Back to the future: Wild beats Sharks 1-0 with defense
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Forget, at least for one night, all that hype about up-tempo hockey. Tuesday's 1-0 Minnesota Wild win over the San Jose Sharks was a clear blast from the past.
Reverting to the ways more familiar to fans of the Jacques Lemaire era in St. Paul, coach Todd Richards used five-player defense and a hot goalie to coax an important win out of his men, over one of the premiere teams in the Western Conference.
The formula was simple: get a power play goal, play team defense, let your goalie see and stop the first shot, and don't allow much more. It was a formula perfected under the old regime, often allowing undermanned Wild teams were able to stay in the hunt. Calling the Sharks the best team he's seen this season, Richards rode another stellar night by goalie Niklas Backstrom to a statement win.
"(Backstrom) played great, but I think the guys in front of him really competed hard and helped him out in certain situations," said Richards, after his goalie stopped all 36 Sharks shots. It was the 20th career shutout for Backstrom, and his first since April 2009. "They're an elite team and they've got some great players, so to earn a 1-0 win against these guys is hopefully a big boost for us."
The lopsided shot advantage for the Sharks had grown to 18-5 midway through the second period when the Sharks were whistled for a four-minute penalty, then a two-minute penalty in quick succession, giving the Wild two full minutes of 5-on-3 power play. Richhards called a timeout to rest his top man-advantage unit, then reaped the benefits.
Martin Havlat, much maligned in the media and on his own team of late, zipped a pass across the goalmouth, leaving Sharks goaltender Antero Niittymaki out of position, and Andrew Brunette in perfect position for a tap-in goal. It was just the sixth shot of the game for the Wild, but the third 5-on-3 goal it's scored this season.
"We were patient and we weren't panicking and that was the most important thing," Havlat said. "I think we did a much better job on the 5-on-3 than we have in those opportunities before. It won us the game."
From there on out, it was all defense for the Wild, who managed just 16 shots for the game, but made Brunette's tap-in count for two points. For the Sharks, who stormed to the Western Conference Finals last season (bowing to eventual Stanley Cup champ Chicago in four games) there was the realization that a hot goalie can thwart the best of intentions.
"That's hockey," Sharks forward Joe Thornton said after his team's league-best road power play was held without a goal in five chances. "Some nights you throw 35 (shots) at a goalie and get four. Some nights you get zero. It's not frustrating, that's just the way hockey goes."
The Wild struggled mightily with San Jose last season, going 0-4 versus the Sharks, and giving up 16 goals in the process. So to beat Washington and San Jose recently, giving up one goal in the process and thriving on defense, may mean a great deal. This team needed 22 games to get five wins last season. On Tuesday the Wild got its fifth win of the season, in game number 11.