Wounded Wild team outbattles Flames
ST. PAUL — Late last season when the Minnesota Wild was fighting for a playoff spot, Andrew Brunette played on a torn ACL and Owen Nolan on a broken toe.
The definition of a gritty, gutsy hockey player is one who plays if he can stand upright, which is why even if it turns out this year's version of the Wild is less than three weeks from being over, you've got to give credit to this current cast.
Take Sunday, when the Wild outbattled the Calgary Flames to a 4-3 victory.
Greg Zanon played on a broken ankle. Chuck Kobasew, who scored twice, has been playing on a sprained ACL and MCL he admits is not fully healed. Josh Harding fought through a hip injury he aggravated last game. Feeling dehydrated, Cal Clutterbuck received fluids through intravenous during the game. Kyle Brodziak overcame a cut on his arm that "exploded" after being hit by a puck. Cam Barker played despite a painful collision in the third period.
Several other players are also playing hurt because, as Clutterbuck said, "It's that time of year."
Let's be real: the Wild's playoff chances are remote. Minnesota is seven points behind eighth-place Detroit with 10 games to go.
But these are professional athletes, and "we believe," said Harding, who made 29 saves. "It doesn't matter what anybody tells us. Until we're mathematically out — even if we are — we have a lot of pride. We're playing for the Minnesota Wild organization. We're coming to battle every night."
It took a lot of battle, mental fortitude to beat the Flames. The weird game included two lengthy stoppages because of a frightening injury to Flames veteran Daymond Langkow and a broken penalty-box door courtesy of a metal-rod-bending check from Guillaume Latendresse on Jamal Mayers.
"Anytime the flow of the game's cut like that, it's tough to keep your focus," Zanon said.
Early in the second period, after the Wild took a 3-1 lead on Kobasew's first goal to chase goalie Vesa Toskala, Langkow was struck below the back of his neck by teammate Ian White's shot. Langkow had been checked by Zanon as the two battled for position in front. He fell forward with his head down, allowing the puck to hit him above the nameplate. Compounding matters, Langkow's head hit the ice.
After being assisted by Wild doctors Sheldon Burns and Dan Peterson, both team's medical trainers and paramedics, Langkow was taken off on a stretcher. He remained overnight at a local hospital for observation, but the Flames report he can move all extremities.
"He said right away he was hurt and needed somebody out there," Zanon said. "I hope he's doing all right. Obviously it was nothing intentional. It was just a battle, one of those things that's freak in our sport."
Said White, "It looked to me like the puck went right off his spine. One of the scariest things I've ever experienced."
After play resumed, White, of all players, cut the deficit to 3-2. But the Wild regrouped and finally took a 4-2 lead on Kobasew's second of the night.
Kobasew picked his spot, but the work was done by defenseman Brent Burns, who returned after missing six games with a hip injury. Burns took the puck off the wall, stick-handled around Jarome Iginla and Matt Stajan and fed Kobasew.
"Good thing he had the puck, because I couldn't do that," Kobasew said of Burns.
It was Kobasew's fourth goal in four games.
"It's been tougher coming back from the (knee) injury than I thought it would be," said the former Flames first-round pick, who missed 23 games. "Timing. The speed of the game at this time of year is faster than when I was playing. I thought it would be easier coming back and it wasn't."