ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Todd Richards couldn't help himself. His entire walk to the postgame media scrum, the Wild coach couldn't wipe the smile off his proud face.
If the Wild makes the playoffs, games like Friday's will be the reason why.
Short key cogs in the lineup. Several others playing banged up. Exhausted from having played the night before.
Yet, behind a sensational goaltending performance from Jose Theodore and one thrilling, waning-seconds overtime breakaway goal by Pierre-Marc Bouchard, the Wild knocked off the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 at the Honda Center to remain sixth in the Western Conference.
A regulation loss would have dropped Minnesota to 10th.
"I'll tell ya, the guys played hard, they really did," Richards said. "It started with our goaltender. Theo, he was great. He was the difference in the game without a question. But we had some guys step up and play hard tonight."
Theodore made 46 saves -- one off his career high -- as the fatigue was oh-so apparent in his teammates from a difficult loss a night earlier up the freeway in Los Angeles.
"We had to rely a lot on Theo. We won the game tonight because of our goaltender," Richards said.
No question about that, but as is the norm with this gritty club, the blue-collar effort was there and the team found a way.
"We showed a lot of character," Bouchard said after his second career overtime winner.
Forty seconds after Dan Ellis stopped Cal Clutterbuck on a breakaway, Bouchard got a second crack after brilliantly reading a defensive play. He noticed Antti Miettinen pressuring the defense. He saw the puck would come to Brent Burns. He hung at the red line, sneakily backing up sideways behind the defense.
The puck slid to Burns inside his own blue line. He backhanded the puck all the way to the far blue line for Bouchard, who skated in and scored between Ellis' legs with 6.3 seconds left.
"My only concern was whether Burnzie would get enough on it so Butch didn't go offside," Richards said. "But he was able to maintain enough momentum so nobody could catch him. Butch going in, everybody stood up on the bench expecting the result, and that's the result we got."
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle wasn't happy.
"I don't think you ever design to give up two breakaways in 4-on-4 play," he said. "We got too loose and too aggressive on the offensive side of it. We got caught. You can't do that."
Miettinen registered his second career three-assist game and John Madden, who played all night against the Corey Perry-Ryan Getzlaf-Bobby Ryan line, and Clayton Stoner also scored as the Wild won for the 17th time on the road -- two short of the team record.
With the score tied at 1-1, Ellis, making his Ducks debut one day after being traded from Tampa Bay, gave up a 50-foot, unscreened goal to Stoner with 4:57 left in regulation.
"I was just looking to put it on net. I wasn't really looking to score there," Stoner said, laughing.
Stoner's goal came mere moments after Theodore made an incredible left toe save after sliding across the crease to rob Dan Sexton.
But the Wild gave the lead back with two minutes left on Francois Beauchemin's tying goal on a Jason Blake rebound.
"But we didn't panic," said Theodore.
The Wild entered the game battered and bruised. That was clear at the morning skate when the team showed for a meeting, then basically emptied the trainer's room of ice bags and ace bandages.
But Richards said the mood was "refreshingly good" after such a tough loss to the Kings in which the effort was unbridled.
Still, it was clear the banged-up team would have to overcome a lot of adversity. To make matters worse, the team already playing without Mikko Koivu and Kyle Brodziak, had to call up Warren Peters from the farm to play in place of banged-up Cody Almond.
So in a huge game, the thin got thinner.
"Being shorthanded without our two best centermen hurts us a lot, but I thought the young kids that came in did a great job for us, ate up some minutes for us, and Theo was right on top of his game, and thank God," said Madden.
There's no question Theodore was the story, especially in the second period when he stopped 19 of 20 shots. The Wild's defense looked drained, and he fought through screens and buzzing Ducks.
"It's more the timing, that's really rewarding," Theodore said. "Every time you play back-to-back games, you know the second game's going to be tough. Look at the standings, my job is to make sure when I get in there, I'm not happy only being average, I've got to be good."
Later in the first, the skaters on the Ducks' top line seemed to tire themselves out by pinning Minnesota deep for a long shift. Miettinen got the puck, and he sprung Madden and Andrew Brunette.
Brunette dropped a pass in the neutral zone for Madden, and the two oldest players on the roster were off for on a 2-on-1. Madden opted to shoot, and maybe Ellis was mesmerized by the pure speed coming at him. Madden breezed his ninth goal over Ellis' glove.
It was a nice moment for Madden, who dejectedly took responsibility for Drew Doughty's winning goal the night before. Madden actually apologized to Richards for the goal Friday morning, a gesture Richards said was unnecessary.
Seeing Madden's gloom after the Kings game, Richards told video coach PJ Deluca: "You know why he's won. Because he cares."
The Ducks tied it in the second on Ryan's goal, but the Wild found a way.
"We had a tough loss in L.A.," Stoner said. "I thought we battled hard last game. Same thing tonight, man. Both the games were really intense, physical, up and down both ways, momentum swings.
"And for us to come out on top tonight, it goes to show you how much resiliency and character and all those good things this team has shown throughout the last 30 games."