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Goalies Were Optional In Minnesota

SAINT PAUL, MN - FEBRUARY 19: Joel Eriksson Ek #14 celebrates his goal with his teammates Kirill Kaprizov #97 and Matt Boldy #12 of the Minnesota Wild against the Vancouver Canucks during the game at the Xcel Energy Center on February 19, 2024 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

Comrade Thompson went to considerable and accurate lengths Monday to explain why the NBA All-Star Game fails, and it all boils down to the fact that it isn't a game or even the celebration of a game. It's a celebration of business, and who needs that?

You want a celebration of the game? Try a game. More specifically, try this game: 

Sure, they're different sports, but you don't need to know much about hockey to know this about hockey: This doesn't happen. Six goals in six minutes doesn't happen. Seventeen goals doesn't happen. A goal every three shots doesn't happen. Three hat tricks don't happen. In fact, Canucks-Wild was in every way the celebration of the game because games aren't scripted, and who the hell would have thought of this? You watched Karl-Anthony Towns score 50-plus in a game his actual team lost less than a month ago; what's the big deal with watching him do it again playing with relative strangers?

The real magic of Canucks-Wild, though, was that it was a celebration of four different games. There was the one in which Vancouver dominated (the first 29 minutes), then the one in which Minnesota double-dominated (the last minute of the second period and the first five minutes of the third), then the one in which Vancouver reasserted its dominance (the next 10) and finally the one in which Minnesota punished Vancouver's desperation (two empty-net goals in the final 1:07).

Now that's a game worth celebrating, one that hasn't been recreated in any meaningful way since 1999, when the horrible Washington Capitals beat the even more horrible Tampa Bay Lightning 10-1 and scored six goals in 4:47. But given that the Caps were coming off a Stanley Cup Final with a bad season and the 'Ning were only seven years old, nobody was much invested in that one. It was just a sparkly beatdown.

This, on the other hand, was a festival of, well, festivals. The Canucks have the best record in the game, and Minnesota is part of the Western Conference's mid-level mosh pit. They both had reasons to excel. In addition, the game hinged in part on Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet's decision to play and stick with backup goalie Casey DeSmith instead of the always-fun-to-say Thatcher Demko because the Canucks also play in Colorado tonight. DeSmith was passable until the end of the second period, at which point DeSmith was DeSmote. And because we are celebrating the game here, it was the Wild that changed goalies, from Filip Gustavsson to the near-mythical Marc-Andre Fleury, whose save percentage of .750 (average is about .900, as a guide) was better than either Gustavsson's or DeSmith's.

And the hat tricks? All by players of import to their teams—J.T. Miller for Vancouver, Joel Eriksson Ek (yeah, that's it, the non-typo that always looks like one) and Kirill Kaprizov for Minnesota. Eriksson Ek and Kaprizov each scored twice in the same two shifts in the third period, and that doesn't happen even in beer league. And speaking of which, that might be an idea for brightening up the All-Star Game—alcohol for the players while playing.

In any event, this was the game that celebrates the game, but because it can't be aggressively monetized or turned into a special occasion at $8,500 a seat it doesn't do the business any good. It's just that rare game that explains why we bother with the games at all.

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