Canucks nailed again by Wild
Orcans open a 1-0 lead, take back-to-back penalties, then fold like a roadmap
There is some shared history - see 2003 - and the two teams have been fighting in the same neighbourhood for over a decade but, the last four seasons, the Minnesota Wild have been rivals to the Canucks the way a nail is rival to a hammer.
In each of those four seasons, the Canucks have won four Northwest Division titles and the Wild have failed to make the playoffs. On average, the Minnesotans have also finished 24 points behind the Canucks, all of which means you have to go back to the height of the Jacques Lemaire era to find a time when games between these two teams meant something.
Until this season at least. "I don't know, has it changed?" Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa asked before Monday night's 3-1 Wild win. "It seems we've always had some big games with these guys. But they're challenging for top spot now and that adds something to it."
Actually it adds a lot. On the most basic level, the matchup between the Canucks and the Wild was a first-place showdown in the Northwest and that alone tells you things have changed for both teams. But there's a much larger story developing here, a story about two teams moving in opposite paths both this season and for years to come. The Wild are not only trending in the right direction this campaign, they're younger, deeper and better positioned for the future than the Canucks.
True, the two teams might be close this season and the Northwest still figures to go down to the final week. But maybe it's a good thing the longtime divisional foes are parting company next season when the NHL realigns because the Wild are going to be a nasty piece of business for awhile.
"It never stays the same," said the Canucks' Chris Higgins.
"There's going to be turnover. You might stay on top for a couple of years before the other teams start figuring it out.
"But we still feel we have a team that's capable of winning this division and these guys are going to be fighting with us right down to the end."
If it goes that far. The Canucks might have deserved better Monday, but the big showdown seemed to be determined by the momentum both teams were riding heading into this one. In taking over top spot in the Northwest, the Wild are now 12-5-1 in their last 18, while the Canucks have gone sideways for over a month. And it didn't get any better at The Rog.
The Orcans opened a 1-0 lead and held a 21-9 advantage in shots on goal before taking back-to-back penalties midway through the second. Then they folded like a roadmap.
If you've followed the team through its recent travails, there was nothing new about their latest defeat. The Wild's Niklas Backstrom was the better goalie on the night. The Wild were the more opportunistic team. The Canucks controlled play for long stretches, but half of their forwards looked like they couldn't score if they were the only male on Survivor Island.
"We hung around," said the Wild's Zach Parise. "We never did get much going, but we gave ourselves a chance and sometimes that's how you have to do it."
Actually, they've been doing it a lot lately. The subject of the Canucks' slide has been well-chronicled in this market and needs no further illumination here. But while they've struggled, the Wild have found some traction with a team that turned over almost half of its roster from last season.
The big pieces, of course, were Ryan Suter and Parise and you can trace the Wild's rise from the point that the $98-million men started to feel comfortable in their new surroundings.
But it's the smaller, less-heralded pieces that make a more compelling story. The Wild have dressed seven rookies this season and two of them - defencemen Jonas Brodin and winger Charlie Coyle - are playing feature roles. Both also scored goals Monday night and the 19-year-old Brodin, who should start getting some Calder run, looks like something special.
It's funny. Well maybe it's not funny to Canucks' fans, but it's interesting. Early in the season the Canucks beat the Wild twice and, after the second win on Feb. 12, they stood 8-2-2 and the Wild were 6-6-1.
Since then, well, you know what's happened and it happened again Monday night.
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