All-around effort is winner for Wild
- Article by: Kent Youngblood
- Star Tribune
- October 22, 2007 - 2:07 AM
ST. LOUIS Wild coach Jacques Lemaire was worried. Well, as worried as a coach can be when his team has yet to lose a regular-season game.
He hadn't seen consistent team play. Effort? Up and down. Add to that two days' worth of practices that Lemaire felt were subpar. Things had to change.
Boy, did they.
On the road, in front of a packed house, playing a St. Louis Blues team off to its best start in years, the Wild moved its legs and moved the puck. The result: a 3-1 victory that pushed the Wild to 6-0-1 overall, 3-0-1 on the road.
"What a difference," Lemaire said. "We played as a team, you could see that. Because we were intense, all the time. We never gave them a chance to breathe with the puck. They tried hard, but I thought we played so tight, we made it tough for them."
The Wild got goals from Pavol Demitra, Eric Belanger and Brent Burns and 33 saves from Josh Harding, who has now given up one goal in 120 minutes of play.
And get this: It could have -- should have -- been worse.
The Wild set the tone from the start, coming out in the first period and launching 17 shots -- most of them from close range -- at Blues goaltender Manny Legace, whose glove and game were both red-hot.
Belanger called it the team's best period of the season. Nobody argued.
"We were all over those guys in the first," he said. "It could have been 3-0 from the get-go."
Legace made all 17 saves, but the way the Wild was playing, it was only a matter of time. And that time came at 12:37 of the second period with the Wild's second power-play goal this season, when Demitra scored high over Legace, who was screened by Mark Parrish.
It stayed that way until the final minute of the period, when rookie Steve Wagner -- who is from Grand Rapids, Minn. -- scored on a wrist shot from inside the blue line. That shot -- the puck trickled between Harding's pads -- was all that stood between his fourth shutout in nine NHL starts. But even that had a silver lining.
"I think it cleared my mind after the period," Harding said.
Which is good, seeing that when the period ended he had a 2-1 lead to defend. Because Belanger scored on a one-timer off a brilliant cross-crease backhand pass from Pierre-Marc Bouchard with 21 seconds left in the period.
And, with a clear mind, Harding stopped all of the Blues' 15 third-period shots. Burns made it 3-1 at 11:19 of the third just after a penalty expired.
"I think that was our best game so far," said Demitra, a former Blues player who has nine goals and 15 points in eight games against his former team.
Said Belanger: "This was a big game tonight. We proved we can win on the road against a really hot team."
That was not lost on Blues coach Andy Murray, who had nothing but good things to say about the Wild.
"If we want to get a real good image of how we'd like to play ... we have to look at our opponent," he said.
Kent Youngblood firstname.lastname@example.org
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