3-6-09: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

It's Friday once again, and the balmy temps in the upper Midwest have pretty much everybody I know in good spirits. Pretty much. My dad just arrived in town from Phoenix yesterday and his first words were, "What's all this white crap and where did the sun go?"

Hard to blame him given what he's used to I guess.

But we hearty natives are thrilled with a touch of Spring. Here's to hoping it hangs around!

Speaking of yesterday, I almost wrote this column last night. Sometimes it's easier to collect my thoughts and write a more cohesive column from the home offices. But I'm glad I didn't, as a result from late last night had a direct impact on the tone of this week's DFTU. And it's well that it did, or this would have been a fairly morose column! As it is, I'm trying to paint a middle of the road picture. Not too up, not too down. So let's get to it!

"The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything."
- Walter Bagehot (1826-1877), British businessman, essayist and journalist

First off, the last name is pronounced "BAD-jit". Leave it to the Brits! And the reason I haven't written a book is because I can't focus on one subject long enough to write a book about it. The column, on the other hand, is brief (relatively) and to the point and allows me to move on to whatever bright, shiny object captures my attention next!

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And with that, you've waited patiently all week and now it's time. That's right, you know it, you love it, it's everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 31-27-5 giving them 67 points. That makes them the 11th seed in the Western Conference, 1 point out of an 8th-place tie with Edmonton, Dallas and Anaheim.

The Wild are 4 games into their 6-game road trip. And it hasn't been a pretty start. It began with a 4-1 loss at Calgary. The next night, the Wild were up 2-1 over Edmonton after the first period, but were shut out the rest of the way and lost 3-2. Then it was on to Vancouver where the Wild again held a lead, this time 2-0 over Vancouver, and frittered it away, losing 4-2.

Then came last night. The Wild were in San Jose in desperate need of a win. Unfortunately, they were up against the current top seed in the Western Conference. The Sharks were 26-3-3 at home coming into last night, and they were on a 2-game losing streak meaning they had every motivation to get a win as well.

And for a while, it looked like that was exactly what was going to happen. The Sharks held a 2-0 lead after the first period and extended it to a 3-0 lead mid-way through the 2nd period.

It was at this point where the little devil appeared on my shoulder and said, "No way the Wild are going to get 4 against the Sharks. Just turn it off!" Fortunately, the angel appeared on the other shoulder and said, "Remember when you gave up on the Badger football team and they came back and won. You had to shame-facedly admit to that in your blog. Do you really want to risk that again?!"

The angel was right. I stuck it out.

Now I won't try to make it a "cause and effect" situation, but it was around that time that things started to change. At 17:52 of the second, Mikko Koivu began the turnaround firing a slap shot by Sharks goalie Brian Boucher. The momentum and energy shift was immediate. The Wild stayed right on top of San Jose and less than a minute and a half later, Minnesota score again as Pierre-Marc Bouchard netted the Wild's second goal. So at the end of the second period, what once looked like a lost cause, was now a one-goal game.

Could it be? Could the Wild make a Rocky-like comeback? Could they get up off the mat and defeat the 'roided-up Russian... er, Sharks?

Minnesota came out buzzing in the third, but couldn't seem to get one by Boucher. Until the 12:23 mark when the hockey gods reached down and blessed the Wild. (It was about freaking time, by the way.) In the ultimate example of, "just throw it at the net and sometimes good things will happen", Marek Zidlicky flipped a seemingly innocuous backhander from center ice in the general direction of the Sharks net.

He was simply trying to throw the puck deep into the San Jose zone to allow the Wild to make a change. But the puck took a couple of weird hops as it reached Boucher, and somehow, some way, managed to hop his stick and sneak through the 5-hole, and just like that we had a tie game!

Bad hops happen in hockey. Fluke goals happen. They call it "puck luck". Over the course of the season puck luck is supposed to even itself out, which is why you never turn it down when it goes your way. There have been plenty of examples where it's gone against the Wild this year, so they were due.

The teams remained tied through the rest of the third period, despite the officials slapping Cal Clutterbuck with a penalty for high sticking with three minutes left. There was a borderline high stick on the play, so I'm not going to slam the officials (but with three minutes remaining, really?). Unfortunately, that stick belonged to Kim Johnnson, not Clutterbuck. Woops.

So off to overtime we went. The pace remained fast and physical. Both teams had been complaining about the condition of the ice all night. But it reared up and bit the Sharks with :14 remaining in the OT period. After a puck hopped a Sharks defender's stick, Brent Burns was able to carry it into the Sharks zone and get a bad angle shot on Boucher. The rebound took yet another bad hop away from Boucher and back onto Burns' stick. Burns centered the puck back in front of the net to an open Mikko Koivu who book-ended the game nicely with the game winning goal. 4-3 in overtime. Wild win! Wild win! Wild win!

Okay. Sorry for the huge recap, but that was a fun game to watch, and I felt the need to share it!

And given the way this road trip has gone, the come-back was all the more important. Going 0-4 to start the trip would've been brutal. I won't go so far as some and say that it would've "buried" the Wild - the rest of the teams around them just aren't good enough to run away and hide. But it would've been psychologically damaging at the least. Instead, the Wild got a dramatic win over a serious playoff contender.

Now they need to capitalize on the momentum they've gained. Their next game is at Los Angeles tomorrow afternoon. The Kings are a team the Wild should beat, but they're also a team that has given the Wild fits. Winning Saturday keep the mojo flowing as they complete the road trip with a game against Anaheim on Sunday. And since the Ducks are one the teams the Wild are in direct competition with for a playoff spot, that's a critical one!

After that the Wild finally get to come home for a game. Against whom? San Jose. Oof.

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 18-11 and 9-8 in the Big Ten, tied for 5th in the conference.


Okay, here comes the maudlin part.

I told you all last week that the game Wednesday night against the Gophers terrified me. And it played out in precisely the terrifying manner I feared.

I'll put it this way. Given my work schedule, I left with about 7 minutes left in the game. I considered staying around to watch the end of it, but I was fearful of a lousy ending and decided I didn't want to spend a 30-minute bus ride home stewing about a bad loss. Cowardly? Perhaps. I prefer to think of it as self-preservation.

And as it turned out, I would've been stewing the whole ride home. The Gophers won 51-46, in what can only be described as a Big Ten slop-fest. Hey, congrats to you Gopher fans. You won, and I give you full credit. But even if the Badgers had won, I'd have been talking about how ugly it was.

The two teams combined for 23 turnovers and only 20 assists. Combined they shot a whopping 37% from the field. And there were a total of 33 fouls called over the course of 40 minutes, meaning, on average, there was a whistle every 1.2 minutes. Big Ten basketball, catch the fever!

Actually, I think I would've preferred having a fever to actually watching that game.

So as mentioned the Badgers are sitting on 18 wins with one game remaining in the regular season. Fortunately, it's at home versus a woeful Indiana squad. Sorry Hooiser fans, but you're win number 19 for Bucky. But lacking 20 wins in the regular season, and without any major wins to point to, I think the Badgers are going to have a deep run in the Big Ten tournament to earn a NCAA Tourny berth. I'm saying semi-finals at the least. And I'm not entirely sure that will be enough.

By next Friday, the Big Ten tournament will have started, and we'll have a better idea how things will shake out for Bucky. If they can manage the 5th seed or better, their first game will be on Friday. If not, then they play Thursday. Either way, I'll have it covered for you next week!

First up, it's Indiana at home on Sunday night. And if they lose that one, I may have to be pulled back from the ledge!

That's all for today and for this week. Enjoy your weekend wherever you are, and make sure to check back Monday for more Sports Take goodness! Until then, thanks for reading!

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