LOS ANGELES – Two nights after the Wild vowed to build off a strong effort and victory in Phoenix, the Wild had an even stronger effort and bigger victory against one of the hottest teams in the NHL.
Matt Moulson and Mikko Koivu scored goals 62 seconds apart in the third period to help the Wild, which lost Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter to upper-body injuries, rally for a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings, ending their six-game winning streak.
The Kings, the Western Conference’s best defensive team, had won 14 of their previous 17 games. They’re also a team that was 130-2-11 since April 4, 2009, when leading after two periods.
But the Wild’s past three victories have been by the come-from-behind variety in the third period (at Detroit, at Phoenix and at Los Angeles).
“Real impressive character win,” coach Mike Yeo said. “You’re battling all game, you lose a couple guys, and let’s not kid ourselves, we’re playing against a pretty darn good hockey team, a team that’s very good when playing with the lead. But our guys stayed with it.”
Koivu, who has nine points during a six-game point streak, and Zach Parise each scored a goal and had an assist, and Ilya Bryzgalov made 18 saves to improve to 4-0-2 with the Wild.
“There’s no secret to [rallying in the third period],” said Parise, whose team-leading 28th goal tied the score 1-1 in the second period. “You keep working, you keep competing. There’s a difference now when we get down. We don’t sulk as much as we did before. We just keep working.”
The Wild, which next plays in Chicago on Thursday, moved five points ahead of Phoenix for the top wild-card spot in the West and six points ahead of ninth-place Dallas. Both teams play Tuesday.
In a heavy hard-hitting game with playoff intensity, the Wild lost Granlund and Niederreiter because of what looked like head injuries.
Granlund was lost late in the second period on one of his five hits. He was dinged after checking Jarret Stoll. Niederreiter was lost three shifts into his night on a high, hard hit from Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin.
But with the Wild trailing 2-1 in the third, rookie Erik Haula was elevated to the second line to replace Granlund. It paid off immediately.
Pominville fed Moulson, a former King, in front and he scored his fifth goal with the Wild past Jonathan Quick, his brother-in-law. Moulson’s wife is Quick’s wife’s sister. Haula also drew an assist.
“He’s stopped me a lot more times than I’ve scored on him. He also has a couple trophies I don’t have,” said Moulson, referring to Quick’s Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy. “I don’t think there’s too much bragging.”
A minute later, Koivu took Charlie Coyle’s pass off the wall and one-timed a whistler past Quick.
“Every single game is big now, and every single point,” Koivu said. “That’s a great hockey team over there. They came out hard, they came all game long. But we responded well.”
Muzzin was a menace all night. He clocked Niederreiter with a high hit that actually pancaked Niederreiter into Kings center Jeff Carter. Niederreiter left wobbly.
Later in the second period, Muzzin looked to get away with another head shot on Jason Pominville. Not only did Muzzin not get whistled for a penalty for the second time, Moulson jumped to Pominville’s defense and the Kings wound up with a power play.
“That stuff builds team chemistry,” Yeo said. “Whenever you see somebody who goes outside what’s normal for them and they’re doing it for the team, the way I saw our [penalty] killers go out on that kill and then for [Moulson] to get that goal, I thought it was great.”