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Updated: March 29th, 2012 11:40pm
Erik Christiansen and Mikko Koivu score late, propel Wild in OT

Erik Christiansen and Mikko Koivu score late, propel Wild in OT

by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Who says playing out the string can't be fun?

Well, for about 59 minutes there was very little fun to be had for fans of the Minnesota Wild, relegated to another spring spent watching other teams competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But the last 46 seconds were a blast.

Trailing 2-1 with their goalie pulled, the Wild got a tying goal from Erik Christiansen with 31 seconds left in regulation, and got a rousing overtime winner from Mikko Koivu just 15 seconds into the extra session, for a 3-2 triumph over the Florida Panthers.

"It wasn't our prettiest game, that's for sure," said Wild defenseman Tom Gilbert, who set up the last two goals. "We were pretty slow in the second, turning pucks over, not getting pucks deep. We pretty much gave them most of the momentum, but we kept sticking with it and obviously the ending was what we were looking for."

The skinny

Gilbert, the Bloomington native who played college hockey at Wisconsin, was a forward for much of his youth hockey and high school career, but was converted to the blue line as a collegian. It's those offensive instincts learned on youth hockey rinks all over the Twin Cities that have made him most valuable in the NHL, and the big reason why the Wild acquired him in a deadline day transaction with the Edmonton Oilers.

While some teammate are spending the final weeks of a lost season trying to make their cases for more playing time in 2012-13, Gilbert is more secure of his place in the lineup, and is instead focusing on learning how to play with sure-thing teammates like Koivu, the Wild's captain.

So when asked what he saw right before the long pass that sent Koivu on the game-winning breakaway in overtime, Gilbert was brutally honest.

"Not a whole lot until the last second," he said with a grin. "Playing with a guy like Mikko, he finds open ice so well, and the more you can wait and try to get him that open ice, it makes such a difference. He did a great job finding that spot."

It was a spot that the Wild seemed destined to miss for most of the game, which had been a generally lifeless effort before a small crowd. The sub-17,000 audience seemed more content dwelling on the past, as the Wild honored 30 members of the Minnesota North Stars before the
game. Then the puck dropped, and there were plenty of yawns.

"I like the way we responded in the third period," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "Didn't like large parts of our game before that. We were doing enough things defensively but we made it pretty easy. Not a real tough team to play against for the better part of two periods there."

The Wild got into penalty trouble, and the Panthers, who are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, capitalized with a pair of power play goals, while the home team did little to answer. Yeo notes that the Wild are playing for nothing, while opponents are often playing for playoff position, so matching their energy can be a challenge.

But in the end, the Wild found a reserve of energy, and something to play for after all.

"You still have a lot to work for," Gilbert said. "It's tough not being in playoff spot or trying to get points to make the playoffs, but every game is still so important, especially the way we want to
build our team and end on the right note."

Kyle Brodziak scored the Wild's first goal, giving him 21 for the season which is tied with Dany Heatley for the team lead.

Turning point

Yeo said later he wasn't exactly sure what prompted him to send Christiansen over the boards as the sixth attacker, once the goalie came to the bench.

"Scoring touch. Hunch. I don't know," Yeo said. "He's been one of our most productive goal scorers in the last little stretch here."

Gilbert got the puck to the net, sort of. His shot toward Panthers' goalie Jose Theodore deflected off the skate of a Florida player, then clanked the far post. Before the Panthers defenders could swat the puck away, Christiansen was able to corral it and slide a shot past Theodore to tie the game in the waning seconds of the third.

Numbers game

• 12: Shifts played by rookie left wing Jason Zucker in his NHL debut. Signed on Tuesday out of the University of Denver, Zucker had three shots on goal in the game.

5: Goals by Christiansen in the Wild's last nine games.

• 9-2-2: The Wild's all-time record versus the Panthers, including a 4-0-2 mark in St. Paul.

• 14: Points scored in 16 career games versus the Wild by Panthers right wing Scottie Upshall.

Health watch

Niklas Backstrom made his first start for the Wild since March 1, when he suffered a lower body injury. He had 25 saves, improving to 18-17-6 on the season.

Summary

First period
No scoring

Second period
Panthers - Scottie Upshall 2 (Fleischmann, Campbell), 13:27, PPG

Third period
Wild - Kyle Brodziak 21 (Clutterbuck), 1:03
Panthers - Tomas Fleischmann 25 (Garrison, Campbell), 13:16, PPG
Wild - Erik Christiansen 6 (Gilbert, Koivu), 19:29

Overtime
Wild - Mikko Koivu 12 (Gilbert, Stoner), 0:15

Shots: Wild 13-4-7-1-25; Panthers 9-8-10-0-27. Saves: Wild, Niklas Backstrom (25-27); Panthers, Jose Theodore (22-25). Power plays: Wild 0-for-2, Panthers 2-5.

Three stars

1. Erik Christiansen

2. Kyle Brodziak

3. Darroll Powe

Coming up

Five games remain in the season for the Wild, and three of them are at home. Before embarking on their final road trip, the Wild host the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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