Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Day 3 at the 2010 NHL Prospects Tournament: Minnesota vs. New York

The Minnesota Wild went into the final day of round robin play of the 2010 NHL Prospects Tournament with the chance to clinch a berth in the championship game as they faced-off against the New York Rangers. The Rangers, who won on a goal with 6.1 seconds left in their opening game to stun Columbus, experienced the same heartbreak as the Blue Jackets in an equally heart-breaking 1-0 loss to Carolina when the Canes broke the scoreless match with under a minute to go.

The Rangers looked to set the pace early, with Ryan Bourque’s (Quebec – QMJHL) quick skates (his feet always seemed to be in 4th gear) and Derek Stepan’s (Wisconsin – CCHA) hard work to retrieve pucks in the neutral zone. Both teams were certainly not afraid to play to body, evidenced by NY’s Jason Bast’s (Moose Jaw – WHL) crunching checks along the boards on an early penalty kill and Minny’s Carson McMillan’s (Houston – AHL) open-ice hits in the middle of the rink. New York was aggressive on the penalty kill, but their eagerness cost them as Jarod Palmer (Miami – CCHA) drew first blood for Minnesota at the 7:33 mark – just 2 seconds before Chris McKelvie (Bemidji State – CHA) would be free following a tripping call.

The Wild continued to put pressure on Cam Talbot (Alabama Huntsville – CHA) thanks to some slick skating and deking stick work courtesy of Casey Wellman (UMass-Amherst – Hockey East), who showed great chemistry with first line pivot Cody Almond (Houston – AHL). New York tried to counter by rushing the Minnesota zone, with big rearguard Dylan McIlrath (Moose Jaw – WHL) showing good speed and pretty maneuvering in advancing the puck. However, Minnesota’s defenders – particularly the shut-down pairing of D-men Marco Scandella (Val D’Or – QMJHL) and Jared Spurgeon (Spokane – WHL) – did a phenomenal job at keeping the rubber from reaching Wild backstop Matt Hackett (Plymouth – OHL). In fact, the Rangers did not register a shot on goal in the period until nearly 16 minutes into the game. The Rangers’ offensive woes were perhaps best demonstrated by Kesley Tessier’s (Moncton – QMJHL) chance at an open cage – with Hackett out of position – only to have the puck kept out by a Minnesota defender’s stick. In all, New York was outshot 9-2 in the frame, but only faced a 1-0 deficit.

New York wasted no time in the second in establishing offensive tempo, as their first shot came just 10 seconds in. In fact, by the time the first minute of the second stanza had passed, they’d already surpassed their first frame shot total. Tessier sniped a one-timer from the left wing – on a beautiful cross-ice pass from Brandon Manning (Chilliwack – WHL) at the right point – to tie the contest 3 ½ into the second. But soon thereafter, with Sam Klassen (Saskatoon – WHL) already in the box on a hook, the Rangers’ over-zealous PK hurt them again. Christian Thomas’ (Oshawa – OHL) over-active stick on a shorthanded rush deep in the Minnesota zone resulted in a subsequent tripping call and a 5-on-3 power play for the Wild. Wellman wasted no time by beating Talbot just 12 seconds into the two-man advantage to reclaim the lead at 2-1 in favor of the Wild at 5:36 into the period. Almond continued to dazzle by weaving into the New York zone with relative ease – his speed drew the hooking call on Klassen – as he peppered Talbot with shots, including one from his knees. But the Rangers kept testing Hackett, as Ryan McDonagh (Wisconsin – WCHA) patrolled the attack by firing howitzer-caliber shots from the point. The teams exchanged rapid back-and-forth odd-man rushes, which were ended by a nifty scooping glove hand stop by Talbot.

But despite the Rangers’ best efforts, they were dealt a crushing blow when Alex Emond’s (Rimouski – QMJHL) initial shot bounced off a few players in front of Talbot, leaving Jay Fehr (Brandon – WHL) to corral the loose puck and tap it in to give the Wild a 3-1 edge. New York’s luck almost got even worse as Manning and Dan Maggio (Sudbury – OHL) collided into one another in an attempt to take out a Wild skater, leaving both shaken up initially but able to continue. The Rangers’ hard work would pay dividends near the end of the frame as Andrew Yogan (Erie – OHL) was able to beat Hackett with just under a minute to play to cut the gap in one. The Rangers outshot the Wild 13-9 in the second, but still found themselves down 3-2.

The quick-strike Rangers showed up in the final frame, as Evgeny Grachev (Hartford – AHL) floated along the left boards and beat a screened Hackett on a quick wrist shot just 19 seconds into the third to tie things up at 3. But New York’s joy was short-lived as Palmer’s second goal of the contest 52 seconds later restored Minnesota’s lead at 4-3. Wellman continued to display his offensive tendencies with a great chance in front of Talbot on a criss-crossing odd man rush. The Wild’s tic-tac-toe-like precision passing resulted in a goal from Joel Broda (Calgary = WHL) at 7:19 for a 5-3 Minnesota lead. The Rangers started to look desperate as time ticked away. Hackett stood up to the Rangers’ pressure, making 23 total saves on the night. Eventually the Rangers pulled Talbot, but could not muster enough trickery to fool Hackett. Brandon Buck (Florida – ECHL/Houston – AHL) couldn’t quite seal the deal for the Wild, ringing a shot off the post of the empty net from the blue line. The Wild would claim victory, but not before Ethan Werek (Kingston – OHL) scored with the extra attacker on for the Rangers as time expired (the referees allowed the goal after a brief discussion).

FINAL SCORE: Minnesota 5, New York 4

Minnesota – by virtue of their 3-0-0 record in the “Gretzky Division” – now advances to today’s championship tilt at Centre ICE.

Meanwhile, next door at David’s Rink, Tampa Bay got goals by James Wright (Vancouver – WHL), Marc-Oliver Vachon (Drummondville – QMJHL), and Carter Ashton (Lethbridge/Regina – WHL) to defeat the Dallas Stars 3-1. Dustin Tokarski (Norfolk – AHL) made 36 saves in net for the Lightning, and had a shutout bid spoiled by the Stars; Jace Coyle (Medicine Hat – WHL) by 14 seconds left in the contest.

Some quick hits from this game:

• Tokarski stood tall in net, showing poise by remaining in position, despite heavy pressure from Dallas attackers early in the contest (the Stars outshot the Lightning 17-9 in the first period).

• Ashton was unfazed by the Dallas’ defenders trying to clear him out of the crease in front of Stars’ netminder Jack Campbell (USNTDP).

• Tampa blueliners Brock Beukeboom (Sault Ste. Marie – OHL) and Mark Barberio (Moncton – QMJHL) were smothering as a shutdown pair, blocking several Dallas shots on the fly, and were able to quickly move the puck up the ice to establish offensive presence for Tampa Bay.

• Campbell made some very impressive saves in net for Dallas, but seemed to receive little support from his follow defenders, as he was left to fend for himself frequently, much in the same manner as his rough outing vs. Detroit to open the tourney.

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