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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Wild, Backstrom bounce back with impressive win over Tampa Bay

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild game coverage Updated: November 29, 2011 - 7:48 AM

Evening from the X, where the Wild bounced back from a couple ugly losses with an impressive 3-1 win over Tampa Bay. Read the game story and the notebook for all the particulars, but ...


“What a bounceback” game, as Mike Yeo called it, for Niklas Backstrom, who was just awesome with 32 saves. His toe save in the third on Steven Stamkos was special.
Not a shock he bounced back after giving up three goals on eight shots vs. Calgary.
In the first start after getting pulled in his career, Backstrom is 17-2-4 with a 1.91 goals against average and .932 save percentage, and in the past 15 times, he’s 13-0-2 with a 1.70 goals against average and .941 save percentage.
I think we all get accustomed to just thinking these guys are robots or should be pros because they make millions. Backstrom is a human being, and he was torn apart by the Derek Boogaard tribute Sunday night. You could see him welling up during it, and then all of a sudden, he’s supposed to turn off the emotions and stop pucks?
Just doesn’t work that way, and that’s why he looked so lousy. Might sound like an excuse, but that was reality.
Before the Calgary game, I can remember one bad goal given up by Backstrom all season – James Neal vs. Pittsburgh, and that was still after a turnover. Last night he arguably gave up three.
“It was nice to help the team,” Backstrom said after tonight’s win before alluding to the Boogaard tribute. “Yesterday was a tough game, not just the outcome. It was a pretty emotional game and to leave that behind and go out there and work together today was huge.”
Cal Clutterbuck, who had another tremendous game and ignited the Wild with his league-leading third shorthanded goal, said he was affected by the same thing Sunday and thinks the team was.
“It was difficult for all of us,” Clutterbuck said. “I remember my first shift, I ended up scoring, but even after I scored, I was still not thinking about 100 percent about what was going on. There was kind of an air of quietness in the building. It was an extenuating circumstance. We were all thinking of Boogey.”

As I mention, Clutterbuck’s been one of the Wild’s most consistent players during its stretch of good hockey.
In his past nine games, he has five goals and eight points. He has 30 shots in those games and 39 hits. He’s been just stellar defensively, outstanding on the penalty kill and from an energy and physicality standpoint, you know what you’re going to get from him each and every night.
It’s why Yeo put Clutterbuck on the top line tonight with Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley. It was to bring new life, Yeo said, and as well as Clutterbuck played, Yeo liked Devin Setoguchi’s game with Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
Yeo on Clutterbuck: “Clutter’s been, and I actually thought about this the other night, I’m kind of disappointed in myself that I haven’t talked about him more because I’ve just been really, really impressed with him. Starting from the way he came into camp in much better shape this year, he’s worked really hard to put himself in a position to have a good season this year, and he’s a really important part of our team for a lot of years to come. He’s a guy that’s real tough to play against. And he’s a guy that I have an awful lot of confidence in that he’s just going to go out and play the way that we want him to play.”

Clutterbuck’s three shorties are a career-high and leads the league. Mikko Koivu’s assisted on each of them. The Wild’s four shorties are tied for second in the NHL.
Clutterbuck scored his 50th goal tonight, Koivu his 100th on an empty netter and extended his point streak to nine games.

As Yeo mentioned with Clutterbuck, tonight’s win was getting the Wild back to playing the way he wants them to play. Structured, committed to the system, not straying, showing up from a work ethic standpoint and sticking with the gameplan.

Tonight, to beat the Lightning’s vaunted 1-3-1, the Wild needed to rim pucks rather than chip them because then their one guy back could easily play them. That means rimming hard and flying in on an aggressive forecheck to play in the offensive zone. It worked because the Wild forced Tampa Bay (Eric Brewer, Marc-Andre Bergeron, mostly) into tons of turnovers.

It’s not a pretty game to play. It’s a hard game. But the Wild pulled it off.

The Wild got terrific play from the blue line, especially Mike Lundin, who played safe, mistake-free hockey in his Wild debut. He blocked five shots in 19 ½ minutes. Greg Zanon returned, played 14:41 and blocked five shots. The Wild blocked 23 as a team.

The Darroll Powe-Kyle Brodziak-Nick Johnson line was great again and the Wild’s stars were almost invisible. Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier were each minus-3. Steven Stamkos did score his 15th, which is second in the NHL, after a Dany Heatley turnover late in his shift on a Jared Spurgeon pinch.

All in all, good win, and an important one as the Wild begins a stretch of six of its next seven on the road and 20 in the next 29 away from St. Paul.

Other tidbits:

--Wild went 4-2 on the homestand.
--Koivu leads the Wild with 19 points and his 16 career shorthanded points are five off Wes Walz’s team record.
--The Wild is 43-6-4 in the last 53 Pierre-Marc Bouchard scores. He scored the winner after he and Nick Johnson combined to force two Tampa Bay turnovers on one shift.
--Niklas Backstrom is 5-2 in his past eight appearances (seven starts) with a .950 save percentage
--Mike Lundin is the 10th Minnesotan to skate for the Wild
--David McIntyre became the eighth Wild rookie to play this season and fourth to make his NHL debut. He played nine minutes.
--The Wild has 10 November wins, tying the team mark for most wins in a month.
--The Wild is 8-6 when the other team scores first, tied with Boston and Washington for most in the NHL. That matches last year’s total (8-31-4).
--The Wild is second in the West and tied with Chicago for most points in the West (31) in 24 games.

--Forgot to mention earlier, but Darcy Kuemper is back in Houston and Dennis Endras has been loaned to HIFK the rest of the year (Mikael Granlund's team).

That’s it for me. I’m flying to Edmonton on Tuesday, so talk to you from there Wednesday. Kent Youngblood is covering the Wild’s very optional practice.
 

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