There’s something about the Minnesota Wild and Casey DeSmith.
The Vancouver Canucks goaltender has never lost to the Minnesota Wild. He never lost to them while he was with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
And, now, with one game against the Wild for the Canucks, he still hasn’t lost. His Canucks won 2-0 Thursday over the Wild at Rogers Arena.
The veteran backup stood tall early in the game, as the Wild swarmed the Vancouver end, playing what seemed like keepaway for a baker’s dozen of minutes.
DeSmith did exactly what was needed from him, holding down the fort while his teammates struggled to find their way.
And then they did.
The Wild came into the night red-hot, having won their first four games since a coaching change last week, John Hynes taking over for Dean Evason.
And they played like a team with new belief in themselves through those opening stages of the game.
But DeSmith was obviously more than ready. He made save after save, then looked totally calm through the rest of the game as well.
When the rest of his team found their game, then took a late first period lead, their own confidence revived, nearing the level they had plenty of early in the year but had struggled to find lately.
With a trio of big opponents to come over the final three games of this early-December homestand, it was a good time to find their confidence.
Garland’s relentless energy
The pass that Conor Garland made to Teddy Blueger will show up on the highlight reel, but it was an all-around industrious night for the pesky winger.
He won puck battle after puck battle, forced turnover after turnover and the Canucks spent most of the night in the Wild’s end while his line was on the ice because of it.
He only has two goals on the season and certainly, at his salary, you need more goals.
But the goals are going to come. Over the course of his career, he’s averaged a goal about every four games. That’s a 20-goal scorer.
He’s too good a player to not start burying some chances.
Shoot where the big man ain’t
Nils Höglander maybe didn’t mean for things to play out the way they did, but it was a smart play to wait for his new enormous teammate to take away the eyes of Minnesota goalie Filip Gustavsson.
Nikita Zadorov glided on a smart angle across the plane of vision linking the Swedish shooter and the Swedish goalie and Höglander’s shot clearly got lost to Gustavsson’s eyes as he barely flinched as the puck sailed past his glove and into the Minnesota net.
How is that possible?
Not once, but twice J.T. Miller was robbed on a late second period power play by Gustavsson.
The first Miller didn’t get his shot up high enough, instead burying his bang-bang opportunity into the goalie’s leg pad.
The second was on the doorstep and despite the shorter distance was probably the higher degree of difficulty.
The big Swede again got himself between puck and net, preventing what looked like was going to be Miller’s 15th goal of the season.
Game of two halves
The first two periods were practical mirror images: Minnesota badly outshot the Canucks in the first, while the Canucks reversed the situation on the Wild in the second.
In the first, the Canucks took 13:18 to get their first shot on goal and the Wild ended up getting 23 shot-attempts at five on five, against just nine for Vancouver.
The Canucks finished the period strong and got Höglander’s goal to put them on the front foot after facing that torrent of early pressure.
In the second, though, Vancouver fired the puck at the Minnesota net 21 times and the Wild just nine times.
The third was a calm, competent effort by the Canucks.
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