“We play a lot of games, we play every two days. Your backup goaltender has got to start at some point in time. We’re still going to need him down the stretch here.” – Brent Sutter
Ever since they joined the league prior to the 2000-01 season, the Minnesota Wild have been a nasty little outfit. Sinisterly sneaky, they lie like a slick snake in the grass waiting for their opportunity to pounce, and when they do, their bite is usually lethal.
Under Jacques Lemaire, they were as interesting to watch as water boiling, paint dying or reality TV – intriguing at times but mostly dull as dish water and just as murky. This year, with a new regime in the front office and behind the bench, there were hopes the club would open up the offense and finally give their faithful following a reason to stay awake through the numbing neutral zone traps, irritating icings and kitty-bar-the-door defenses.
Well, the Wild still aren’t wild, at least not in the way they approach the game. In their first post-Olympic encounter with the Flames – a 4-0 Wild win that was as exciting as a toothache – Minnesota iced the puck over 20 times, content in the knowledge that their expertise in the face-off circle wouldn’t backfire on them. Calgary picked up the pace in their next meeting and escaped with a tidy 5-2 win that wasn’t exactly a Rembrandt but still looked good on paper.
Which brings up to the latest – and next-to-last chapter in this tedious story. The Wild rolled out the same old familiar blueprint that enabled them to win three of the first four games between the teams. They stalled, they snored, they sneaked and they scrummed. They used opportunistic offense, score-snuffing defense and solid goaltending to squeak out a 4-3 win that may have fatally detoured the Flames journey towards the post-season.
Brent Sutter rolled the dice again and inserted Vesa Toskala between the pipes, but this time Flame fans saw the real deal not the Jacques Plante disguise he’d been wearing since arriving from Anaheim.
As many embittered Toronto Maple Leaf partisans are well aware, Toskala is consistently inconsistent and on this day, he was at his awful best. Juicy rebounds, poor positioning and failed focus all conspired to aid and abet the Flames downfall as Toskala allowed three goals on 12 shots – a tidy trio of stoppable pucks that sealed the Flames fate and placed the club firmly in a deep hole that they were unable to crawl out of.
Meanwhile, in the “that’s the way things are going” file, Daymond Langkow was carted off the ice on a stretcher after twisting his neck in an odd fall after being struck by a shot by Ian White. Early indications are that he will be fine. And Miikka Kiprusoff, plunged into the deep end of the pool after Toskala’s dreary demise, gets saddled with the loss after allowing Minnesota’s fourth goal.
Sideline skeptics and downbeat denizens will be questioning Sutter’s judgment on the Toskala call with good reason. He’d already received a mirage of miracles from the vanishing Vesa. To ask for one more was more than one should ask.