The Wild captain's two goals ended a drought, and a shootout tally helped pull out another victory.
It took 20 games, but Mikko Koivu finally had his coming-out party.
With Wild fans waiting patiently for the Wild captain to begin filling the net, with the media beginning to scrutinize and with Wild coach Mike Yeo doing everything in his power to alleviate the pressure by telling everyone he "cares" and "is working hard" and "helping us win," Koivu finally scored Saturday night.
Not once. Not twice. But three times, the last being the unofficial hat trick by scoring in the shootout, to will the Wild to a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the St. Louis Blues.
"I mean, he was so good," said center Matt Cullen, who scored the deciding goal and improved to 4-for-4 in shootouts. "He really stepped up and took charge of the game and basically took over."
"What more can you ask from your captain?" added defenseman Justin Falk.
Koivu scored a dazzling shorthanded goal that tied the score in the second period, then forced overtime by scoring a power-play goal with 1 minute, 38 seconds left in the third to help the Wild win for a fifth successive time at home.
"It's not about one guy or one line. It takes us all," Koivu said. "We've been winning lately, and that's a great feeling."
Because both Philadelphia and Chicago lost on Saturday, the 12-5-3 Wild went to sleep Saturday on top of the NHL for the first time since Oct. 14, 2006, and on top of the Western Conference for the first time since Oct. 25, 2007.
Saturday morning, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock went on and on about the Wild, saying the team never breaks, that it always hangs around.
He asked how many times the Wild had forced overtime or won a game in the final 10 minutes.
The answer was four. Now it's five.
After Jason Arnott slashed Pierre-Marc Bouchard across the hands, the Wild earned a power play with 1:48 left. The Wild had been peppering Jaroslav Halak for 10 minutes, but the goalie kept on making stop after stop (15 in the period, including a spectacular glove save to rob Cal Clutterbuck).
This time, as Josh Harding sprinted to the bench, Bouchard's shot hit Halak up high. Clutterbuck passed back between the circles for Jared Spurgeon, who hit Koivu for the one-timer and his second goal.
"The last 10 minutes, we really shift after shift went after them and created the momentum," Koivu said.
In the shootout, Harding, who made 25 saves through overtime, stopped two of three shots, while Koivu scored his 24th career shootout goal with his patented forehand-deke-backhand move before Cullen won it.
But all the talk afterward was about Koivu.
"You could just feel the whole bench, just what it brings, everyone was just so excited, so jacked up that he's getting rewarded," Falk said.
Koivu's first goal, as the kids say, was sick, and it started with a sick shorthanded forecheck by the always-hustling Kyle Brodziak to force a turnover.
Falk dumped the puck into the left corner. As Patrik Berglund played the puck, he had no clue that Koivu was lurking. Koivu picked his pocket, circled in front and roofed a beauty for his first goal in nine games.
"I don't understand the scrutiny. I don't. I don't get it," coach Mike Yeo said. "The guy is captain of our team. The guy is a complete, complete team-first guy, and all he wants to do is win hockey games."
|Utah Valley U||64|
|(5) South Carolina||67|
|(14) NC State||79|
|(11) Penn State||82|
|(2) Notre Dame||83|
|(19) Michigan State||61|
|(13) North Carolina||73||FINAL|
|(15) Texas A&M||86|
|San Diego State||46||FINAL|
|San Jose St||80||FINAL|
|Utah||35||2nd Half 0:39|