Wild's Backstrom finding his form in goal

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 24, 2012 - 3:15 AM
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Niklas Backstrom stopped all 48 shots against Boston in a 2-0 Wild victory on Sunday. “I find with Back, when he’s playing his best, the game looks easy for him,” coach Mike Yeo said.

Photo: Genevieve Ross, Associated Press

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If there has been one constant during Wild victories this season, it has been this: good goaltending.

Execution between the pipes has to be above average to give the team a better-than-average chance to win. And that's why both head coach Mike Yeo and goaltending coach Bob Mason are cautiously optimistic about the way Niklas Backstrom played against Boston on Sunday.

In a 2-0 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions, Backstrom made 48 saves. It was the highest save total ever in a Wild shutout and the highest shot total ever for the Bruins in a shutout loss.

But it wasn't only the number of saves that had Yeo excited, it was how Backstrom made them.

"I find with Back, when he's playing his best, the game looks easy for him," Yeo said after the team skated at St. Thomas Academy on Wednesday morning. "He seems to be in the right position, he's controlling his rebounds well, and he's just so technically strong. He doesn't get himself scrambling."

If the Wild -- which plays at Florida on Thursday and at Dallas on Friday -- is going to push itself back into the playoff picture in the Western Conference, the team will need more performances like that.

Of course, you can't expect a 48-save shutout every night. But above-average goaltending play is a must.

"We need those guys to continue that," Yeo said. "It's been tough on them, for sure, because they, more than any other position, get measured by wins and losses. And they're thinking, 'I have to win this game,' when that's not the truth. The truth is what we need from them is to just go play really well. When they do that, they give us our best chance."

Before Sunday, Backstrom's last win was a 37-save, 1-0 shutout over Colorado at Xcel Energy Center on Feb. 2. In the five starts following that, Backstrom was 0-3-2, stopping 114 of 127 shots, a .898 save percentage.

Backstrom, in typical fashion, shrugged off the notion that the Boston victory signaled an uptick in his performance, saying: "I think I feel the same way the whole season. There are a couple games you'd like to have different, but for most of the whole season I feel the same way out there."

Mason said he and Backstrom have been working on footwork drills designed to get Backstrom squared to the shot early.

"[Against the Bruins] it really came together," Mason said. "You can see it when he tracks a pass and he beats a pass getting there."

Yeo, meanwhile, was struck by how quiet Backstrom seemed against Boston, which is always a good sign.

Starting in mid-November and running through early December, when the Wild was hot, Backstrom won seven of eight starts, culminating with a 4-1 victory at Phoenix on Dec. 10.

Health update

• Goalie Josh Harding tweaked something in his lower body during Tuesday's practice. An MRI showed no structural damage, according to Yeo, and Harding was on the ice Wednesday. But he didn't feel well enough to make the trip. So Matt Hackett, called up as from Houston of the AHL as a precaution, made the trip as Backstrom's backup. Hackett, 21, is 2-0 with a 0.85 goals-against average and a .977 save percentage in three NHL games this season.

• Captain Mikko Koivu (undisclosed injury) skated on his own Wednesday but did not make the trip. Neither did defenseman Mike Lundin.

• Defenseman Greg Zanon, who missed Tuesday's practice because of an illness, returned to action Wednesday.

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