Niklas Backstrom made 19 of his 33 saves in the third period Saturday to pick up his first shutout of the season and 27th of his career in a 2-0 win over San Jose.
The Wild won its fifth in a row for two goals, its 10th win in 13 games and is 14-5-1 since Feb. 9. It still leads the Northwest with Vancouver right on its tail. The Canucks keep winning, too, and are tied with Minnesota in points (38) with one more game played (31 to the Wild’s 30).
Backstrom, always the leader, repeated what he said in Detroit – that this all has come by doing the details right and the little things and playing the right way. It doesn’t just happen overnight, Backstrom said.
“We didn’t get here by being lucky,” he said. “It’s by working hard every day. That’s a big lesson for now. We have to push every day. We can’t stop. We can’t be satisfied. All the other teams are going to be better. We have to be better, too.”
Backstrom has started 14 of 15 games now and heading into tonight’s action was tied for the league lead with 16 wins. He is 13-3-1 in the past 17 with a 1.98 goals against average and .929 save percentage. He is now 9-3-1 at home this year (Wild’s 11-3-1, 7-1-1 in the past nine) with a 1.96 goals against average. He is 4-0 in his past four against San Jose with a 1.51 goals against average and .952 save percentage.
Player after player threw accolades at Backstrom’s feet after the game. He was that good today, and set the tone 3:06 in when he denied Andrew Desjardins’ penalty shot.
“That could easily have shifted the game the other direction,” said Zach Parise, whose team-leading 12th goal was his third game-winner.
Said Backstrom: “It feels good to be there right in the beginning for the guys because they’ve been there every night for me.”
Today’s game easily could have gone south. Excuses: First game after a long road trip, afternoon start, choppy ice thanks to an arena overworked by the WCHA Final Five. And coach Mike Yeo was worried about the overload of questions the last few days about how well the Wild had been playing as opposed to looking ahead.
And early in the first, I thought we may have been headed to a sleepy loss. The Wild had good pace, but just didn’t look crisp. Players had trouble catching pucks and overskated some. But by the end of one, it was scoreless, meaning no harm, no foul. The Wild then controlled most the second and jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Parise’s goal (essentially a power-play goal because it came right as James Sheppard’s penalty expired) and then Jared Spurgeon’s power-play goal early in the third.
From there, Backstrom didn’t budge.
Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter each had two assists and still share the team scoring lead with 26. Suter’s 26 points are two from tying Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang for most by an NHL defenseman. His 24 assists are one from Letang. Suter has 22 points in his past 20 games and already ranks fifth on the Wild’s all-time single-season assist chart (13 from team record).
The Wild basically had two power-play goals tonight and now has a power-play goal or more in 11 of the past 13 games.
Yeo said the more the puck goes in, the easier it is to focus on the things that make a power play successful – shooting pucks, net-front presence. The Wild has found combinations they like and both units are scoring. But Yeo said mostly it’s just a shoot-first mentality right now, and that sometimes comes from the blue line, sometimes from forwards attacking.
Yeo said “behind closed doors, we didn’t have a doubt” the team would turn it around from a slow start. “We knew it was going to take time, but we believe in the group that we have. Looking at it talent wise, of course. But more importantly, you look at the quality of people that we have, the character that we have.
“We’re not anywhere yet. The only thing we’ve done is set ourselves up the right way. But there’s a lot to feel good about.”
Anyway, read the gamer and the notebook on www.startribune.com/wild for more details and tidbits. I talked to Brent Burns and James Sheppard before the game. That’s in the notebook. I also talked to Torrey Mitchell about his fight with former teammate Tommy Wingels tonight.
Josh Harding, by the way, took the ice this morning in pads, so he’s on track to hopefully getting back into the swing of things with the team.
Wild practices here on Sunday before heading to Dallas, where it hasn’t won at since 2003 (16 and counting). Hey, Wild won in Vancouver last to snap an 11-game drought, Detroit to win in regulation for the first time since 2006.
Is Dallas next?
Finally, give Super Troopers/Beerfest, etc. actor/writer/comedian Erik Stolhanske a follow on Twitter. The Twin Cities native sat up here in the press box with me this afternoon. Just a great guy. He’s pals with Matt Cullen and came down to the locker room after with the press corps as my “protégé.”
“Hey, get this guy a pen so he looks more professional,” Cullen said, regarding Stolhanske.
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