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The refs got it wrong, it's time for the Wild to make it right

04/24/2023, 12:15pm CDT
By Bryan Zollman, Let's Play Hockey

Wild fans were eager to see the replay on the scoreboard after two calls went against Marcus Foligno. The replays showed the calls were questionable, and both led to Dallas goals.

It seemed an insurmountable task to become more despised in the XCEL Energy Center Sunday than Ryan Suter. But referees Kevin Pollock and Garrett Rank managed to pull off the feat.

Two highly questionable calls against Minnesota Wild assistant captain Marcus Foligno led to two power play goals and a 3-2 loss in Game 4 of the series, pitting both teams in a 2-2 deadlock as they head back to Dallas for Game 5 on Tuesday.

Minnesota Wild coach Dean Evason was calmly livid following Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars. The Wild bench boss spoke in soft tones, but his words were weighted with frustration.

“We all know what happened,” he told reporters. “We have our opinions, but what’s the point? There’s no point in whining about it now.”

Foligno was a little more pointed in his comments, calling the two calls against him that led to two power play goals for the Stars “bulls**t.”

Foligno was whistled for an interference call in the second period leading to Dallas' first power play goal by Tyler Seguin. Foligno made a clean check on the back wall as a Dallas defenseman chipped the puck along the boards. When the referee announced interference, Wild fans let out a gregarious moan.

“It’s a joke,” said Foligno. “It doesn’t make any sense. I go to hit a guy. He touches the puck. It’s not interference.”

Foligno immediately screamed at Pollock after the call. When asked if he received an explanation, Foligno said, “no. Just arrogance.”

Then, later in the third with the Stars leading 2-1, Foligno attempted to make a hit in front of the Dallas bench on Mason Marchment. Marchment dodged a charging Foligno for the most part, sending Foilgno flying shoulder first into the boards. Marchant’s stick also caught Foligno in the face, drawing blood. But Foligno was the one whistled. The call? Tripping.

Wait…tripping?

This one was made by Garrett Rank. Again, no explanation. Not that they owe him one...but tripping?

“It’s not a tripping call when you hit a guy clean on,” said Foligno.

Seguin buried his second power play goal of the night to put the Stars up 3-1 with just four minutes to play. At that point the Suter boos were replaced by boos for the referee crew.

As if they hadn’t punished the Wild enough, the referees kicked Ryan Hartman off the bench in the waning seconds with a 10-minute misconduct. The frustration had mounted because the Wild had played a relatively solid game, but felt in the end they were going up against more than just the Dallas Stars.

Evason was pleased with the team’s effort, despite lack of execution on several great scoring chances. The Wild were stuffed on two breakaways, one by Foligno and another by Kaprizov, who still hasn’t scored since Game 1. With just six seconds left, Marcus Johannson received a gift of a deflection that landed squarely on his stick. He fired a laser at the empty net before Dallas goalie and Lakeville native Jake Oettinger came out of nowhere to make a sprawling game-saving save.

Perhaps it was Oettinger, and not lack of execution, that was the difference.

But the bigger difference were the two calls that led to two goals. One can blame the referees who are receiving criticism even from those who aren’t Wild diehards, but that still doesn’t take the Wild’s penalty kill off the hook. The absence of Joel Eriksson Ek has left a gaping hole in the PK unit. He also would have been on the ice in the final minute of Sunday’s game and taking all important draws down the stretch (see more on draws later).

Dallas is converting at a 44 percent clip on the power play. The Wild either need to improve their penalty kill or ultimately stay out of the box.

But that’s difficult when referees make blatantly horrendous calls that would have been no calls in most Bantam B games. 

As Foligno and Evason both pointed out, this is playoff hockey.

“We like the way we are playing the game,” Evason said. “Hard. Physical. Finishing our checks. The right way. How playoff hockey should be played. It should be physical, it should be intense. It should be hitting hard. That’s what playoff hockey is.”

Tough on pucks

One of the biggest question marks heading into the playoffs wasn't whether or not the Wild defense was good enough, but were they tough enough? 

It seems the Wild, especially their blueliners, have been pushed around some in recent playoff history, leading to early first-round exits. Let’s face it, our defensive corps is based more on speed and skill than size and strength (Dustin Byfuglien where are you?).

But so far in this series they, as a group, have played very well (save for the 7-goal debacle in Game 2). More importantly, they have played tough. 

Playing tough isn’t always starting scrums after the whistle in front of the net, or dropping the gloves when an opponent pokes at your goalie. It is winning battles below the hash marks. The Wild have been adept at securing pucks behind their goal line and efficiently getting those pucks on teammate’s tape and out of the zone. Perhaps nobody has been better than Brock Faber. If you watch Faber you see he rarely loses a one-on-one puck battle along the wall. His body positioning and stick work are superior to anyone on the squad, and he always knows where to leave the puck once he gets control.

Matt Dumba, the subject of trade rumors all season, has also been excellent this series. He has played tough and smart, securing pucks in the D zone and making efficient break out passes. He has been solid on the rush as well. If the Wild do trade him, he has definitely improved his stock value.

Brodin has been Brodin --- never flashy, but always stellar. Like Faber, he is great along the wall in winning those important battles. The lumbering Middelton is getting the most out of his game and the captain, Spurgeon, has been good (not great).

Klingberg has been a liability in the defensive zone, which is likely why he is paired with Faber. Klingberg’s ineffectiveness in the D Zone is probably costing Faber minutes, but Evason doesn’t dare pair Klingberg with Middleton, and Spurgeon, Brodin and Dumba are all anchored as top four defensemen. 

Klingberg notched a goal and an assist on Sunday, so he does bring the offensive component to the ice, especially on the power play, so it would appear our six defensemen are set for the rest of the series.

Cold to hot?

What's cookin' for Wild top goal scorers Kaprizov and Matt Boldy?

Kaprizov had a breakaway chance Sunday and was stoned by Dallas goaltender Jake Oettinger after trying to go five-hole. Other than that, 97 hasn’t had a lot of point-blank chances. One reason could be because he draws an extra defender every time he touches the puck. But that should leave more open ice for his linemates. 

So far each team has scored 13 goals. The Wild’s top two goal scorers in the regular season – Kaprizov and Matt Boldy --- have combined for one goal through four games. Dallas’ top two goal scorers Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz have five goals, four by Hintz who tallied 37 during the season.

Boldy has yet to light the lamp, which could bode well for the Wild heading into a best-of-three situation. With Boldy and Kaprizov held almost scoreless through four games, it’s only a matter of time before they break through and find the back of the net. It’s like a great baseball player in an 0-for-16 slump. Sooner or later he is going to break out of the slump and somebody is going to pay dearly.

Whenever cooking, the food starts cold before it's served hot. 

Hopefully that is the recipe for 97 and 12.

The Gus Bus

Filip Gustavsson played well again on Sunday and is turning away pucks at a .941 save percentage clip. There is no reason he shouldn’t play the remainder of this series barring any injuries or other setbacks. Flower is a suitable backup with playoff experience, giving the Wild a goalie tandem most teams would love to have. The key word here for Flower is "backup," perhaps a role he is not used to, but one he will have to embrace moving forward.

Dallas dot dominance

One area the Wild are getting obliterated in is on the faceoff dot. Through four games  the Stars have won 57 percent of faceoffs. While that may not seem like a huge advantage, perhaps the numbers 160 faceoff wins for the Stars compared to the Wild’s 122 wins gives a clearer view.

Faceoffs are loose puck battles and the Wild are getting decimated. This is another area where they miss Eriksson Ek.

Best of Three

With the series tied 2-2, both teams are faced with a best-of-three scenario. Dallas has a clear advantage with home ice, but the Wild have proven they can win on the road in the playoffs.

Game 5 is a must win for both teams. Both goalies are playing extremely well, which means it could come down to what team gets ta break here or there, a break like Sunday that leads to a game-deciding goal. A game-deciding goal in Game 5 swings the series to a huge advantage for whatever team wins. That means one little break in Game 5, could effect the outcome of the series in a big way.

The Wild are now playing with a chip on their shoulder, as they should. They feel slighted, and it should motivate them to play even harder come Tuesday and beyond. 

It was clear who got the breaks on Sunday.

The refs clearly got it wrong.

Now it's time for the Wild to make it right.

 

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Tag(s): State Of Hockey