After losing to Columbus 4-2, the Minnesota Wild boarded a plane to Helsinki, Finland where the team was to take part in the NHL Premiere series, which features NHL teams playing two games in select cities in Europe.
After arriving in Helsinki, the team was in desperate need of rest and relaxation, and not to mention team bonding time.
Along with the daily practices and workouts the team was able to tour and explore Helsinki and parts of Finland to not only enjoy the spectacular view of a country that in retro-spec has the same similarities of northern Minnesota, but it was also spending time and bonding with new teammates and to re-energize the bonds already in place.
The combination of work and play seemed to have paid off when Minnesota won its final preseason game against Finland's Ilves Tampere 5-1 where Cal Clutterbuck, who is much more known for his physical presence, notched a hat trick.
This was the grand opportunity that the players, front office and coaching staff wanted to not only get off to a much better start then last season, but also build some confidence for a team that struggled mightily out of the gates last season and limped across the finish line.
The first game against Carolina looked solid for Minnesota. Guillaume Latendresse tallied first for the Wild in the opening five minutes, a sure sign that he will be a pivotal part of Minnesota's offense again this season.
Carolina scored late in the first period and again early in the second period to take a 2-1 lead.
Minnesota tied it halfway through the second when Matt Cullen buried a rebound off a shot from Martin Havlat on the power play.
The lead wouldn't last for long as Carolina would score a power-play goal less than two minutes later and add on an insurance tally to extend the lead to 4-2.
In the third period Carolina shut down Minnesota's offense. The Wild were unable to sustain offensive pressure, could not find an offensive rhythm and could not get many quality scoring chances.
Brent Burns broke through late in the period with a power-play goal with under four minutes to play, but Minnesota could not find the equalizer and lost their first game 4-3.
Much has been made of the Wild's defense and how it has been sluggish, not being able to cover correctly while being aggressive in the offensive zone. Although Minnesota did allow odd-man rushes, the defense looked much improved compared to last year.
It showed even more as the Wild shut the door on Carolina only allowing 11 shots on goal. The Wild took an early lead once again, this time off the stick of veteran forward Andrew Brunette as he notched his first goal of the season on the power play in the first period.
It was a stalemate until the second period when Carolina answered with a power-play goal of its own off the stick of Tuomo Ruutu.
Both teams traded opportunities in the second, but the third period belonged to the Hurricanes.
Carolina buzzed all over Minnesota, only allowing the Wild four shots on goal in the entire period while taking 15 of their own, but failing to convert any into goals.
Overtime belonged to Minnesota, but even with all the open ice the Wild only mustered eight shots on goal and couldn't cash in.
Jeff Skinner, a 50-goal scorer last season in the OHL and Carolina's first-round draft choice from this year's NHL Entry Draft, froze Backstrom and lifted the puck over his sprawled-out body to take a 1-0 lead in the shootout. Minnesota could not answer and ultimately lose both premiere games in Helsinki, taking one point home out of four.
So what were the positives of this trip for the Wild?
The team bonding will pay dividends here soon. Minnesota continued to adjust its roster all the way up until this past Saturday, so now that it has been set the team can fire on all cylinders and build line chemistry.
Minnesota showed the ability to score and to play defense in sequence. The transition game from offense to defense was horrible last season and already there are signs of improvement.
On the offensive side of the puck the additions of Cullen, Nystrom and Staubitz are being noticed and are paying dividends already.
On the downside of the trip, Minnesota could not muster a win, which was something the team needed to start on a good foot.
Offensive pressure seemed stagnant during the first game, and at times the Wild seemed to have trouble sustaining pressure in the zone.
Penalties were out of control. Minnesota committed 13 penalties in two games, which is way too many. Out of those 13 penalties the Wild surrendered three power-play goals.
Minnesota will not play again until Thursday where it will open up its first game in the U.S at home to hopefully a sell-out crowd at the Xcel Energy Center where the Wild have been spectacular.
What should Wild fans watch for next game?
Look for Minnesota to establish more sustained offensive pressure and less "dump and chase." The Wild used that way too much and it was a quick in and out. Watch for more attempts to carry the puck in across the blue line and to set the puck up behind the net.
Keeping out of the penalty box and being disciplined on the ice will hopefully not allow Minnesota to overwork its penalty kill which needs some work and rest after these last few games in Finland.
Overall the trip to Helsinki will be one to remember for the players and coaches. There were both promising signs of improvement and areas that still need tuning up, but overall the team looks poised and ready to be better than last season.
The Wild will return to face a tough schedule at home, but a tough schedule early could pay off if Minnesota can correct its mistakes and start flying high.
This team has the talent and depth to be able to succeed this year, and from what they have shown us on the ice they should not be counted out of a playoff run this season.
If the Wild can be competitive and break through this season, they will be able to point to this trip spent as teammates and say, "This is where it started, and this is the reason we got here."
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