Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Backstrom rebounds in shootout to knock off Edmonton

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: October 13, 2011 - 11:43 PM

Seventeen straight wins and counting at Xcel Energy Center for the Wild over the Oilers after tonight's 2-1 shootout win.

This one never should have gotten to a shootout, however. After a slow start against a young, fresh team that had only played once, the Wild rebounded to control the final 50 minutes. It wasn't even funny.

The Oilers, who have the league's worst blue line in my opinion, probably turned the puck over 20 times in front of their net as the Wild pounced on the forecheck, tracked pucks and made their life miserable with physicality, great reads and positioning.

But Nikolai Khabibulin made 34 saves -- several huge ones -- and was dominant in the third period, where the Wild outshot Edmonton 15-1.

Then after a wasted 4-on-3 in OT, the Wild won the shootout on goals by Matt Cullen (14th of his career and second in two games) and Devin Setoguchi (3rd of his career, 2nd game-deciding goal). Niklas Backstrom, who had lost nine of his past 10 shootouts and has a league-worst .574 shootout save percentage (among regulars), shut the door by keeping three of four Edmonton shooters from scoring.

It was a big rebound for Backstrom, who gave up three goals on three shots Tuesday in Ottawa. Prior to the shootout, and thanks for colleague Aaron Paitich for texting me to make sure I noticed, coach Mike Yeo walked to the end of the bench and had a unique conversation with his goalie.

Neither would say exactly what he said, but Yeo called it a "pat on the back," and Backstrom said it was nice to have a coach that believes in him.

This morning, Yeo talked about the need for the Wild to help Backstrom get through this.

It's an absolute must. As much as it's easy from the outside to say Yeo should just pull Backstrom prior to a shootout, it's absurd thinking in reality. First, are you going to risk Josh Harding's health by throwing him in cold? Second, are you going to destroy Backstrom's psyche for the minutes that mostly matter by embarrassing him in front of the fans?

It's just a head thing with Backstrom. He stops breakaways in practice everyday. He stops them in games. In games that go to shootouts, his goals against average is 1.92. So it's just one facet of his game that has to be fixed.

Tonight, Yeo showed what a shrewd character this guy is, why he's considered such a smart, players coach. Trust me, I've seen him be demanding in practice. On Long Island the other night, I know for a fact he tore the players heads off between the first and second period, and they responded by giving up five shots the next two periods.

Tonight, he recognized it was time to cajole Backstrom, and it meant the world to a goalie with a fragile mind in shootouts.

The Wild looked to be a little overwhelmed by the Oilers' speed in the early going tonight, but the game turned with guys like Mikko Koivu and Colton Gillies and Brad Staubitz and Cal Clutterbuck and Darroll Powe started to throw their weight around.

As Yeo said after the game, "I'd like to think their D are tired right now."

Great quote. Their D are, trust me. They were coughing up pucks left and right because the Wild was on em in a heartbeat. If the Wild plays like that all the time, they'll win more games than they lose.

Couple other items:

-- Cullen was funny on his goal tonight. Check out the notebook (Clutterbuck headline) for that quote once the new story is up. Cullen has three goals in four games (plus two shootout goals). Those are three even-strength goals, matching what he had in 78 games last year.

-- I liked Staubitz's game tonight. He's so mobile, it's just easier to roll four lines with him. He drew two penalties in his first game back from a three-game suspension.

-- Gillies was good again.

-- The D did a great job getting the puck out and up.

--Clayton Stoner has been awesome in the early going in my opinion.

--Mikko Koivu was a defensive menace tonight.

I am off tomorrow. Kent's got practice as I finish my Sunday stuff. Kent will be on here with a blog, and I'll talk to you after Saturday's morning skates.

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