Cal Clutterbuck and Mikko Koivu return, but Wild falls in Vancouver
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One of the things that people love about hockey is how quickly the puck, and the momentum, changes hands, causing teams to transition from offense to defense in an instant. It's been similar, and not in a good way, for the Minnesota Wild in the past week, where the team has gone from the attack mode of driving hard for a playoff spot, to the fall-back persona of something akin to road kill.
After getting shut out 4-0 in back-to-back road games in Nashville and Dallas late last week, the Wild tried its luck north of the border on Monday. But that luck is apparently still waiting to clear Canadian customs. The effort was better, and a few returns were encouraging, but the results were sadly familiar as the Wild fell to the NHL-leading Vancouver Canucks 4-2.
Still, where the score sheet may have still had the Wild on the short end, the lineup sheet had two very encouraging numbers listed: 9 and 22.
For the first time in more than two weeks, both captain Mikko Koivu and hits leader Cal Clutterbuck were in uniform and on the ice for the Wild, and their impact was felt right away. Koivu, who had missed 11 games with a broken finger, had a goal and an assist as the Wild dug itself a 3-0 hole after 20 minutes, but battled back to at least make a game of it. Clutterbuck, who had missed four games with a concussion, did not get on the score sheet, but ripped a late-game shot that hit Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo hard in the right shoulder and had the netminder wincing in pain.
In sharp contrast to the lifeless effort in Dallas, whch featured just 14 shots for the game, the Wild out-shot the Canucks 14-3 in the second period on Monday. They even looked poised to tie the game late. Trailing 3-2, the Canucks Ryan Kesler high-sticked Brent Burns in the mouth with 2:10 to play, and the Wild kept Luongo busy on the ensuing power play, but could maintain enough offensive pressure to tie the game.
In the final seconds, Kesler came out of the penalty box and scored an empty-netter to close out the drama. For the Wild, the biggest victory was just to illuminate the red light after going more than two full games without scoring. Andrew Brunette's goal in the second period snapped a team-record streak of more than 168 minutes without a goal on the road.
Koivu, interviewed by Kevin Gorg of FSN North after the game, deflected individual attention about his comeback, and instead talked about the need for the team to play a full 60 minutes of their playoff push is to continue. But that front has taken a hard hit with the three consecutive losses.
The Wild remains in 11th place in the Western Conference, four points back of Calgary in the race for the final playoff spot. The team has two more days off on the West Coast before concluding the road trip with a game at San Jose on Thursday.