Brodziak leads kings of the road

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 11, 2011 - 12:48 AM

The red-hot center's two goals led the Wild to its seventh in a row away from the X, making it the NHL's first 20-win team.

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Kyle Brodziak celebrated his first goal Saturday night, on a shot from the top of the left circle past Coyotes goalie Mike Smith.

Photo: Paul Connors, Associated Press

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GLENDALE, ARIZ. — Kyle Brodziak is having himself one heck of a contract year ($$$).

In a season where so much was made about the additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, it's Brodziak, a 200-feet-of-ice laborer, who leads the Wild in goals at the 30-game mark.

Brodziak has 10 goals -- six from his career high -- after scoring twice for the second time in five games Saturday night to lead the blazing-hot, NHL-leading Wild to a 4-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes.

"Why not? Why couldn't he be?" coach Mike Yeo said of Brodziak leading in goals. "Because of the way he plays -- his attention to detail, his commitment to the system -- he comes back to the bench and every shift he feels good. He's confident and you kind of build momentum within your own game."

One game after becoming the first NHL team to top 40 points, the Wild became the first team to hit 20 victories. That didn't happen until Game 40 last season.

The Wild, which returned to Minnesota after the game for a day off, then Monday practice before its first-ever game in Winnipeg, swept its four-game West Coast swing.

It has won seven in a row overall and seven in a row on the road (10-3-2, most road points in the NHL at 22). It has won 17 of its past 21 and now has a four-point lead in the NHL and five-point lead in the Western Conference.

"There's a lot of belief right now that we're for real, and if there's a reason why we feel that way, it's because of the way we come to the rink and the way we prepare," Brodziak said.

"We're not where we want to be yet."

Niklas Backstrom, after getting over a wonky groin, returned to the cage and made 35 saves. His shutout bid was ruined with 3:57 left. Mikko Koivu and Heatley also scored, and Jared Spurgeon and Pierre-Marc Bouchard each had two assists.

"It's fun around these guys and it's been a lot of fun on this road trip and it's been a lot of fun the whole year, but we recognize, too," Koivu said, "when you work hard and get some wins, that's what makes it fun."

Brodziak is having fun, and his stock -- and eventual paycheck -- keeps rising for the potential unrestricted free agent. The heart-and-soul, blue-collar center who often does the underappreciated dirty work has suddenly caught fire offensively.

He scored two of the Wild's three power-play goals and is tied with Matt Cullen for fourth on the team with 17 points. He has five goals, two assists and a shootout winner in the past six games.

Brodziak's first goal Saturday came when he dived to a loose puck. His second came on a hustling wraparound.

"In the locker room, everyone really appreciated the way he plays," Backstrom said. "He plays a lot of minutes, he plays every situation, so it's fun to see him score some goals."

After a first period in which the Wild skated well, forced turnovers and suffocated on the forecheck, it fell into a shell in the second. But it still extended its lead from 1-0 to 3-0. Koivu's goal at 3:07 was a pretty one.

The captain snapped a one-timer off a Jeff Taffe pass after the Hastings native accepted an exceptional headman pass moments early from Apple Valley standout Mike Lundin.

The Wild had only three shots in the second period. It scored on its first two.

Hey, it's not the quantity. It's the quality, which describes the Wild's victories of late, too.

But there have been no celebrations, which perhaps is more impressive than the victories themselves.

"You can't stop," Koivu said.

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