Mike Yeo is never one to make excuses, so the means-business Wild coach challenged the Wild Tuesday morning.
"Fight" was the word of the day.
Sure, Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard were out because of concussions, and sure, Yeo knew (without revealing) that he would be yanking a third top-six forward, Devin Setoguchi, from the lineup for missing a team meeting.
But that was no excuse for another 'L' in the standings.
"This is an opportunity for us to get back that fight that we had," Yeo said hours before the Wild had to fight for everything it got during a tension-filled 5-4 shootout victory over the red-hot San Jose Sharks.
Sinking and desperate, the Wild needed to work exhaustively to pull out its second 'W' in 13 games -- predictable for a team in a deep funk.
Up 4-2 with 3 minutes, 6 seconds remaining, the Wild saw its lead evaporate in 22 seconds on goals by Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. Then, after the most adventuresome, fundamentally unsound overtime you could ever dream up, the Wild survived when Matt Cullen, in his 1,000th NHL game, and Mikko Koivu scored and Josh Harding made two stops in the shootout.
Antti Niemi got a piece of Cullen's shot, but it trickled over the line for the deciding goal.
"Old man strength," quipped Cullen.
Harding said the final minutes of regulation and overtime felt like "two hours," but as Cullen said, laughing, "It just works out -- no matter how hard you try to mess it up, I guess. It was by no means pretty, but big win. Boy, we needed that."
In one game, the Wild overcame a month's worth of adversity: Posts and crossbars, a wiped out Casey Wellman goal on arguably a quick whistle, players constantly shuttling to the locker room for medical or equipment repairs.
Then add the fact that three top-six forwards were out. But several stepped up.
Cal Clutterbuck had a goal and assist. Wellman had two assists. Nick Johnson, who filled Setoguchi's first-line spot, scored for the first time since Dec. 4. Warren Peters scored his fourth career goal in 59 games. Harding made 34 saves, including several robberies, for his first win since Dec. 4.
"It was a big, big game for a lot of guys in this room," Clutterbuck said.
The second line of Clutterbuck, Cullen and Wellman buzzed all game. Cullen's goal was the type of dirty goal the Wild has lacked lately (Wellman shot off a fallen Cullen's shin); Clutterbuck's the type of pretty goal the Wild, well, has lacked lately.
He took Wellman's pass and split two defenders before whistling a shot inside the far post.
On Monday, Clutterbuck went to a Minneapolis hospital with Setoguchi and Heatley to visit paralyzed Benilde-St. Margaret's hockey player Jack Jablonski. The last thing Clutterbuck told him was he would score a goal for him.
"So I thought I'd get that out of the way in the first five minutes so I didn't have to worry about it all night," Clutterbuck said, laughing.
It was a big win for the Wild -- if only to slow the bleeding.
Losing 11 of 12 had dropped the Wild from first in the NHL to eighth in the West. Now it's sixth.
"To keep fighting and battle through what we did in the game, that was the team that we were three weeks ago," Yeo said. "Because of what we put in that game, there's a feeling, there's a sense that you deserve it."
Added Harding: "We're going to take this as a stepping stone in the right direction. We played our hearts out."