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Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding (37) stops a shot by Colorado Avalanche left wing Cody McLeod (55) as Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin (25) defends during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Denver on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

Joe Mahoney, ASSOCIATED PRESS - AP

Wild center Zenon Konopka battled for the puck against Avalanche right wing Marc-Andre Cliche during the first period.

Joe Mahoney • Associated Press,

Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin, left, and Avalanche center Maxime Talbot fought for the puck. Talbot had Colorado’s lone goal.

Joe Mahoney • Associated Press,

Late Niederreiter goal leads to 'character win' for Wild

  • Article by: Michael Russo
  • Star Tribune
  • December 15, 2013 - 7:49 AM

 

– Mike Yeo is a realist and knew that a victory Saturday night at the Pepsi Center wouldn’t exactly salvage the disappointing road trip.

“But it certainly would make a big difference,” the Wild coach said Saturday morning.

Hours later, the Wild showed lots of glimpses of quality play, although scoring goals continued to be an unbelievable struggle. But with a third road shutout in six games staring the Wild in the face, Nino Niederreiter forced overtime late in the third period before the Wild pulled out the extra point with a 2-1 shootout win to break a five-game road losing streak.

“It was huge for our team to get that goal,” Niederreiter said. “We ended with a positive note. We know how we have to play. I think we set an example tonight the way we should play on the road.”

Zach Parise scored his 35th career shootout goal and Mikko Koivu his 33rd, and Josh Harding made two saves to go along with his 26 through overtime to help the Wild, which has been outscored 15-5 in the past six road games, go 1-2 on its three-game road trip. It moved back into eighth in the West.

Jason Pominville, Jonas Brodin and Niederreiter scored the Wild’s only three goals on the road trip. The team has scored 16 goals in the past 11 games overall (1.5 a game) and 29 goals in 17 road games this season (1.7 per game, second-worst in the NHL).

“I still think there’s a lot of things we can and we need to do better [to create offense],” Parise said.

The Wild rallied from a 1-0 deficit after Maxime Talbot redirected Cory Sarich’s shot that was heading wide by Harding midway through the second period.

It was the ninth consecutive road game the Wild gave up the first goal. It was facing a Colorado team that was 17-0 when scoring first and 18-0 when leading after two periods.

“For two periods, I’m thinking to myself, ‘We look like we have nothing in the tank, we look tired,’ ” Yeo said. “There were plays or decisions we made that are usually the result of fatigue.

“They had to dig extremely deep to find another level in the third period. It was a big character win.”

Just like two weeks ago when the Wild was in Denver, it took until the very end to get one by Semyon Varlamov. Defenseman Ryan Suter took Pominville’s pass right on the blue line, skated in a few feet and wristed a shot on net that Niederreiter tipped for his sixth goal and first in 11 games with 3 minutes, 53 seconds left.

It capped a strong game by Niederreiter, who seemed elevated by Pominville’s re-emergence on his line.

“It gives him the sense that, ‘It’s my job to get to the net,’ instead of being the shooter, instead of being on the outside,” Yeo said.

Harding, who leads the NHL with a 1.49 goals-against average and is second with a .939 save percentage, had another strong game, committing a few robberies.

For the second game in a row in Denver, Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak had strong games, this time with rookie Brett Bulmer on their wing. He had two shots, five hits and was a “pain in the butt,” Yeo said.

For the first time in a long time after a road game, there were joyous sounds in the postgame locker room.

“It’s not quite what we wanted, but we got better as the trip went on,” Koivu said.

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