Niklas Backstrom stopped a puck as the Wild beat Columbus in the home opener Saturday night.

Tom Wallace, Dml - Star Tribune


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Wild's new look is a winner in opener

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO
  • Star Tribune
  • October 9, 2011 - 8:37 AM

Well, that was easy.

Now if the Wild can get 81 more like Saturday night's breeze of an opener, this team may actually be destined for something special.

After months of preaching high-speed, in-your-face hockey in all three zones, Mike Yeo was victorious in his NHL coaching debut after the Wild put forth an entertaining, high-octane clinic in a 4-2 domination of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"I was going to try to play it cool," said Yeo, trying to fight back a smile, "but it actually feels pretty good."

In front of 19,040 patrons at Xcel Energy Center, the Wild won a 10th consecutive home opener and gave its curious fan base reason to hope that a three-year playoff drought will end.

"We just have to keep showing them that we think we're the real deal here," said Dany Heatley, who debuted in a Wild uniform by scoring the winning goal.

The positive signs kept coming from the moment Matt Cullen, looking for a 2011-12 renaissance, put the Wild up for good only 70 seconds in.

With so much fret over an unflashy blue line, 21-year-olds Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella created some end-to-end magic en route to Scandella's first NHL goal. The highly touted first line spent most the night tearing up the offensive zone, with Devin Setoguchi also scoring his first goal, and the trio, along with captain Mikko Koivu, combining for 12 shots.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who had no assists in five preseason games, had two, something the playmaker did only twice in 59 games last season.

And three areas the Wild struggled with last year were strong suits: The Wild scored two even-strength goals, its always-worried-about second-period slumber was nonexistent and it was a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill, including a big double minor.

"We executed our game plan off the start pretty good in terms of getting pucks north and getting on the forecheck and creating offensive chances," Setoguchi said.

The Wild skated circles around Columbus at even strength, and in most years, the Wild can't skate circles around a beer-league team at 5-on-5.

By the end of the first period, the Wild headed to the locker room to the tune of a loud ovation. That sound was the opposite from a year ago, where the Wild often departed the ice to the sound of boos and hisses.

"The building was rocking," Scandella said.

Cullen's goal was gorgeous. He slipped behind former Anaheim teammate Sami Pahlsson to accept Bouchard's 2-on-1 pass after Guillaume Latendresse's 60-foot headman pass.

But so was Scandella's. Spurgeon went end to end, crossed the blue line and saucered the puck to Scandella after he sneaked past Fedor Tyutin.

In the second, the Wild scored twice more, first on Heatley's power-play goal, then after Setoguchi one-timed the stuffing out of a Heatley pass.

From there, Niklas Backstrom was tremendous. He made 11 of his 29 stops in the third period, robbing R.J. Umberger, Derick Brassard and Maksim Mayorov with filthy saves.

As much as the Wild created in the first two periods, it pressured the Blue Jackets dramatically in its own zone. There was just no time, no space for Columbus to do anything.

Yeo loved the pace, but ...

“I believe we have another level, and it’s going to come,” he said.

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