Evening from the X, where the Wild, in not the prettiest performance, kept on trucking tonight with a 4-2 win over New Jersey.
All four goalies played, with the Wild chasing future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur in the second-shortest start of his career (8 minutes, 17 seconds), and that’s over 18 years and 1,145 games. On the Wild’s side, Niklas Backstrom sustained a lower body injury that coach Mike Yeo doesn’t believe is serious.
But the Wild will know more on Saturday before its flight to SoCal. Yeo believes Backstrom actually got injured on Zach Parise’s deflected goal 2:54 into the game but remained for the rest of the period. It probably didn’t help matters when David Clarkson fell on him with 2:39 left in the period.
But Josh Harding came in and stopped 22 of 22 shots the last two periods to get the Wild the ‘W,’ although not himself the ‘W.’ Backstrom was credited with the victory because the Wild held a 3-2 lead at the time Harding entered. It’s funny (or sad), but Harding’s suffered three or four losses in games Backstrom’s actually been pulled.
Poor guy, but if you know Harding, he could care less. Also, if you know Harding, you know when he’s not starting by his morning demeanor. Like Friday, he was loose, joking around, making lots of noise, making fun of PR guy Aaron Sickman’s fancy suit vest.
Apparently, Harding does the same thing between periods of games he is not playing. Dany Heatley says Harding usually spends the intermissions in the training room, my guess being so he doesn’t mess up Niklas Backstrom’s focus at his stall.
But when goalie Bob Mason came into the training room during the first intermission to tell Harding to get ready, Heatley said laughing that Harding’s face “instantly changed” to serious.
Well, Harding was awesome, and he had to be because there were several flurries and the Wild spent much of his 40 minutes pinned in the zone because of poor execution, sloppy play in the neutral zone and what coach Mike Yeo and Kyle Brodziak called “soft plays.”
But as usual, the Wild pulled out the win. It has won three in a row, 13 of 17, moved back into first in the NHL and has a six point lead over Vancouver in the Northwest.
As I mentioned, Backstrom will be reevaluated Saturday before the Wild flies to John Wayne Airport. The Wild leaves for a five-game trip, so this not the best timing for the Wild and Backstrom, but the good news is there are no back-to-backs on the road trip strangely enough.
And at this point, Harding has proven to be a confident and capable goalie. He’s 6-2-1 with a 1.96 goals against average and .938 save percentage this season.
As for the game tonight, after Parise scored, Heatley scored a clutch goal and bigtime answer 20 seconds later.
Then Mr. Blue Collar, Kyle Brodziak, scored the first of his two goals. Ilya Kovalchuk, who was a liability all night despite his one goal and six shots, tripped and turned it over to Brodziak. If you watch Wild practices, the coaches preach driving wide with speed and cutting to the net constantly.
That’s just what Brodziak did. He wheeled around Anton Volchenkov, cut to the net and followed his initial shot by scoring on a backhand while falling backward. Work Ethic, as usual for Brodziak, A+.
Brodziak, remember, is in a contract year. He’d ice the game later in the third with a breakaway one game after tying the game and scoring in the shootout. He has eight goals – halfway to his career-high of 16 last year.
Brodziak’s agent’s got to be salivating at this point.
It would be Casey Wellman who would end Brodeur’s night with his third career goal and second career winner. He crashed the net like a lot of his greasy goals in Houston and Matt Cullen’s shot seemed to deflect in off his skate.
That would be all she wrote for Brodeur, whom (#flareference coming up) I’m not so certain I have ever seen get chased. That guy used to roast the Panthers for lunch when I covered them.
Again though, not the greatest game by the Wild.
“We weren’t our best tonight by any means,” Brodziak said. “We definitely had a good start, but everybody knows, and I was definitely guilty of it, we started making soft plays and turning pucks over in areas we definitely can’t do that.
“I think we saw what happens when we do that. We spent a lot more time in our zone than we should have.”
Like I said this morning, this performance was kind of predictable. When I said it was a trap game though this morning, I was thinking loss. If not for Harding and a great start, it would have been.
It’s just the way it goes sometimes when a number of factors add up. Up and back to Edmonton, lots of games lately, long road trip coming up, desperate team who got embarrassed two nights before. It had all the makings for a sloppy, no legs game.
But as bad as the Wild was tonight in terms of execution, the battle level as usual was never a question.
That’s what Yeo liked about it.
“I love the work ethic and the attitude that our guy’s bring,” Yeo said.
And the goaltending, Yeo said, “That’s been really consistent with our team all year, and with that, even in that game tonight, we weren’t our best, but there’s a feeling on the bench that it’s not like we’re just hanging on by the skin of our teeth here. There’s not a sense that we’re in extreme danger because we know that those guys are back there and they’re playing solid.”
I’ll write about this more soon, but the Wild’s depth continues to be impressive.
As Ken Hitchcock said to me a few weeks back, guys are just interchangeable.
Think about it. The first seven or eight weeks, defensemen were dropping like flies, but in came guys like Justin Falk and Nate Prosser and Kris Fredheim. Still, Marek Zidlicky’s out (affecting the power play) and now Falk right after guys like Marco Scandella and Clayton Stoner.
Up front, they’ve been without Guillaume Latendresse for 11 games and counting, now Cal Clutterbuck.
But in comes Casey Wellman to the second line, and he flashes speed and skill tonight, good play with the puck and a goal. On the fourth line the last few games, David McIntyre. In tonight, Cody Almond.
The Wild has depth, and again, these aren’t the high-end guys, like Mikael Granlund, who is lighting up Finland, and Johan Larsson and Brett Bulmer and Zack Phillips. These aren’t the high-end college guys, like Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker and Erik Haula, who all had huge games tonight.
It’s just impressive and again gives all Wild fans reason for optimism down the road. You’ve got to love it when the best days of this organization are ahead, and this is a team who has the most points in the NHL right now.
Pretty doggone good, as Bobby Bowden would say.
Zach Parise, the former Shattuck-St. Mary’s star and Minnesota native, had a strong, workmanlike game. He scored a goal, an assist, had eight shots and he battled in all three zones -- almost as if he was auditioning for the Wild.
Parise is an unrestricted free agent next summer, and if he gets there, it would not be surprising if the Wild pursued him.
-- Backstrom had his fifth assist in 299 games.
--Mikko Koivu’s seven-game point streak ended.
--Mike Lundin and Greg Zanon had 13 of the Wild’s 24 blocked shots
--Brodziak scored goals in consecutive games for the first time since 2009-10
--Five of Heatley’s seven goals have been the Wild’s first of a game
--The Wild won for an NHL-best 10th time when the opposition scores first BUT it wasn’t a one-goal game (darn Brodziak ruined it with the sweet breakaway tally).
--The Wild is 16-1 when allowing two goals or fewer, 0-6-3 when giving up three or more.
The Wild will not practice before its flight Saturday, and I have a flight in the morning to LA. But I should talk to Yeo in the morning by phone and I should have Internet on the long flight, so I’ll update the blog and my Twitter (www.twitter.com/russostrib) with Wild news and Niklas Backstrom and other injury updates when I know them.
Talk to you in the morning or from the O.C.