By Brian Stensaas

Gee, could you tell which team tonight was playing the second of a back-to-back and which was coming off a three day break? Pretty obvious, eh?

It's an old cliche to say the first period tonight was like a boxing match - punch, counter-punch, punch, counter-punch - but really that's what it was like with Antti Miettinen and Pavel Datsyuk each netting a pair in the first 20 minutes. So instead, I compared it to a neck-and-neck horse race. Miettinen joked that in all reality, if he and Datsyuk were racing for a hat trick we all know who would win (Miettinen has 68 career goals, Datsyuk has 185). But on this night, it was Miettinen's team who pulled ahead in a big way.

Minnesota scored the game's final three goals - starting with Andrew Ebbett's redirect off a Greg Zanon cannon just 27 seconds after Datsyuk scored his second - to toss aside the weary Wings.

It was a big two points for the Wild, which now sits with 56 points, just three behind Detroit and Calgary for the eighth spot in the Western Conference.

Detroit had fire early tonight, obviously. But it faded quick. Before long the Wings were reaching for pucks, taking dumb penalties and just flat out dragging. Minnesota took advantage. Guillaume Latendresse and Martin Havlat scored big third period goals, which padded the lead for Josh Harding. He was in net tonight over Niklas Backstrom, who wasn't even on the bench for the game after skating in pregame warmups. Coach Todd Richards, by the way, didn't offer much about the goalie situation, only to say that the decision to start Harding tonight was an easy one.

Russo is already safe in Denver, and he will get the scoop at tomorrow's morning skate I am sure.

Before I throw a few postgame tidbits up here, please note this fairly newsy line which I took from tomorrow's notebook and will now paste here:

"Petr Sykora was placed on unconditional waivers Wednesday, and if he clears at 11 a.m. Thursday, it’s expected his release will be approved by the NHL and he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. In essence, Sykora will be free to sign with any team before the March 3 trade deadline and the Wild will be free of the remaining $600,000 or so of Sykora's contract and salary-cap hit."

Just one more thing Russo will have you covered on tomorrow.

OK - some tidbits as promised:

--Minnesota matched a season-high with a three-goal first period.
--The Wild has earned at least a point at home in each of its last seven games (6-0-1)
--Minnesota went 2-for-6 on the power play, its second two PPG game since Dec. 5
--LW Andrew Brunette had two assists, giving him a four-game point streak.
--LW Guillaume Latendresse scored his 16th goal of the season, tying a career-high.
--C Andrew Ebbett scored his first goal in 19 games.
--D Greg Zanon recorded his eighth assist of the season, a new career-high
--D Brent Burns, playing in his third game after missing 29 with a concussion, scored his first point since Nov. 15

OK - before they start bringing all the dirt in for this weekend's rodeo (yee-haw) I'm going to pack up and get on out of here. Russo's with you through the road trip. I'll be back next week.

Gooooood night.

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Wild's goalie for tonight a gametime decision

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Harding starting, Backstrom "shut down" due to sore back; Sykora a free agent