Matt Cullen's three helpers lift Wild to fourth straight win
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Trailing by a goal or two on the road used to be a death sentence for the Minnesota Wild. These days it's a minor inconvenience. For the third consecutive road game, the Wild rallied from two goals down, getting a trio of assists from Matt Cullen in a 5-3 win versus the Anaheim Ducks.
It was the fourth straight win for the Wild, who kicked off a five-game road trip with an encouraging performance. Playing without starting goalie Niklas Backstrom, the Wild suffered not even a little with Josh Harding in goal, as the backup made another strong case for his skills, stopping 23 shots and keeping the Ducks from getting an equalizer in the frantic final two minutes, as the Wild were killing a penalty up 4-3.
Cal Clutterbuck, who had missed the Wild's previous game, assisted on the game-winner, and scored into an empty net with 11 seconds left to seal the win.
Fans bored by the wild's previously low-scoring ways - especially since Marian Gaborik took his act to Broadway - have preached for years that what the team really needs is a fast and lethal goal scorer that other teams must concentrate upon. A few moves to that effect were made over the summer, when Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi were summoned from San Jose.
But perhaps what we're seeing now, as the Wild once again have moved atop the NHL standings with an impressive road win, is a better, more effective approach, as three lines are clicking, making it impossible for opponents to concentrate on one player or one line as the key to shutting down the Wild.
Going into his second game behind the Anaheim Ducks bench, coach Bruce Boudreau likely warned his troops to be on the lookout for Heatley, Setoguchi and even Cullen. It's unlikely that Boudreau and the Ducks assistants preached that keeping Casey Wellman and Nick Johnson away from the goalmouth was the way to beat the Wild.
But it was Wellman - the California kid signed out of UMass two years ago - and Johnson, who was picked up for a song from the Penguins at the start of this season, scoring the key goals in the win.
And the prettiest goal of the night came from Pierre-Marc Bouchard, less than a minute after Wellman had tied the game at 2-2 in the later stages of the second. Cutting across the low slot, Bouchard lifted a nasty rising backhander that fooled Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller, catching the upper left corner of the net for the Wild's first lead.
Trailing 2-0 less than halfway through the opening period, this was beginning to look like one of those road games where nothing goes right. But in the final minutes of the opening period, two Ducks were whistled for penalties, and the Wild were opportunistic on the resulting 5-on-3 power play. Dany Heatley scored off a nice feed from Cullen with just four seconds left in the period, making the score 2-1 and giving the Wild much-needed momentum heading into the first intermission.
"We try not to get wrapped up in the score. We try not to get wrapped up in the end result," said Wild coach Mike Yeo in the post-game scrum. "We just know it's about the next shift, going out and playing our game and all it takes is one play to get us right back in there. Tonight that was a power play goal."
• 1: Career multi-point games by Wellman, who scored his first goal of the season on Friday and had a goal and an assist in Anaheim on Sunday.
• 1-6-3: The Wild's record when allowing three goals or more this season.
• 0-2: Boudreau's record since taking over as coach of the Ducks last week.
• 14: Shots on goal by the Ducks in the third period, after they'd managed just 13 in the first two periods.
Marco Scandella did what is, painfully, the job of an NHL-level defenseman, blocking a Ducks slap shot in the second period with his leg, and crumpling to the ice immediately. He limped to the Wild bench and was attended. He returned later, only to have an unfortunate moment with a Ducks shot in the third, when Cam Fowler's shot deflected off his skate and eventually past Harding, tying the game 3-3. In the final seconds of the game, Scandella was again crumpled by a Ducks shot and headed straight to the locker room.
Backstrom was not in uniform on Sunday, after having tweaked a groin injury in the Wild's previous game. Matt Hackett was on the bench, backing up Harding. Backstrom is expected back in the lineup within a few days.
Ducks - Ryan Getzlaf 6 (Perry, Selanne), 5:57, PPG
Ducks - Saku Koivu 5 (Selanne, Beleskey), 9:25
Wild - Dany Heatley 8 (Cullen, Koivu), 19:56, PPG
Shots: Wild 17-13-6-36; Ducks 9-4-14-27. Saves: Wild, Josh Harding (23-27); Ducks, Jonas Hiller (31-35). Power plays: Wild 1-for-3, Ducks 1-3.
1. Matt Cullen
2. Teemu Selanne
3. Francois Beauchemin
Sunday's game was the first of a five-game western road trip. It's common for teams to work their way through California from north to south or vice-versa, but the Wild are doing things differently on this journey. From Anaheim, the team travels to San Jose for a game on Tuesday, then returns to the L.A. Basin to visit the Kings on Thursday. Games in Phoenix (Saturday) and Winnipeg (Dec. 13) will complete the trip.