Backstrom big, even in shootout

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 24, 2012 - 7:11 AM

The Wild goalie had lost four shootouts in a row. But in Florida, he was in control, stopping 41 shots through 65 minutes, then two more.

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SUNRISE, FLA. -- For two months, the Wild has sounded like a broken record.

"We're not going to outskill teams." "We need to get to the net." "We need to score more dirty goals."

Thursday night, the Wild did just that against the Florida Panthers, getting in former teammate Jose Theodore's kitchen and cooking up two smelly, grimy, greasy goals before getting rewarded for that hard work in, believe it or not, the shootout.

Yes, to repeat, the Wild was rewarded in the shootout for a change. The Wild won 3-2 thanks to Erik Christensen and Matt Cullen going 2 and 2 in the shootout and most notably, Niklas Backstrom going 2-for-2, as well.

"It's nice to get that extra point," said Cullen, who scored for the seventh time this season in the skills competition. "We battled really hard tonight. Every point is at a premium right now."

The Wild had lost six of its previous seven shootouts. Backstrom, who has the NHL's lowest shootout save percentage, had lost four in a row.

But fresh off his 48-save shutout over Boston, Backstrom was again cool, calm, quiet and in control while making 41 saves through 65 minutes, then money in denying Kris Versteeg and Sean Bergenheim.

"Great for Back, first off for getting us to that point," said coach Mike Yeo, who tried to end things earlier by using three forwards during 4-on-4 in overtime.

After Florida elected to let the Wild shoot first, Christensen, who has no points in nine games since the Wild acquired him from the Rangers, also scored his 26th career shootout goal on what Cullen called "a Holy Cow" move.

"It's a struggle offensively right now for me getting chances," Christensen said. "I hate being the one-trick pony or being thought of as that, but this is one of the reasons why I came here. These points are valuable."

It certainly was. The Wild, 3-11-3 in its past 17 road games, won consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 21-24 and moved three points back of eighth-place Los Angeles.

It came after Kyle Brodziak and Cullen scored off Dany Heatley rebounds, Brodziak's coming with 20 seconds left in the second period to tie the game, Cullen's coming 1:14 into the third to give the Wild a 2-1 lead.

Brodziak's goal was his first point since Feb. 4. Cullen's gave him goals in consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 13-15.

After a scoreless first period, the Panthers dominated the second, holding the Wild to no shots during a 16-minute span and taking a 1-0 lead on Mikael Samuelsson's power-play goal.

But former Colorado College teammates Chad Rau and Nate Prosser helped turn the momentum, and finally Brodziak buried Heatley's rebound after Marek Zidlicky's stick exploded on a shot. It was Brodziak's 16th goal, tying his career-high with 22 games left.

"Enormous goal," Yeo said.

It changed the entire complexion of the period. Then, early in the third, Marco Scandella drew a penalty, and Cullen scored right from Theodore's doorstep.

"That's the way we have to do it," Yeo said of the dirty goals. "The league gets tougher, teams defend better. So those real great opportunities that quite often you see produce goals are fewer and fewer."

The Panthers pressed late though, and Bergenheim tied the score at 2-2 with 4:12 left in regulation.

"You see, that's how they scored, too -- dirty goals," Brodziak said. "We did it, too, and it paid off. It's a good recipe that we've got to stick with."

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