The Minnesota Wild are in first place. I'll return momentarily as that settles in.
I'm back. Still in shock? Yes, we all are. With the Wild's 4-2 win over the Canucks on Sunday night, Minnesota took over first place in the Northwest division. Considering how the Canucks have been playing lately, it seems like a miracle the team stayed in first place this long. So what exactly went wrong for the Canucks tonight?
Vancouver's troubles started just 24 seconds into the game when Zach Parise scored his 10th goal of the season to give the Wild an early 1-0 lead. The goal was set up by a pass from Mikko Koivu coming down the middle of the ice as Schneider couldn't adjust in time to stop the puck.
Anytime you let by a goal that quickly, it sucks the life out of your team. Here you are ready for what is arguably the most important game of the season with first place on the line, and your opponent gets a lead less than 30 seconds into the game.
Early frustrations boiled over as the Canucks spent half of the first period with players in the penalty box, racking up 11 penalty minutes in the opening period. Speaking of penalties, the Canucks power play struggles continued on Sunday night. For those of you keeping track, that's 20 consecutive power plays without a goal. There's really no need to elaborate on this area, it's just painful at this point.
The only way to suck the life out of a team worse than an early goal is with a late goal. At 18:31 in the first period, Matt Cullen slipped around the back of the net and found Jason Zucker, who tapped in the puck to extend Minnesota's lead to 2 goals.
The Wild came out of the locker room hot, adding a power play goal from Jared Spurgeon as Minnesota jumped out to a 3-0 lead. The difference in how the two teams came out in the beginning of the periods proved to be one of the major downfalls for the Canucks on Sunday night. Both goals gave the Wild a huge momentum swing to propel them to the win.
Vancouver finally made their way back into the game with goals from Chris Higgins and Henrik Sedin to cut Minnesota's lead to one. But just as it seemed like there was a glimmer of hope, Zach Parise struck it back down. Five minutes later, Parise added his second goal of the night to increase Minnesota's lead back up to two goals. Parise nearly completed the hat trick on the empty net, but the post prevented a barrage of hats flying onto the ice.
In what seems to be a common theme, the Canucks showed a lack of urgency in the third period. Through 16 minutes, the Canucks had only managed 4 shots on goal in the final stanza. It took until Cory Schneider was pulled with two minutes left for Vancouver to put any pressure on net. And let's be honest, with the way things have been going as of late, would you expect the Canucks to score on the advantage? Didn't think so.
Normally, I'd say the silver lining here is that Vancouver now heads to Columbus, but as we saw on Thursday, even the lowly Blue Jackets have figured out how to beat the Canucks, and don't look now, but the Blue Jackets are on a bit of a hot streak, winning their last five games. In a matter of hours, the Canucks fell from third to sixth in the Western Conference. Sooner or later, Vancouver will need to realize that they need to be playing like it's March and not like it's November with time to adjust. That playoff race will be in full effect before they even know it.