For seven consecutive games, the Wild had given up the game’s first goal. In a league where games often end in a one-goal margin, the constant chasing of hockey games has been killing the Wild.
That’s why Monday night’s game plan against the Philadelphia Flyers was to rediscover the Minnesota Wild team that spent a good portion of this season as the NHL’s best defensive club.
Oh, and scoring the game’s first goal would be nice for a change.
“Man, we’ve given up the first goal so many times lately. If we’re not going to score it, don’t let them,” chuckling coach Mike Yeo said after the Wild’s 2-0 victory that ended a four-game winless streak.
The Wild tightened up big time against the Flyers, rarely cheating offensively, staying patient and giving up 10 shots through two scoreless periods before Jason Pominville and Charlie Coyle scored 57 seconds apart early in the third period.
“It’s the way we play, the way we’ve had success, it’s the way we’re going to have to play to have success,” Pominville said. “We’ve slipped away from that lately”
Josh Harding made 21 saves for his 10th career shutout and career-high third shutout of the season. Eleven of his saves came in the third, the biggest on a power play when he made a desperation, diving, blocker-first save to rob Jakub Voracek of an open-net goal.
“There is no reason for me not to score from there,” Voracek said.
Well, Harding actually was the reason.
“You see an empty net and you see a guy with the puck, you just throw your body over,” Harding said. “Fortunately it stayed out. No skill to that one. Just got lucky.”
Maybe, but “lucky” is not the way to describe Harding’s season. He picked up his career-high 14th victory in his 22nd game. In 2011-12, he needed 34 games to win 13.
With Niklas Backstrom laboring because of injuries for much of the season and coming off offseason abdominal surgery, Yeo said, “Josh has really allowed us to be where we’re at right now. If it wasn’t for him, we’d be in a lot of trouble.”
It was a solid team effort, with Yeo saying “everybody had their role in this.”
On a night when the Wild lost 30 of 48 faceoffs, Yeo credited Zenon Konopka for winning five of six, the penalty killers for dousing two Flyers power plays in the third, several solid defensive efforts and constant momentum created by the suffocating Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Torrey Mitchell line. And he noted Mike Rupp’s heavyweight bout with Jay Rosehill in a scoreless second.
The veteran Rupp, in his 600th career contest and third since returning from offseason knee surgery, took exception to Rosehill running around all game.
“I was in the middle of a line change when he got into it with Brodzy, so it probably would have happened then if it didn’t happen later,” said Rupp, who has played most his career with Flyers division rivals New Jersey, Pittsburgh and the Rangers. Rupp’s teams are 10-1-1 when he fights a Flyer.
The Wild resembled the team it was earlier this season, especially in the first period. It had the puck most the time and made life difficult on the Flyers.
In the third, captain Mikko Koivu was given free ice to skate into Philadelphia’s zone with speed, circled the net and made a brilliant pass into the crease for Pominville’s team-leading 14th goal. One shift later, Coyle buried his first goal in nine games on Jared Spurgeon’s rebound after an exceptional play by Marco Scandella down low.
“I don’t think we were bad, but I don’t think we were as sharp [lately],” Koivu said. “Colorado, we were a lot better [Saturday] and tonight we did even better. We recognize [being good defensively is] what we need to be and that’s what usually helps you create offense.”