Backstrom rebounds, aces a shootout test as Wild beats Edmonton again

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 14, 2011 - 11:40 AM

After struggling in Ottawa, the Wild goalie stopped three shooters to send Edmonton home with its 17th consecutive loss at the Xcel Center.

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Giving up three goals on three shots Tuesday in Ottawa didn't ruin Nicklas Backstrom's reputation as being the NHL's worst shootout goalie.

Thursday morning, Wild coach Mike Yeo was asked if he would ever consider pulling Backstrom before a shootout.

Yeo said he'd do anything to win a hockey game but that it was mostly incumbent on the Wild to help build Backstrom's confidence in the most fragile part of his arsenal.

So, predictably, Thursday night's game against the Edmonton Oilers went to a shootout.

Just prior though, Yeo walked to the end of the bench, talked privately with Backstrom and offered a "pat on the back." Only one of four Oilers shooters scored, and the Wild snagged a deserved 2-1 victory behind goals from Devin Setoguchi and Matt Cullen.

"It's nice to know you have the coach behind you," Backstrom said.

After a flat opening eight minutes, it was all Wild, all the time. The only reason the Wild's 17th consecutive home win over Edmonton didn't come by a wide margin was Nikolai Khabibulin. The "Bulin Wall" made 34 saves and continually covered up for his shoddy blue line's astronomical number of turnovers.

The Wild, which hasn't lost to Edmonton at home since Jan. 16, 2007, outshot the Oilers 15-1 in the third period.

"I thought our forwards started owning their D down in their zone," defenseman Greg Zanon said.

"We were all over them," Cal Clutterbuck said. "Nothing was materializing, but when games come to the end like that, most of the time the team that deserves to win does."

After consecutive losses on Long Island and in Ottawa, and with high-powered Detroit and Pittsburgh next on the homestand, the Wild couldn't afford to let the young Oilers out of St. Paul with a "W."

Cullen scored the Wild's lone regulation goal and Backstrom improved to 15-0 at home against the Oilers with 21 saves through 65 minutes.

But once the Wild failed to register a shot on a 4-on-3 power play in overtime, one could sense the groan in the crowd.

Backstrom's shootout failures are notorious in these parts. He was 12-25 and had lost nine of his previous 10. His league-worst save percentage was .568.

What defies logic is that, when facing a breakaway in a game, Backstrom usually stops it. Give him a breakaway in practice, he usually stops it. His lifetime goals-against average in games that go to a shootout is 1.92, meaning he's routinely spoiling well-played games.

"You want to be better, and you need to be better for the team," Backstrom said. "That's something I have to work on. That's huge points. That's going to be a big challenge for me to be better in those."

And since Backstrom is the Wild's bona fide No. 1, Yeo needs him to be better in a conference where a few points could be the difference in making the playoffs or not.

"We can't just say, 'Oh, he's no good,' because I've seen it," Yeo said. "We've seen it in practice, we've seen it on breakaways and we've seen it tonight."

What Yeo was happiest about was Backstrom's attitude after Cullen opened the shootout with his second shootout goal in as many opportunities. Backstrom gave up a goal to Jordan Eberle, yet rebounded to keep Anton Lander, Taylor Hall and Shawn Horcoff from scoring.

"It looked like he said, 'You're not beating me. You're not beating me this time,' " Yeo said. "I think it's something he can definitely build off of."

Added Cullen: "He's such a good goalie, such a good competitor -- you knew it wouldn't be long for him to bounce back."

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