Myers: Wild prove to be resilient bunch in win over Maple Leafs
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - It was now-retired boxer Mike Tyson who famously said, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face."
That's true for the Minnesota Wild who, in improving to 5-0-1 in their past six games on Wednesday, proved that they have a plan after they get punched in the face as well.
The Wild were beaten up by a physical Toronto Maple Leafs team in their own rink. Their starting goalie, Niklas Backstrom, was lost early due to a nasty forearm to the head delivered by Leafs center Nazem Kadri.
They trailed by a goal late in the third. Their power play was an ineffective mess. Their own fans were starting to boo as a five-minute power play produced a paltry one shot on goal.
This wasn't a punch in the face. It was the hockey equivalent of several of them. So how did the Wild respond?
With a win, of course.
It took a late goal in regulation by Zach Parise, some Josh Harding heroics in overtime, another Parise goal in the shootout, and a finishing goal by Jason Pominville. More than any of those things, it took belief, in one another, in their abilities and in the idea that long odds and punches to the face and all, they could get it done.
"Even the guys that were power-play guys were coming back (to the bench) saying, 'C'mon, we still got lots of time,' talking, saying the right things and these are the leaders of your team," Wild coach Mike Yeo said afterward. "I've been part of many games where you have something like that and frustration creeps in and it's real easy to have some type of letdown or start to deviate or get away from staying with it, trusting it, and they didn't. Who gets the goal for us? It's the same guys that are saying the same thing."
The first punch to the face came early. Backstrom had watched the last five games from the bench as Harding put together some of the best numbers in the NHL.
In his first start in a long time, Backstrom stopped Toronto's first three shots, but could not stop Kadri, who stormed into the crease, delivering a forearm to Backstrom's head. The goalie stayed in the game a few more minutes, but gave way to Harding, who finished with 19 saves. Yeo would only say that Backstrom has an upper body injury.
The Wild trailed 1-0 until late in regulation, but it was not for lack of power play chances. Minnesota was 0-for-5 with the man-advantage, including a five-minute power play in the third period that came after another head shot by Kadri. This time it was Mikael Grandlund taking a hard hit along the boards, and earning Kadri a match penalty.
"They play hard. They're no different than anyone else. They want to mix it up after the whistles," said Parise, who has seven points in the Wild's last six games. "For us, we don't bother with that. That's not our game. I thought we did a good job of staying away from that, but at the same time stepping in when guys needed to. That's kind of their m.o. They want to get in scrums and get in things like that, but we did a good job staying away from that."
Instead they kept going to the net, which finally paid off late.
"It's disappointing, especially after I thought those penalty kills in the third were really big for us," said Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf. "Any time you kill a five-minute major after two consecutive minors, that's a big momentum shift. But they kept coming, as we expected. In their building they're a team that plays well here."
And just as importantly, in the midst of a 8-1-2 stretch, with a few more home games coming, the Wild are looking like a team with a strong belief in its abilities to overcome.
Even if that means taking a punch in the face every now and then.