Beauty by the Bay: Wild beat Lightning 4-1
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In what was supposed to be the toughest game of the Minnesota Wild's southeastern tour, the local NHL club ended the road swing on a high note.
Despite being out-shot 16-6 in the opening period, the Wild made half of its shots count, taking a 3-1 lead on the Tampa Bay Lightning en route to a 4-1 win. With wins versus the Blue Jackets and Lightning sandwiched around losses at Atlanta and Florida, the Wild finished .500 on the road trip, thanks in large part to goaltender Niklas Backstrom's efforts on Sunday afternoon.
Backstrom had 37 saves in the win, as the Wild won its third road game of the season. To underscore the improvement in Todd Richards' second season behind the team bench, the third road win came in the Wild's seventh road game. A year ago, the team needed 14 road games to get three wins away from St. Paul.
"It's good to be up because you don't have to chase and you don't have to think about it," Backstrom told FSN North's Kevin Gorg of the early lead. "They have some really good skill players so you have to know who's out on the ice."
Martin St. Louis was the only one of those Tampa Bay skill players who found a way to get a puck past Backstrom, scoring on a power play in the first period. The Wild made the 3-1 lead hold up for all of the second period and most of the third (when the Lightinging had a 13-5 advantage in shots) until Eric Nystrom got his first goal in a Wild sweater, scoring into an empty net in the game's final minute.
"You can't base everything on shots. There were times in the game when we made things more difficult on ourselves, which seems to be the theme right now," Richards told the post-game scrum of reporters.
The potential dark cloud blocking this abundance of Florida sunshine may be the status of Cal Clutterbuck, which will be updated once the team returns to Minnesota. Clutterbuck scored the game's first goal, on a power play, but left in the second period with what the team is officially calling an upper body injury.
"We'll see when we get home," Richards said. "We'll see the doctor and hopefully we'll get some positive news. If it is something, hopefully it won't be too long. But he's been a catalyst. He's been driving our team whether it's scoring goals or just physical play."
On the flip side of that potential bad news is the recent strong play of Martin Havlat, who spent much of October hiding from the score sheet and listening to his agent whine about ice time. With three assists on Sunday, Havlat has now recorded a goal and five assists in the Wild's last six games and has been held off the score sheet only once in that span.
On Wednesday, the team returns to Xcel Energy Center action with a game versus Anaheim - winner of its last six in a row.