VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – Barring a sudden stroke of NHL nuttiness years from now, the Wild and Vancouver Canucks never will be in the same division again.
Realignment kicks in next year, so Monday night at Rogers Arena, the Wild and Canucks faced off for the final time as Northwest Division foes.
There’s been more than a decade of bad blood, hard hits, dirty checks, (ahem) dives and even one time when the Wild rallied from a 3-0 deficit to eliminate Todd Bertuzzi and the Canucks in the playoffs.
While the two teams are sure to still detest each other in the future, the Wild can claim it took the final divisional meeting by rallying for a hard-earned 3-1 win at Rogers Arena.
In a hard-hitting, sweat-inducing, highly-entertaining clash for first place in the Northwest, the Wild, 12-5-1 in past 18 games, won a third consecutive game for the first time this season and stopped an 11-game winless streak (0-9-2) in Vancouver. It was Minnesota’s first win at Rogers since Jan. 31, 2009.
“We were definitely ready for it,” said Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who had two assists and was one of four players on the roster the last time the Wild won in Vancouver. “It was a big game for us. It was tight in the standings and coming here, we haven’t won in awhile. We were ready.”
Two rookies — ages 21 and 19 — helped lead the Wild’s comeback.
Charlie Coyle, a 2010-first-round pick, scored the winning goal 3 minutes, 20 seconds into the third period after Jonas Brodin, a 2011 first-round pick, tied the score on a second-period power play.
“They’re on our team for a reason,” coach Mike Yeo said. “Brodin, how about his play in the third period helping us preserve the lead? Charlie helps us in so many little aspects of the game as well.”
Niklas Backstrom, who had given up seven goals in his last two starts, rebounded with a sterling 35-save performance to improve to 11-3-1 in his past 15 starts. He had shown signs lately of fatigue, but Yeo said laughing, “He didn’t look tired tonight.”
Coyle’s third goal of the season (second winner) came after he redirected Clayton Stoner’s wrist shot over top of Roberto Luongo and just under the bar. It came after Jared Spurgeon beat a Canucks defender to a loose puck along the boards before hitting Mikko Koivu at the point.
The red-hot Bouchard-Matt Cullen-Devin Setoguchi line scored the insurance marker on Cullen’s fourth goal. The veteran dodged Keith Ballard’s check at the blue line. That was followed by Setoguchi’s suave pass turning it into a Cullen breakaway.
It capped a solid third period by the Wild.
“We did a good job just sticking with it,” Koivu said. “Backy played huge. Third period, we kept it going. Mindset was keep pressuring, keep pushing them, get the momentum. It’s not always easy, but we did that.”
It came after a second period in which the Wild rallied after Henrik Sedin’s power-play goal. After Sedin tripped Koivu for the Wild’s second consecutive power play, Dany Heatley set up Brodin’s howitzer for the rookie’s second goal in three games.
It was a hard game to play. Both teams came out intent on banging bodies. The work ethic by both teams was impressive. The Wild, other than the first 10 minutes of the second, stuck right with the Canucks.
It helped that Minnesota blocked 23 shots to the Canucks’ five and won 44 of 65 faceoffs.
“That’s what’s going on right now,” Yeo said. “It’s fun to be on the bench and listen to the guys talk and say the things they’re saying. It’s a good focus right now.”