Backstrom strong again as Wild notch first road victory in three weeks
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Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo hoped Sunday's shutout of Boston, which ended a seven-game losing skid, would serve as a rallying point for his struggling team.
That victory, at least in the short term, has reenergized the Wild.
After an extended layoff, they kept their resurgence in forward motion Thursday by knocking off the Florida Panthers 3-2 in a shootout for their first road win since Feb. 2.
Center Matt Cullen, who had gone 15 games without a goal before breaking his slump on Sunday, scored once in regulation and delivered a goal in the shootout. Kyle Brodziak also tallied a goal for the Wild, under the comfort of a freshly renewed contract.
For the Wild to put themselves back into the playoff picture, goaltender Niklas Backstrom will need to be solid in the final weeks of the season -- a role he has readily taken to in the last two games.
Coming off a 48-save performance against the Bruins, Backstrom followed with another impressive night. He set aside 41 of the Panthers' 43 shots on top of a pair of clutch saves in the shootout.
The Wild (27-24-9, 12th in the Western Conference) answered Florida's opening goal with two unanswered, but the Panthers forced overtime with a late score by Sean Bergenheim. Backstrom held on though in the extra frame and ended his losing slide in shootouts at four games.
Scoring was a rare commodity, with both teams matching each other with a physically intense defensive style. Scoreless through the first period, a breakthrough didn't come until the backend of the second.
While Wild winger Devin Setoguchi sat in the penalty box after being sent off for goalie interference, Florida went after Backstrom. The Panthers' Stephen Weiss rifled a shot on net that bounced wildly wide-left. Backstrom and his defensemen tried frantically to shift over towards the loose puck but could not get there before Mikael Samuelsson easily knocked in the game's first goal.
Seconds from intermission, the Wild abruptly snatched the momentum and Florida's advantage. Marek Zidlickly broke his stick on a shot attempt from atop the blue line. But Healtey was in front of him to assist with getting the puck on net. Theodore made a pad save only to be foiled by a rebound goal from Brodziak.
It was the boost the Wild needed. They seized the lead just over a minute into the third period. Holding a one-man advantage, Heatley was again on hand to send in the initial shot, which Cullen quickly shoveled underneath sprawled out Panthers goalie Jose Theodore.
The Wild's offensive chances decreased steadily for the rest of the period as they settled back in their zone to stop an onslaught from Florida. The Panthers continually challenged Backstrom, trying aggressively to even the score. A shot eventually worked its way in when Sean Bergenheim scored his 13th goal of his year with 4:12 minutes to go in the third.
A fruitless overtime session gave way to the Wild's 13th shootout, where they have not fared well this season -- seven shootout losses stands as the second-most in the NHL (6-7).
However, they promptly avoided adding No. 8. Erik Christensen and Cullen converted on the Wild's first two chances, while Backstrom resiliently swatted away both Florida attempts he faced.
91: Shots faced by Backstrom in his last two games, allowing only two of those to get past him (89-of-91).
11/30/2011: Date of Backstrom's last shootout victory.
1.4: Number of goals the Wild have averaged in their last 10 games. They have notched more than two in a game only once in that stretch.
614: Games played by forward Stephen Weiss in a Florida Panthers uniform, moving pass Radek Dvorak for the franchise record.
Captain Mikko Koivu remains sidelined with an undisclosed injury. He has missed three straight games and did not make the trip to Florida.
Goaltender Josh Harding, out with a minor injury, won't rejoin the team until it returns home this weekend. Recently recalled backup Matt Hackett is a possibility to get the start Friday at Dallas.
• Florida -- Mikael Samuelsson (8) on the power play, assisted by Stephen Weiss (29) Tomas Fleischmann (26), 13:23. Panthers 1, Wild 0
• Florida -- Sean Bergenheim (13), assisted by Brian Campbell (38) and Mikael Samuelsson (10), 15:48. Wild 2, Panthers 2
Wild - Erik Christensen (goal), Matt Cullen (goal)
Florida - Kris Versteeg (miss), Sean Bergenheim (miss)
1. Erik Christensen
2. Dany Heatley
3. Sean Bergenheim
The Wild have less than 24 hours to regroup as they conclude a two-game road trip Friday (7:30 p.m. FSN) at Dallas -- a city that has given them little joy. It has been almost a decade since the Wild last defeated the former North Stars in Dallas (2003). They came close to ending the losing curse on Feb. 4, but the Stars outlasted the Wild for a 2-1 shootout win.