Randy Carlyle, the no-nonsense, brusque Toronto Maple Leafs coach, loves the rough stuff.
The Wild especially knows this.
In 2007, the Wild got so pushed around during its playoff loss to Carlyle’s Anaheim Ducks during their Stanley Cup run that then-GM Doug Risebrough acquired heavies Todd Fedoruk and Chris Simon the following year to join Derek Boogaard.
Wednesday night, the Maple Leafs incited scrum after scrum and took out Minnesota’s starting goaltender, Niklas Backstrom, halfway through the first period. But in the end, for the second consecutive meeting against the Maple Leafs, the Wild dramatically outchanced Toronto only to this time rally for a 2-1 shootout victory.
“They want to mix it up after the whistles,” said Wild leading scorer Zach Parise, who scored the tying goal with 4 minutes, 17 seconds left. “For us, we don’t bother with that. That’s not our game. That’s kind of their M.O., but we did a good job staying away from that.”
The Wild, 5-0-1 in its past six games, didn’t do it the easy way. It went 0-for-5 on the power play and looked cooked when it mustered only one shot during a five-minute major in the third period.
But the Wild kept pressuring and finally the top line struck. Charlie Coyle stole a pass from former Gopher Phil Kessel before setting up Parise’s tying goal, a pass that deflected off Parise’s right skate and behind Jonathan Bernier after Kessel kicked it in.
Parise and Jason Pominville each scored in the shootout as the Wild, which got another 36-minute game from Ryan Suter (108 minutes the past three games), picked up points for the 10th time in 11 games (8-1-2).
Backstrom was knocked out of the game because of an “upper-body injury” after taking a forearm shiver to the head from Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri. In the third period, Kadri was assessed a match penalty for an illegal hit to Mikael Granlund’s head. Both hits will be reviewed by the NHL.
“That’s what we’re trying to get rid of,” Parise said.
The Wild never challenged Kadri, was outhit 33-15 and often was on the receiving end of Toronto’s aggression.
“Do we match up against that team’s toughness? No, we don’t,” coach Mike Yeo said. “Now we do have a team that cares about each other very much, and we stick up for each other, trust me.
“Between the whistles and the way we fought through this game and found a way to win, that’s a message, too, to your teammates.”
Pominville said the proper way to respond would have been making the Maple Leafs pay on the power play.
“I would have liked to put them away,” Pominville said, adding, “We didn’t really get pushed around. I mean, they were physical, but they got penalties on them. I don’t even think that counts as physicality. Anyone can be physical and get penalties.”
Backstrom tried to play through the cobwebs but eventually left 10½ minutes into the first. In came Josh Harding, who didn’t start because he was ill the night before.
Cold off the bench, the NHL’s goals-against average (1.21) and save percentage (.947) leader made 19 saves to improve to 10-2-2.
“I don’t think anyone can be surprised by him anymore,” Parise said of Harding.
It was a maddening night offensively for the Wild. In Toronto last month, Minnesota outshot the Maple Leafs 37-14 and lost. This time it was 34-23, including 13-5 in the second period, and it took a puck off two skates to beat Bernier (33 saves).
It looked as if Mason Raymond’s second-period power-play goal would hold up and Bernier would record his fourth career shutout against the Wild until Parise’s ninth goal tied it.
“Is anyone going to say that we didn’t … outplay them?” Yeo said. “We beat a real good team, and I really love the way our guys competed. We put a lot into that game.”