taking them into the boards....clear violations that have gone completely uncalled all series long. Officials did tag Chris Pronger with one call, which must have been an accident.
The Wild took penalties and there's no gripe. (In fact, lest peopel think I'm just whining about refs, the Wild penalties have been deserved, and the powerplay opportunities we HAVE had were ruined only by our own power play ineptitude). The only gripe is that if Keith Carney's hold is going to be called, then why not the blatant crosscheck by Niedermayer? Why not the shots to Veilleux's face? Fans are only left to wonder. A goodly portion believe that the League has turned a blind eye to the series from the get go and want Anaheim in the next round due to their star power and everyone else's revulsion to all things Wild. Is it a legitimate point? Likely not, but it gets hard to argue against it given the performance of the officiating in 4 games. I've watched every series this post season and have yet to see a series as poorly officiated as this one.
So, as fate would have it, the Ducks would score first on a Chris Pronger shot from the blueline. A powerplay goal. The Wild performed well on future penalty kills but they just got out of position and Backstrom was screened just enough for the blast to find its mark.
Until Derek Boogaard hit the ice, hit some bodies, and centered a pass to Pierre-Marc Bouchard. One shot blocked. Re-try finds the back of the net and it's a one to one hockey game.
The third period became a shooting gallery. Gaborik banged in a powerplay goal. Brian Rolston converted a give and go with Pavol Demitra. Mark Parrish made an incredible deflection past Bryzgalov. At 4-1, it was time for the Ducks to change out netminders, and Jean Sebastien Giguere got his first game since the end of March.
Then it got ridiculous. More ridiculous than it already had.
Martin Skoula, the black hole of talent on the Wild blueline ripped a hard shot from the point that found the back of the net. It was his first goal of the year. The expression on his face was priceless, the reaction of the fans was stunned amazement and jubilation.
Until the ref waved his arms calling for no goal. High stick? No. Hand Pass? No. Another penalty away from the puck? No. Goaltender interference? No.
The call, unbelievably, was Man In The Crease.
Man In The Crease? The old rule from the late 90s reared its ugly head. The rule that is no longer in play. The rule that no longer exists.
Not only was Branko Radivojevic NOT interfering with Giguere, he was also NOT in the crease. Coach Jacques Lemaire was stupefied. "That rule is no more" he said, and he is absolutely right. Radivojevic, who said it was the worst call he's ever seen, can stand in the crease and sip lemonade if he wants so long as he does not interfere with the netminder. It was a complete drop by the officiating team. Why was there no discussion amongst the officials? Why did the second ref not say "You know, that rule does not exist now. The goal is good?" Carrying that flub to its worst case scenario, what if that had been the tying goal, or the winning goal, that was disallowed, not just more icing on the cake? What if the Wild had lost this game due to a failure of the officiating crew to make the right call? The thought of it is sickening, and illustrates yet another reason why the NHL needs to begin to pay attention to this series, no matter how much they hate the thought of it.
But then, the talent of the Ducks gave way to the idiocy of the Ducks.
Minnesota's Adam Hall and Anaheim's Kent Huskins decided to drop the gloves like men and have a dance. As their legitimate tangle commenced, Anaheim moron Shawn Thornton came flying out of nowhere and jumped Hall from behind, taking both Hall and Huskins down. He received a misconduct. Even Duck coach Randy Carlyle was befuddled by the move. "Huskins can take care of himself," he said.
At the same time as that patch of lunacy was cultivated, Brad May, one of the most classless bags of flesh in the league (remember the bounty he put on Steve Moore back in his days with the Canucks?) completely cold-cocked Kim Johnsson, dropping him to the ice like a brick. Keep in mind that Kim Johnsson is not a fighter. Probably has never been in a fight in his life. May was given a match penalty for intent to injure and faces an NHL disciplinary hearing today, where he could face a suspension....I personally will be surprised if Colin Campbell has the guts to do anything about it.
Jacques Lemaire was beside himself. He gave the Ducks a high compliment, saying they were much too good a team to be resorting to this type of activity, and he also said that's not the type of game he or his team play, nor is it the type of game they're looking for. Continuing, he said what May did was the equivalent of him sending Boogaard out against Selanne or McDonald. Then he sent a mini-challenge to Brad May: "Johnsson is not a fighter. If he's looking for one, we've got one. He's number 24 and he's the tallest guy on the team."
Boogaard was disgusted by May's cowardice, saying that May has no respect for anyone and so he won't be getting any either. Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough said it was "disgraceful, but then again, I didn't expect anything else from Brad May."
Johnsson was under observation for a "head injury" last night and his status for the game tomorrow night in Anaheim is unknown.
The Wild have done what I hoped they would....they took a game, and took it in outstanding fashion, and left their mark on the series. No one wanted to see them drop out in 4 straight (well, except maybe Duck fans, and some Canuck fans). They have woken up and will be geared up for game 5. The question is, is it too little too late?
And a side comment, after getting home from the arena last night, I turned on Versus to catch the end of the Calgary/Detroit game. It was already over and Bill Clement informed me that after the commercial they would be breaking down all the games from the evening. Cool. I was curious to see what the guys would have to say about the Wild showing up, and particularly about the waved off goal.
Pens/Sens replay and analysis? Check.
Rangers/Thrashers replay and analysis? Check.
Flames/Wings replay and analysis? Check.
Canucks/Stars replay and analysis? Check.
"Oh, and the Wild beat the Ducks tonight 4-1. We're going to get some sleep but we'll be back tomorrow night with a double header....blah blah blah."
That's it. An aside comment just tacked on with no discussion.
No one other than the teams involved seems to give a rats ass about this series and the coverage it has been getting is pathetic.
Lastly, the one player who has a great impact for the Ducks is overlooked in the shadows of the NiederPronger....Francois Beauchemin. He did not play last night after taking a puck to the face in Game 3 and his presence was certainly missed on the Duck blueline. If he plays in Game 5 things could be harder for Minnesota in their bid to stay alive. Personally, as a hockey fan, I want to see him play. I like the guy.
Fight To The End.
The Best of 1 Series resumes Thursday night.