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Updated: February 14th, 2013 11:33pm
Myers: Ugly hockey might still be Wild's calling card after all

Myers: Ugly hockey might still be Wild's calling card after all

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by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In the decade-plus since the NHL returned to Minnesota, we've seen plenty of ugly goals and plenty of ugly hockey inside Xcel Energy Center.

First Jacques Lemaire and then Todd Richards brought a plodding, slow-down brand of the pro game to the masses.

With offensive-minded Mike Yeo at the helm and high-priced offensive talent such as Zach Parise in uniform, this was supposed to be the "new" high-flying Wild, leading the league in goals and highlight-reel offense every night.

Instead, perhaps the most important of the Wild's three goals -- an offensive outburst by the very low standards they've set in the shortened season's first month -- on Thursday came when tough guy Mike Rupp went hard to the net, poked a puck at the Colorado Avalanche net and kept whacking at it until the puck was on the far side of the goal line.

It was as ugly as it was familiar for longtime Wild fans. And most important, on another night when the high-flying and high-priced top line played great hockey but was stifled for much of the game, it worked.

Rupp's goal, his first as a member of the Wild, tied the game at 2 in the third period. The Wild would take a lead, briefly, before bowing in a shootout, 4-3. They got a point and scored three goals (after getting just one regulation goal in each of their previous six games). And none of that was enough to produce an encouraging word from Yeo, who chose his comments carefully in ripping most of his team -- save for his high-talent top unit.

"Our big guys were very good. It's a shame to waste a performance like that," said Yeo. "It was there to be taken, if you do the things to take it. There was a lack of urgency, I would say, in a lot of areas. I don't think we were prepared to play the right way."

Parise's goal -- his team-leading seventh of the season, but just his second in the last seven games -- was a near-replica of his most memorable goal for the Devils in last spring's Stanley Cup Finals.

He corralled a deflected shot behind the net and, with Avs goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere out of position, swung around the far post with a wraparound shot that tied the game at 1 in the second.

Even for a talent like Parise, finding nonconventional ways to score is becoming a necessity.

"I score a lot of my goals from around the net like that," said Parise, who had as many shots in the first period (five) as the Avalanche had as a team.

"It's hard to beat a goalie clean on the initial shot. Their pads are too big and they're too good, so you've got to get the rebounds like that."

In other words, more goals -- especially the ugly, crash the net, attack the blue paint kinds of goals -- are needed if the Wild are to break out of this malaise that has them fighting to stay in the playoff hunt, rather than leading the charge for a Northwest Division title.

Rupp's play ended with Giguere protesting to the refs that his pad had been pushed into the net. It also ended with the red light flashing, the crowd screaming and the Wild capturing momentum.

"Most goals in the NHL are probably scored like that," said Rupp. "I think we're doing a better job getting shots. We're not turning away chances to shoot the puck. The pretty plays aren't a consistent threat, so we have to find ways to go in those traffic areas."

After all of that offseason spending on shiny, flashy things, old-fashioned ugly hockey might be the new "pretty" for the Wild.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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