Josh Harding returns with a shutout as Wild surprise Canucks, win 2-0
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Even in the middle of the harshest Minnesota winter, there are those rare warm sunny days that make you forget, even for a few hours, about the snow and the ice and the other miseries of the cold season.
Ditto for the Minnesota Wild who, in the midst of this mostly lost season, are still capable of turning in a gem from time to time. This was the case on Monday, when against the powerful Vancouver Canucks, and seemingly against all odds, everything clicked for the home team.
Josh Harding, fresh back from a stint on the shelf with a lower body injury, stopped all 33 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season, and the sixth of his career, as the Wild snapped a three-game losing streak, beating the Canucks 2-0.
Kyle Brodziak set up Erik Christiansen's power play goal that was the eventual game-winner, then added a length-of-the-rink empty net goal in the final seconds, as the Wild held both Sedin brothers pointless for the first time in more than a year.
Wild coach Mike Yeo said the road to this particular victory began long before the game's first puck hit the ice.
"Just very pleased that we talked at length yesterday about how to prepare," he said. "I really believe that a lot of games are won and lost actually before the game begins. We didn't win the game before the puck was dropped but we put ourselves in position to."
With 10 games remaining and the Wild needing to leapfrog four teams to get the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot, the realization has hit that this team will not be playing late into April. But that doesn't mean they can't do some good things, and have some fun, along the way.
Monday seemed to be an example of a team, despite all of the injuries that have derailed a once-promising season, showing what it can do when it plays near-perfect defense and provides just enough offense, even versus a juggernaut like Vancouver.
"Until you're mathematically eliminated, you're still going to battle for that playoff spot," said Brodziak, who added to his career-best offensive totals. "But at the end of the day, no matter what situation we're in, we want to feel good about the effort we bring. Tonight we can go home feeling good about ourselves."
Harding joked that opposed to the boos the team has heard at home recently, on Monday they might have still been a bit tipsy from St. Paul's over-the-top St. Patrick's Day celebration, but he appreciated the cheers. And the crowed seemed to appreciate the win, which snapped a five-game home losing streak.
The goalie's perfect night was aided by a group of forwards and defensemen determined not to let pucks get to the crease. Icepacks, and smiles, were plentiful in the home dressing room.
"Pucks do hurt when you're blocking them," said Brodziak, after the Wild were credited with 14 blocked shots. "But to get a feeling like this after a win, I'll tell you everybody that blocked a shot knows it's worth it."
A few weeks from now, when the Canucks are prepping for the playoffs, while the Wild are prepping for the golf course, none of it may matter, but for one night anyway, for the team and their long-suffering fans, it was fun.
As opposed to so many games during these months of discontent, when opponents have scored early and often, the Wild withstood an early barrage by the offensively gifted Canucks, and looked prepared to settle for a 0-0 tie in the first 20 minutes, before Christiansen scored late. Then, with a lead, they played solid defense and still kept shooting and pushing the play, rather than sitting back.
"Minnesota is still a really good defensive team," said Canucks goalie Cory Schneider, who finished with 32 saves. "They play that defensive style where they try to clog up the middle and limit your options."
• 2: Times in their last 13 games that the Wild have scored the first goal.
• 4: Goals in the last four games by Erik Christiansen.
• 5: Consecutive games by the Wild without allowing a power play goal. They've killed their opponents' last eight man-advantage situations.
• 4: Regulation losses by the Canucks in the Northwest Division this season. Vancouver is now 14-4-1 versus Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado and the Wild.
In a perfect world, Wild captain Mikko Koivu will make his return to the lineup on Thursday when the team hosts Calgary. Sure, this world is far from perfect, but Koivu has been a full participant in practice recently, and is looking likely to return from the upper body injury that has had him on the self since before the All-Star Game.
Added to that potential nugget of good news is the fact that the goaltending situation is back to near-normal. On Monday the Wild thanked Matt Hackett for the six consecutive starts he'd made by shipping him back to Houston of the AHL, and dressing Niklas Backstrom in the backup role.
Wild - Erik Christiansen 5 (Brodziak, Clutterbuck), 19:36, PPG
Wild - Kyle Brodziak 19 (unassisted), 19:57, ENG
Shots: Wild 12-17-5-34; Canucks 11-12-10-33. Saves: Wild, Josh Harding (33-33); Canucks, Cory Schneider (32-33). Power plays: Wild 1-for-3, Canucks 0-1.
One more Northwest Division clash remains on this homestand, Thursday evening when the Calgary Flames come to town.