Harsh reality: Red Wings blast Wild 4-1
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - The day after Christmas can be a reality check for many. Yes, the holiday lights are still up, and some of the music is still playing, but the festivities are over, and you're now faced with empty boxes, piles of wrapping paper, looming bills and, in Minnesota, several more months of long, cold winter.
That's roughly the feeling the Minnesota Wild gave fans on Sunday night: the painful reality of what may be more long, cold winter ahead. After providing some pre-holiday hope with a three-game winning streak, the return to reality was brisk versus the Detroit Red Wings, as the Western Conference's most dominant team did a number on the rink in St. Paul, scoring early and often versus a listless Wild team en route to a 4-1 Red Wings win.
Early in the season, the unsold seats inside Xcel Energy Center were a new thing, as the team's decade-long sellout streak came to an end. The Detroit game featured an overflow sellout crowd, but on Sunday, the Wild was booed off the ice at the end of the second period, trailing 4-0, having mustered just nine shots in the first 40 minutes and well on the way to a sixth loss in the last eight home games.
"We're frustrated," said Wild forward Matt Cullen, admitting the boos were heard, and understood. "We've been playing some good hockey, and to take a step back like that, especially in front of a great crowd, that's all fair game. We should have probably been booing ourselves."
In a small way, it was refreshing that on this night, the boos weren't just reserved for Wings tough guy Todd Bertuzzi, who's been the focus of fan ire in Minnesota since the 2003 playoffs when he was a Vancouver Canuck.
The fans are not fully to blame for voicing their displeasure. There were less than four minutes left, and a good number of the fifth-largest regular season crowd in Wild history had already headed out into the cold night, when Brent Burns gave them the only real thing to cheer about. His power play goal ended Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard's hope for a shutout, and made Burns the first Wild defenseman to reach the 10-goal mark twice in his career. To show the difference between the strength of these two teams, Burns' goal made him the only Wild player with double-digits in goals this season. The Red Wings have five players with 10 or more, including Danny Clearly, who scored his 16th on Sunday.
What may be learned from the events of the past week is that the Wild is among the better of the non-playoff teams in the Western Conference, capable of beating also-rans like Calgary and Edmonton on most nights, and capable of a mild upset versus a team like Colorado from time to time. But among the conference's elite teams, there's trouble to be had.
"We have to be better in certain areas to battle and compete," said Wild coach Todd Richards. "The Detroit Red Wings know what it takes on a consistent basis to win hockey games and play at the level we certainly want to get to. They were ready to play their game from the drop of the puck and we weren't."
That was evident based on Detroit's first two goals, when Henrik Zetterberg and Cleary both scored on shots from below the goal line that deflected off Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom and into the net.
"Those are unfortunate bounces, but they had numerous opportunities to score that were above the goal line before that," said Wild forward John Madden. "They had a high tip too, so they got them in all different ways tonight."
Backstrom finished with 23 saves for the Wild and will get a break on Monday night when the team plays in Columbus. Richards announced that Jose Theodore will get the start versus the Blue Jackets. The Wild returns home to face San Jose on Wednesday.