Last night was one of the oddest nights I can remember at the Xcel Energy Center, and one I won't soon forget.
For Opening Night, the normal 7:00 game time had been pushed back to 8:00 to accommodate television, but then the Wild decided to open the doors at 4:00 so people could come in to watch Twins in their playoff game against Detroit. Only a handful of fans were there at 4:00, but by 6:00, the crowd was coming in pretty steadily. Pretty soon there was a good crowd sitting in the arena, watching the Twins on the scoreboard jumbotron.
And it would have been a great night if the Twins game had followed a normal arc. They would have been done around 7:00 or so, and people could have mentally transitioned from baseball to hockey, enjoyed the Opening Night festivities and watched the game.
Except the Twins game, as you know, became an epic. It went into extra innings, and meandered through a series of remarkable plays that kept everyone intensely interested right through the 12th inning. Which was great, except that it ran past the start of the hockey game.
As the 9th inning began, the Wild put a message on the scoreboard that said that, beginning at 7:20, the scoreboard jumbotron would begin carrying Wild-related messages, and that the Twins game would be on the televisions in the concourse.
The Wild are used to coming out of their locker room and being greeted - even for warmups - by a noisy group of several thousand people. Last night they hit the ice for warmups about 7:35, and they must have looked in the stands and wondered if there had been a bomb scare. No more than a few hundred people were in their seats, because virtually everyone had gone out to the hallways and concourses to watch the Twins.
And they stayed out there through the warmups, through the pre-game ceremonies and even through the start of the game. At the first puck drop, there were about 17,000 people in the building, and my guess would be that 10,000 or more were watching the Twins on TV. In a building that is famous for its sellout streak - and the noise level of its fans - it was very strange.
There were only a couple minutes left in the first period when the Twins finally pushed the winning run across, and it produced a loud roar that traveled from the outside hallways into the arena. Wild coach Todd Richards said later that it was so loud he began looking all over the ice to see what he might have missed, until it dawned on him that everyone was cheering for the Twins.
Everyone then flocked into their seats, to see the last 90 seconds or so of the first period, then returned to the TV sets during intermission, watching replays of the Twins and their locker room celebration.
With the start of the second period, it seemed that things had returned to normal. People were back in their seats, the focus was on hockey and all seemed right with the world.
Except that the Wild stunk. Herb Brooks used to tell his players - when things weren't going right - "You look like a monkey trying to hump a football." That expression passed through my mind during the second period as I watched the Wild give up three goals in a six-minute span and fail to generate any offense at all. It was wretched hockey, and the fans booed the team off the ice at the end of the period, with Anaheim leading 3-0.
Lots of people left, and even more left after the first five minutes of the third period, when things didn't look much better.
And then came John Scott.
With Derek Boogaard out for a while with a concussion, the Wild have converted the 6-foot-8 Scott from defense to wing, and sent him out to bang bodies a little bit, and be available to fight. Early in the third period, with the Wild still trailing 3-0, Scott decided to taken on George Parros, one of the real heavyweight fighters in the league. It was no contest, as you can see here.
It ignited the crowd, and the Wild as well. A bit later, Mikko Koivu scored to make it 3-1. Then Petr Sykora got his first goal as a Wild player. And Eric Belanger blasted a shot through J.S. Giguere to tie the game. Finally, Andrew Brunette scored in overtime for a 4-3 win, the first time the Wild has ever overcome a three-goal, third-period deficit at the X.
Crazy night. The Wild has still never lost a home opener (eight wins and a tie), the Twins are headed to the ALCS and I had a truly memorable night.