Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Havlat scores winner, Backstrom sparkles during undermanned Wild's win over Calgary

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: November 5, 2010 - 11:12 PM

Big win for the Wild tonight to close out its five-game homestand 3-1-1.

Martin Havlat scored his first goal of the season -- a third-period winner -- to lift the Wild over division rival Calgary, Minnesota's seventh win in the past eight over the Flames. Havlat was undoubtedly relieved but as usual was understated after, talking about how finally it went in for him and he's just glad it helped the team to the win.

The reality is Havlat's going to score. Just like last year, when he began racking up points for a good six-to-eight week stretch, Havlat will score again, and maybe this was the start to the floodgates opening. And considering the Wild's 6-4-2 with Havlat only having one goal, it's a pretty good thing.

His legs were going tonight against a Calgary team he eats alive (12 goals, 21 points in 21 regular-season games).

The Wild, playing without three injured forwards (four if you include Pierre-Marc Bouchard), pulled out a scrappy win when you consider Marek Zidlicky's playing glaringly hurt, Kyle Brodziak's become a second-liner, rookie Casey Wellman's a third-liner (and tonight power-play guy! after my campaign) and two minor-league callups, Matt Kassian and Cody Almond, are contributing minutes on the fourth line.

The Wild took steps forward tonight, playing more in the offensive zone than it did during the entire homestand. Matt Cullen went on and on about that after the game. 

Niklas Backstrom was again outstanding (Jose Theodore will still start Saturday in Columbus). Backstrom made 23 of his 33 saves in the final two periods, again keeping Jarome Iginla scoreless. Iginla, the all-time leading scorer vs. the Wild, has been held without a goal in 16 of his past 18 games vs. Minnesota.

Backstrom is now 6-3-2 with a 1.80 goals against average and .941 save percentage. He's 5-1 in his past six starts vs. Calgary. This season at the X, he's 5-2-1 with a 1.61 goals against average and .945 save percentage, and in his last four home games, he's 3-1 with a 1.00 goals against average and .967 save percentage.

We haven't seen a run like this from Backstrom since 2008-09, his Vezina finalist year. If you consider this is his fifth season, he's only had one off year (last season), and you can pin most of that on the play in front of him.

Tonight's unsung heroes:

Cal Clutterbuck -- tying goal, eight hits

Andrew Brunette -- protected the puck all night, won his battle with Robyn Regehr to set up Clutterbuck after Justin Falk saved possession at the blue line

Nick Schultz -- just sensational tonight; steady, strong, six blocked shots, assist on Havlat's winner

Matt Cullen -- Great play with Havlat and Kyle Brodziak, and his end-to-end play and eventual assist on Havlat's winner was the 300th of his career (ninth Minnesotan to reach milestone).

Casey Wellman -- Flying all night, and he was outstanding with gritty Eric Nystrom and John Madden (Madden was great tonight).

Matt Kassian had a lively debut. He desperately wanted to get into his first fight, but Tim Jackman fought Brad Staubitz instead. Kassian also took a clear shoulder-to-head shot from Cory Sarich. We'll see if the league even gives it a look.

I think I just heard concussed Antti Miettinen say, "Yeah, right."  

It'll be interesting to see if the Wild's got legs tomorrow in Columbus. They usually don't play well there, and a potentially rusty Theodore will be in goal. But with four days off, including a planned day off Sunday, before continuing the roady through the south, you'd think the team would lay it all on the line vs. the Jackets.

They better test Mathieu Garon with plenty of rubber because he's riding a streak of consecutive shutouts into the game.

You won't hear from me again until either just before or after the game Saturday (follow me on Twitter at @russostrib). I don't land in Columbus until after the Wild's morning skate is over, a morning skate that'd probably be slim pickings anyway. I'm sure it'll be very optional, just a few guys to let Theodore feel some pucks.

This, by the way, is the start of a four-game trip, but the Wild will return to Minnesota after Saturday's game and won't leave for Atlanta until Wednesday.

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