Spurgeon, win! Wild thumps Edmonton 4-1, moves up in playoff chase
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Minnesota Wild wore camouflage sweaters for warm-ups on Tuesday, not to signify the combat mission they have embarked on in a push for the playoffs, but instead to honor the state's service men and women.
But the former would have been as appropriate as the latter for this Wild team, which has taken some casualties along the way, but is moving forward like a platoon of fighting men, bound and determined to take that hill at all costs.
On the day that captain Mikko Koivu spoke to the press and admitted that his broken left index finger means the team will be without his contributions for at least the next few weeks, and unlikely hero stepped up in the form of rookie Jared Spurgeon, whose first career goal was pivotal in the Wild's 4-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers.
Spurgeon scored on a laser of a power play shot in the third to give the Wild a 3-1 lead and got a rousing standing ovation from the not-quite-a-sellout crowd. Spurgeon, who grew up in Edmonton and admits that he had one or two Oilers sweaters as a kid, though first about his parents and friends watching back in Alberta.
"It's sort of cool that everyone back home will get to see this one. That's something to remember forever," said Spurgeon, who is 21 but looks like he'd have to produce proof of age to get into an R-rated movie. As for those Oilers sweaters he wore as a kid, he said he hasn't seen them in a while. "They're in the back of the closet now."
His ovation was only the second-loudest of the night, as the Wild beat the Oilers at home for the 15th consecutive time. Later in then third period, Cal Clutterbuck dropped Bloomington native Tom Gilbert with a hard check, then fed a long pass to Pierre-Marc Bouchard. With Gilbert still stumbling, Bouchard had nothing but open ice from the blue line to the Edmonton net, and used the time and space to victimize Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin with a spin-o-rama move and goal. It was the second time Bouchard had used that move, with success, against Khabibulin, having scored a shootout goal for the Wild against him as a Blackhawk in late 2006.
"From the blue line I saw one of their defensemen fell down, so I knew I had time to make that move," said Bouchard. "From the blue line I knew I was going to do it, so I'm pretty glad it worked."
Much is working for the Wild currently, after the team won five of the six games on the just-concluded homestand, and has moved into fifth place in the Western Conference. Where a week ago just getting into the playoffs seemed to be a long shot, now the team is just a few points shy of a top-four spot, which would mean home ice in the first round. But the coach and players know that they can be back fighting for a playoff spot just as quickly.
"It's so tight right now, anything can change," said Wild coach Todd Richards. "We don't play tomorrow and could wake up and be down a few spots. Every game is huge."
One thing unlikely to change, at least for now, is Koivu's status. He will not have surgery on the broken finger, which is good news, but was unable to give a firm date as to when he'll be back in the game-night lineup.
"Things were going good and everyone was having fun and playing for each other, so the timing is probably the worst it could be," Koivu said. "I'll be back before the regular season ends...as soon as possible."
The way things are going now, with new heroes like Spurgeon stepping up to fill the gaps, if Koivu returns for the end of the regular season, he'll still have plenty of hockey to play.