Wild turns snoozer into stunning overtime win

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 30, 2012 - 6:12 AM

The Wild played the role of spoiler for the Panthers, trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000.

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Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

That's not for Jason Zucker, who became the eighth Wild player this season to make his NHL debut Thursday night. That was the sound most Wild fans made during a large chunk of Minnesota's snoozefest with the Florida Panthers.

But that was hardly the sound made in the waning seconds when Erik Christensen and Mikko Koivu rocked the Xcel Energy Center faithful out of its coma with an out-of-nowhere 3-2 overtime victory.

Christensen scored the tying goal with 30 seconds left, and Koivu scored his second career overtime winner 15 seconds in. The electrifying turn of events sent the Panthers -- who are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000 -- to Columbus reeling.

"It's not easy right now for us," Koivu said following a mostly disjointed game before the Wild won in OT for the first time since Devin Setoguchi scored in Detroit on Nov. 1. "Sometimes I don't care how you play if you just win the game."

Tomas Fleishmann gave the Panthers a 2-1 lead on a power play with 6 minutes, 44 seconds left. But with Niklas Backstrom, making his first start since a March 1 groin injury, pulled for an extra attacker, Christensen came off the bench and reached for Tom Gilbert's deflected shot off the post to force overtime.

"We did all the right things we should have been doing all game," Christensen said of the Wild's suffocating forecheck that had Florida on its heels.

Asked why he chose Christensen as the sixth skater, coach Mike Yeo grinned and said, "Scoring touch ... hunch ..."

Before fans even had a chance to settle down for overtime, Gilbert hit a darting Koivu on the tape at the blue line. The captain split two defenders and tucked a breakaway goal as he fell behind ex-teammate Jose Theodore.

The exciting finish was quite different than the majority of the game. There were so many stretches where nothing happened, you could hear the crowd audibly groan at times.

"I didn't like large parts of our game," Yeo said. "We were doing enough things well defensively, but we were playing pretty easy."

The Wild overcame a bad call that led to Scottie Upshall's power-play goal when Kyle Brodziak tied the game with his team-lead-tying 21st goal 1:03 into the third. Then, the Wild overcame Fleischmann's goal, which came after Warren Peters' penalty-kill clear didn't make its way down the ice because the puck hit a linesman's skate.

"You kind of felt like the life got sucked out of us. We were just sort of stunned," Christensen said. "But maybe looks can be deceiving."

Added Gilbert: "You can never have excuses. You've got to keep working through those. We just kept pushing."

Zucker, playing on a line with Christensen and Nick Johnson, became the 45th player to dress for the Wild this season and first Nevada-produced player in NHL history.

He was pranked before it started. Normally the starting goaltender leads his team onto the ice for warmups. This time, Zucker was at the front of the line. When Zucker ran onto the ice, Backstrom stopped. The rookie did a full lap before teammates joined him.

"I knew right away," Zucker said, laughing. "When they said you're leading us on the ice, I knew that wasn't right. I had to go with it. I wasn't going to tell [Dany] Heatley, 'No.'"

Zucker logged nearly 11 minutes, had three shots and got better as the game grew old.

"I was glad to get the first period under me, and I started playing a little more calm after that," he said. "I didn't expect to come in and score a hat trick my first game or anything like that."

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