OTTAWA – During last season’s lockout, Mike Yeo took boxing lessons.
That training paid off before Wednesday’s game, because the Wild coach did an amazing job of bobbing and weaving members of the Ottawa media who were peppering him about Dany Heatley returning to the city where he twice scored 50 goals in a season but now was a fourth-line shell of his former self.
Yeo went to bat for his player, doing his best to protect Heatley from the bloodthirsty scribes.
A few hours later, the unpopular ex-Senators star forward left his former rink with a goal and assist to help the Wild rally to a 4-3 victory.
“It’s fun to get booed now,” said Heatley, pointing out the jeers weren’t nearly as forceful as they were in his first return with San Jose after asking to be traded in 2009. “You could almost see it on [the fans’] faces. They just kind of do it for fun now.”
With the Wild trailing 2-1, Heatley assisted on Jonas Brodin’s second-period tying goal and scored the go-ahead goal before Milan Michalek tied the score 8 minutes, 57 seconds into the third on a power play.
But with 2:57 left, heating-up Mikko Koivu drove between the circles, used pinching Jared Spurgeon as a decoy and snapped a bullet by Craig Anderson for the winning goal. It completed the 22nd career three-point night for the Wild’s captain, who has four goals and 12 points in the past eight games.
“It’s a big confidence win for us,” Koivu said. “It was a very important after the game last night in Montreal. We’ve been playing great hockey the last month or so, so we can’t change things based on one game.”
Yeo was confident heading into the game that the Wild would respond from that 6-2 drubbing to the Canadiens because of the team’s leadership. He was concerned though about the Wild’s legs after playing three games in a four nights, and he felt that was a factor during a first period in which the Wild was outshot 18-6 and outscored 2-1.
“But we were able to find another gear,” Yeo said.
Jason Pominville scored a first-period power-play goal, Brodin recorded his first career multipoint game, Zach Parise had two assists and Josh Harding made 34 saves as the Wild, 11-2-2 in its past 15, avoided its first losing streak in a month.
Yeo lauded the Wild’s first line of Parise, Koivu and Charlie Coyle for a string of clutch goals the past four victories.
Against Toronto, Parise scored the tying goal with 4:17 left and the shootout winner. Against Florida, Coyle scored the winning goal with 8:22 left. Against Winnipeg, Koivu scored both goals, including the winner with 3:12 left. And there was Koivu’s late winner Wednesday.
“It’s big. Real big,” Yeo said. “That’s what you want from your leaders.”
The Wild rallied in the second when Brodin took Heatley’s pass and whistled a shot through traffic for his fourth goal and first since Oct. 19. Only 3:15 later, Heatley scored his fourth goal and second in two nights — much to the dismay of Senators fans. He found a loose puck behind the net, and after initially whiffing on a pass, reached past Erik Karlsson from behind the goal line to muscle his own rebound under Anderson for a 3-2 lead.
“This was a difficult game for him to come to, having to answer all the questions about playing on the fourth line,” Yeo said. “That’s tough for anybody. He just responded really well.”
Heatley appreciated his coach sticking up for him with the Ottawa press.
“I haven’t been their favorite guy for a lot of years … but it’s nice to know your coach has your back,” Heatley said.