Andy McDonald scored early, Rob Niedermayer scored late, and Bryzgalov stopped 19 shots, leading the Ducks to a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night. Anaheim leads the best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final 3-0. Game 4 will be played here Tuesday night, giving the Wild one last chance to get their power play going.
Frustrated all week by Ducks star defencemen Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger and their lesser-known teammates, Minnesota went 1-for-5 on the power play and is 1-for-15 in the series.
And that goal, by Petteri Nummelin, didn’t come until 38.2 seconds remained – the only blemish on another stellar game by Bryzgalov.
Niklas Backstrom made 17 saves, but the Wild didn’t give him – or the sellout crowd – much of a lift. They were in it until the middle of the third period, when Rob Niedermayer, Scott’s less-decorated brother, led a rush up the right side and zipped a shot over Backstrom’s shoulder for a 2-0 lead with 10:17 left.
This was the first post-season game at Xcel Energy Center in nearly four years, the last coming on May 12, 2003, when Anaheim’s Jean-Sebastien Giguere shut out Minnesota 2-0 in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.
Giguere won the Conn Smythe Trophy that year as the playoffs MVP, but Bryzgalov, who has given up four goals in three games, has quietly begun a similarly impressive stretch. Giguere hasn’t played since March 31, due to a family problem. His son, Maxime Olivier, was born on April 4 with a deformed right eye.
It sure helps Bryzgalov to have such a strong defence in front of him, though.
Marian Gaborik, the star of the Wild’s top line, spoke Saturday about preferring to play against Teemu Selanne’s line and avoid Samuel Pahlsson and the rest of the Ducks’ checkers. But Gaborik and good buddy Pavol Demitra barely generated any chances.
Minnesota’s fourth line of Wyatt Smith, Stephane Veilleux and Branko Radivojevic was the only group that consistently came close to scoring until Nummelin connected.
Wes Walz was called for holding late in the first period, which the fans, including local baseball stars Joe Mauer and New Westminster, B.C., native Justin Morneau, didn’t like. With 52 seconds left on the power play, Pronger put one of his big, long swings on the puck to get it near the net. McDonald corralled it with his stick and flipped it past Backstrom to put Anaheim ahead 1-0.
Searching for a power-play spark, Wild coach Jacques Lemaire activated the sharp-shooting defenceman Nummelin in favour of Kurtis Foster and scratched tough guy Derek Boogaard for February acquisition Adam Hall.
Minnesota’s man-advantage misery continued, though, thanks to another sluggish attack, questionable puck decisions, and that relentless Ducks defence.
Anaheim killed two penalties in each of the first two periods, and it wasn’t until their fourth power play that the Wild were finally able to set up an offence.
Either Niedermayer or Pronger always seemed to be in the way, and Minnesota could barely find space to make crisp, clean passes – let alone attempt clear shots.
Minnesota thought a fifth extra-skater situation was coming at the end of the second period when Selanne interfered with Backstrom, but the Wild goalie was called for diving – upsetting the customers once again.
Notes: Brad Bombardir, a defenceman on the Wild’s last playoff team who now works for the club in community relations, led the crowd in the traditional “Let’s Play Hockey” chant to signal the start of the game. … Anaheim defenceman Francois Beauchemin left bloodied in the closing minutes after a slap shot by Mark Parrish hit him in the face.