DENVER – Baby steps.
When your game has taken a turn for the worse, when you are sliding down the standings and working maddeningly hard to score even one goal, rediscovering the perfect recipe that led to a 13-4-4 start to this season won’t happen overnight.
Saturday night, the Wild felt it took a step toward getting back to its winning ways. It had to settle for only a point in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche, but the locker room felt like a victorious one for a change.
That’s because the Wild spent the majority of the final two periods buzzing Colorado’s end and was finally rewarded when Matt Cooke and Mikko Koivu combined to force overtime.
Cooke scored for the first time in 23 games with 3 minutes, 27 seconds left, and Koivu buried a shot from between the circles with 4.3 seconds left to push the game past regulation.
“Pucks were not finding the back of the net for some reason for a large portion of the night, but we did a lot of things right to give ourselves a lot of opportunities to score goals,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “You play the odds. When you do that a lot, it’s going to be in your favor.”
Ryan O’Reilly scored the lone shootout goal and the Wild fell to 0-3-1 in its past four games with two victories in its past seven. But the Wild, after giving up the game’s first goal for the seventh consecutive game and falling behind 2-0 for the fourth consecutive game, suffocated the Avalanche in the final period.
“I felt like finally tonight we played a 60-minute game where we carried the tempo and possession,” Cooke said. “It’s a step in the right direction. We’re not always going to have a goalie stand on his head either against us. We have to be committed to get to those areas.”
Semyon Varlamov was outstanding, making 35 saves as the Wild, which entered with two goals in its previous three games, outshot Colorado 37-25 and 22-11 the final two periods.
With the Wild desperate to end its losing streak, Yeo made a few tweaks to his forward lines and scrambled his top two defense pairs.
The Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Torrey Mitchell line was tremendous, pressuring the Avs throughout.
“I honestly felt it was going to come for them the way they were going, and it was consistent,” Yeo said. “It was shift after shift.”
The Zach Parise-Koivu-Jason Pominville line was also reunited. For some reason, the chemistry hasn’t been there for the trio, but they combined to set up Koivu’s tying goal. Pominville picked off Jan Hejda’s rim off the glass on the wall, and moments later, Koivu buried the loose puck.
It was Koivu’s third clutch goal in the waning minutes in the past eight games. On Nov. 17, Koivu scored the winning goal with 3:12 left to beat Winnipeg. On Nov. 20, Koivu scored the winning goal with 2:57 left to beat Ottawa.
“We still have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Koivu, who along with Parise and Pominville came up empty against Varlamov in the shootout. “The way we need to play, the way we had some success, it changes quick. We did a lot better job on it tonight.”
Josh Harding got the start because Yeo said Niklas Backstrom was sick. He made 23 saves. Charlie Coyle had to move back to center with Mikael Granlund and Zenon Konopka hurt. He was elevated in the first between Nino Niederreiter and Dany Heatley, and the line was solid.
Yeo said he told his players during the second intermission that despite a 2-0 deficit, if they kept playing the way they were playing, even if it took 59 minutes, 59 seconds, “you will get rewarded.”
“That’s a huge point for us,” he said.