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Postgame: For one night, the Wild is able to breathe easier

  • Blog Post by: Michael Russo
  • January 2, 2014 - 11:38 PM

It’s easy to slight a team mired in a six-game losing streak and 5-12-1 slide easily beating the worst team in the NHL.

“What’s it even mean?” was a question I received a number of times on Twitter and email tonight. In fact, I got so many cynical tweets, you all have futures in sports writing because we ink-stained wretches are nothing if not cynical.

But, hey, you play the opponents as they’re slated, and Thursday at the X, the lowest-scoring team and worst road team in the NHL arrived to face the Wild.

The Wild beat the Sabres in every way possible, so hey, it’s a start.

Does it save the season, save jobs, solve all problems, catapult the Wild back in the playoff race?

Nope.

But a turnaround must start with a victory, and maybe tonight’s 4-1 win was it. Maybe.

We will find out starting with the next big test coming Saturday – reigning MVP Alex Ovechkin, the great Joel Ward and the Washington Capitals.

Tonight, the Wild needed a victory, got a complete game from the roster, contribution from all four lines, six defensemen and a goaltender named Niklas Backstrom, who had his first shutout of the season spoiled with 1:12 left when Matt Ellis thought it would be cool to score on a delayed penalty.

Where would the Wild be without former Sabres captain Jason Pominville, who scored his team-leading 18th goal and second consecutive winning goal against his ex-mates.

Marco Scandella was 1:12 away from his third winning goal out of six career goals, Jason Zucker scored a big goal to turn a 2-0 lead into a more breathable 3-0 lead (although, we thought that against the Islanders, too) and Kyle Brodziak saw his 30-game goal drought snapped when referee Chris Lee graciously awarded him a goal that he won’t even get a credited shot for.

Brodziak was hauled down en route to a potential empty-netter. Coach Mike Yeo had a funny line about it in his postgame, and you can read the gamer on www.startribune.com/wild for that quote and more.

Yeo was all smiles on the bench late in the game and cracked some jokes in the postgame. Again, all’s not safe for the coach yet, there were good signs on the ice the past two games as the Wild started to get back to the identity of being a defensively-solid team.

For the second game in a row, the coaches split Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin and  Scandella and Jared Spurgeon, and the Suter-Spurgeon and Scandella-Brodin pairs were awesome.

Nate Prosser had a solid game, as did Clayton Stoner, who returned from a lower-body injury. Stoner had five hits and brought a much-needed physical element.

“After watching a couple games from the press box, it was a little bit evident that we were lacking a little bit of physicality, emotion,” Stoner said. “Tonight, right through the lineup, we played with a lot of emotion.”

The Wild finally played a good game in front of Backstrom and he was able to play with a lead for a change after the Wild broke a 0-0 tie with three second-period goals. Remember, it was 0-0 after one New Year’s Eve against St. Louis and the Wild broke first.

It didn’t tonight.

Nobody was celebrating after the game. There were happy faces, but everybody knows the Wild’s accomplished nothing yet. It’s got a lot of work to do, but maybe tonight’s win will instill some confidence again into the locker room and provide something to build off.

“If we bring that type of effort, we’re going to win a lot more games,” Pominville said. “It’s two in a row where we battled hard, we didn’t give up much. … If you look at it, we didn’t do anything special, but we did a lot of good things right, all the little details right, and it led to us outshooting them and for the most part outplaying them.”

That’s it for me. I talked to GM Chuck Fletcher tonight and he explained the Zenon Konopka waiver move as the Wild felt its top-four centers now will be Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Brodziak. If the Wild needs, it can move Torrey Mitchell, who was great tonight by the way, to center, or look to Iowa, where it has Erik Haula and Jake Dowell.

Fletcher also indicated that he continues to try to “make something happen” in terms of a trade, so clearing a roster spot by having Konopka claimed or sending him to Iowa would help in that because eventually Zach Parise will taking one roster spot again.

Konopka will either be claimed or clear at 11 a.m. Friday. Follow me on Twitter for that news.

Talk to you after practice Friday.

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