Latendresse's return provides hope, change for Wild in comeback win
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- On days like this, with the sun peeking out from time to time and the snow melting all around the Twin Cities, there's hope that spring may finally emerge from all of the cold of winter.
And on nights like this, with the Minnesota Wild moving the puck, delivering hard hits, rallying from deficits and scoring a big win, there is renewed hope that spring may yet include NHL playoff games in St. Paul. Just maybe.
On Tuesday, the Wild seemingly emerged from the recent doldrums of three losses in four games, and did what it is supposed to do versus a lesser opponent -- win, and collect two much-needed points in the Western Conference standings.
Even with the 5-2 win versus the Colorado Avalanche, the Wild is still on the outside looking in for now, tied with the Los Angeles Kings with 77 points each. But the Kings hold the tiebreaker, meaning that the Wild would be the first team out, in ninth place, if the playoffs started today.
Of course, with the desperation and the next gear shown by the Wild when it trailed 2-1 late in the second period, it's looking like a team that has finally realized that for all intents and purposes, the playoffs started weeks ago.
"Huge two points for us," said Wild coach Todd Richards, who noted, as did the fans who gave him a nice ovation before his first shirt, the return of Guillaume Latendresse to the lineup. Latendresse, who had not played since Oct. 25, recorded three of the Wild's 25 shots on goal, and a pair of hits, but looked like he has work to do before he's back in the shape that allowed him to score 25 goals in 55 games with the Wild last season.
"I felt better every time I was going on the ice and I was feeling really good and coaches were talking to me, guys were talking to me," said Latendresse, who is clearly one of the key players from whom the Wild will need contributions as long as Mikko Koivu and Cal Clutterbuck remain shelved. "It's been a long time. I haven't played. So the tempo was a little higher but I don't think I was out of the game and out of the play. I think my speed was pretty good and I felt pretty good."
Although there was little to feel good about late in the second period, when Colorado's Paul Stastny scored on a power play to give the Avs a 2-1 lead. Colorado had lost 15 of its last 16, but looked like a team that was willing to scratch and claw for a road win on this night.
That's when the Wild's rarely-seen puck moving abilities were put on display. The team responded with an Andrew Brunette power play goal to tie the game before the end of the second, and three more in the third to cruise to the victory. Although the post-game celebration was cut short by some Avs ugliness.
In a quizzical move, Colorado coach Joe Sacco sent his fourth line - including noted tough guys Cody McLeod and David Koci - out for the final shift, and there was a scrum, even involving Avs goalie Peter Budaj, as soon as the final horn sounded. Richards refused to comment on Sacco's line change.
The line change Richards needs to make more often is to get Martin Havlat onto the ice as much as possible. He continues to re-emerge as one of the top offensive players in the Western Conference, with another goal and assist on Tuesday. Niklas Backstrom had 28 saves in the win, and even got credit for an assist on Kyle Brodziak's empty-net goal.
So the next challenge in the de facto early playoffs is to maintain the momentum on the road. From the comforts of home the Wild heads out for 10 days and four games in the road whites, on a trip that has stops in Nashville, Dallas, Vancouver and San Jose. Three of those four teams are currently in the playoff picture, while the Wild remains on the outside, meaning more two-point nights like this one are needed if the hope of the playoffs is to remain.