DETROIT – If the Wild’s not careful, it’s going to start making believers out of everyone.
Joe Louis Arena hasn’t been kind to the Wild over the years. It had won six times here in history, outscored 90-50 in 23 games, outshot 852-500.
Heck, it hadn’t won in regulation along the Detroit River in 13 games.
But Wednesday night, in front of a national television audience, the Northwest Division-leading Wild easily knocked off the Red Wings, 4-2, for an oh-so convincing 3-for-3 road sweep.
It was the Wild’s fourth consecutive win overall and ninth in 12 games as Minnesota continues to march up the standings with the hope of ending its four-year playoff drought.
After Niklas Backstrom supplied a 17-for-17 backbone in the first period, the Wild erupted in a three-goal second period. Blazing-hot Devin Setoguchi scored his second of the game and Mikko Koivu and Kyle Brodziak each scored goals. Pierre-Marc Bouchard also assisted on two goals in the game for his third consecutive multi-point outing.
After not scoring a goal in his first 10 games, Setoguchi now has 11 in the past 19 to share the goal-scoring lead with Zach Parise. Trade rumors that engulfed him earlier in the year have disappeared.
Setoguchi has goals in four of the past five games, a five-game point streak and 18 points in the past 19 games.
Backstrom, starting his ninth consecutive start and 13th in 14 games, made a season-high 36 saves to improve to 12-3-1 in his past 16 starts. He tied Montreal’s Carey Price for second in the NHL with 15 wins.
The Wild, 13-5-1 in its past 19 games, won for the fourth time in 14 games in Detroit. But it was the first time in regulation since Jan. 3, 2006.
For the eighth time in nine games, the Wild scored first, and who else got it done but the Setoguchi-Matt Cullen tandem. It started back in the Wild end when Henrik Zetterberg uncharacteristically coughed it up to Cullen.
What’s made the Wild’s so-called second line click for so long is the fact that everybody on the line can skate. Cullen can motor. Setoguchi is a bull. Bouchard, who replaced speedy Jason Zucker when the rookie was injured, can keep pace.
So Cullen got the quick transition started, and a bad gap by a Red Wings’ defender followed by two good wall plays by Bouchard and Setoguchi ended with Cullen feeding Setoguchi in the slot for a 1-0 lead.
Five minutes later, there was a close call when the Red Wings thought they tied the score on Jordin Tootoo’s goal. But referee Dave Jackson emphatically waved it off, saying Drew Miller hit the puck with a high stick first. It was unclear whether it hit Dany Heatley’s fingers afterward (which would have negated the high stick).
Regardless, the Wild kept its 1-0 lead, then later killed its second power play of the period behind Backstrom’s sharp play. The Wild was outshot 17-5 in the period, but Backstrom was spotless.
It was all Minnesota in the second starting with Niklas Kronwall catching rookie Charlie Coyle with his head down. Kronwall was given four minutes for high-sticking, but it looked more like a check to the head that may be subject to league discipline.
On the second power play, Jared Spurgeon set up Brodziak’s fifth goal. Ryan Suter also assisted on the goal, giving him 24 points in 29 games – more than a Wild defenseman had in 82 last year. He ranks second in the NHL in scoring and assists (22).
But 1:40 after Gustav Nyqust cut the Wild’s lead in half, Koivu made it 3-1 with his seventh goal. Coyle triggered a 2-on-1 between Jonas Brodin and Parise, and after Jimmy Howard stopped Brodin’s shot, Parise threw it out front for Koivu.
Late in the period, the Wild scored its second power-play goal of the game when Setoguchi read Bouchard and drove the net, which proved big when Heatley’s rebound fell right at his stick.