Change from within: Wild overcomes Coyotes rally in 6-5 OT win
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - After every recent Minnesota Wild loss - and there have been more than a handful in the past month - the speculation has started about from where the much-needed change would come. Was a coaching change the answer, or was a trade necessary to provide some spark?
All of the options available within the team's minor-league organization in Houston have seemingly been tried, with varying levels of success. The season is wearing on, and the injury situation is getting worse, with Guillaume Latendresse only now hinting at a return to the ice, having been out with a groin injury since late October. That's the good news. There's no return in sight for James Sheppard, who was hurt over the summer in an ATV accident, or for defenseman Marek Zidlicky, who hurt his shoulder versus San Jose two games ago, and is expected to miss significant time.
For those reasons, Sunday's dramatic 6-5 Wild overtime win versus the Phoenix Coyotes seemed like a new beginning, and not just because it was the first game of 2011. Instead of dwelling on what new face, either in front of or behind the bench, could come in and provide a spark, the Wild created its own sparks to beat the Coyotes for the second time this season.
In stark contrast to the 19-year-old rookies who come directly out of junior hockey and to the NHL to provide instant offense, Sunday's biggest source of goals was 37-year-old Andrew Brunette, who scored twice. He helped build a 3-1 lead, which evaporated like an ice cube in the Arizona desert, as the Coyotes scored four times in the final 16 minutes.
Trailing 5-4 with less than a minute to play, it looked to all who were watching as if the Wild was headed for another disappointing home loss, and you could all but hear the boo birds warming up for a chorus with which to send the Wild heading out of town. Then, the Wild heard something much different - a roar, following a Pierre-Marc Bouchard blast from the blue line that tied the game.
In overtime, Bouchard dug a loose puck out of the corner and fed defenseman Cam Barker, who's shot from the top of the faceoff circle trickled between the pads of Coyotes goalie Jason LaBarbera to get the win.
"The first two periods we were kind of controlling the game, then got in trouble in the third and lost our confidence way too quick," Brunette said. "We've been having trouble here at home, so it was nice to feel a little bit of energy in the building when we were down by a goal. There hasn't been much energy here all year, so it was nice to hear them roar."
If you like even numbers, there was plenty to roar about, as it was a night of milestones. Wild captain Mikko Koivu played in his 400th career game, and had four assists to give him 201 all-time in those 400 appearances. In goal, Jose Theodore faced a season-high 44 shots, and stopped 39 of them for his 250th career win, which is eighth among active NHL goalies.
"The game was like a movie," said a beaming Wild coach Todd Richards in the post-game press conference. "It had drama, at times it was a comedy, at times it was a horror, but it had a great ending."
The Wild now embarks on a three-game road swing that starts Tuesday night in Newark. There a familiar face awaits behind the New Jersey Devils' bench, where long-time Wild coach Jacques Lemaire has recently begun this third coaching stint.
"We've got to worry about our own team, but it'll be interesting to see him," said Brunette.