The Minnesota Wild have the most daunting of tasks ahead of them.
We've all heard the constant droning on and on about the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Islanders and their amazing comeback stories. Blah blah blah blah blah. Fact is, even though the Wild exploded for 5 goals in Game 4 (yeah, one was waved off on a bogus call on a rule that is no longer in existence) and won the biggest, most lopsided victory of the series does not strike anyone as being worthy of so much as a glance. Much media attention still is squarely focused on other series' and the Wild/Duck series is no more than afterthought.
Which is a shame.
The Ducks have a growing fan base and their team has gained some respectability since detatching from the Di$ney suckling trough. They have new owners that actually love hockey and have made some bold moves this season to make a solid contender. Maybe they don't have the fans you would find in Detroit or Montreal or other NHL markets, but they do have them, and they are a passionate bunch.
The Wild have had their best season in their existence. For the first time they have an offense to go with that defense everyone hears about. And they still bring huge revenue to the NHL with a sold out arena night after night and still highly salable merchandise.
Yet these two clubs are now the red headed stepchildren of the bunch. Why?
It can't be for lack of talent? Pronger. Niedermayer. Selanne. McDonald. Giguere. Backstrom. Gaborik. Demitra. Rolston. Solid youth core players such as Penner, Kunitz, Bouchard, Burns.
Sure, the Ducks took a 3-0 series lead and most everyone, even the staunchest Wild fans, had assumed the worst. The Wild, however, have been behind the 8-ball before. Twice. And both times they've come back and lifted the spirits of the Minnesota faithful. The likelihood of it happening again is slim, minuscule, even. But after that win Tuesday night, the Wild now have that most dangerous of weapons.
Yet even then no one seemed to have taken notice. Even Versus, the supposed network with the passionate love affair for hockey, ignore the Ducks/Wild series when it comes to playoff discussion at every available chance.
I don't believe the NHL even knew these two teams were playing until Brad May was given a match penalty for his idiocy in Tuesday's game. His sucker-punch of resident Wild Gandhi Kim Johnsson may very well have ended the Wild season. Averaging over twenty minutes per game and considered the Wild's best puck-moving defenseman, the team will be without his services for an indeterminate length after he suffered a head injury from the blow.
"I have integrity. I have honor." Words spoken just a couple years ago by Brad May. After he had slugged Steve Heinze over the head with his stick and served a 20 game suspension. After he had stated that a bounty was put on the head of Colorado Avalanche player Steve Moore ("And it'll be fun when we get him," he added). Now he slugs a guy named Kim; a non-fighter who still had his gloves on.
That's some integrity you have there.
Now that the NHL has banned him for what amounts to the rest of the series (a 3 game suspension), the Ducks won't be hurting without his meaningless 7 minutes of ice time. And they'll have the benefit of having to face Kurtis Foster, 7th on the depth chart for Wild defenseman, instead of Johnsson.
The Wild, whose chances were slim, now have them made that much slimmer. But they will not yield the field without a battle. No retreat. No surrender.
Fight To The End.