Newcomer Jason Zucker buoys Wild in shootout victory against Kings
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ST. PAUL, Minn., -- The playoffs are no longer a possibility, but that isn't preventing the Minnesota Wild from showing a bit of fight in the wake of their lost season.
Center Erik Christensen slipped in the tying goal midway through the third period as the Wild eventually held on to drop the Los Angeles Kings, 4-3, in a shootout on Saturday for their second consecutive win.
"It showed a lot of character," said defenseman Tom Gilbert, who played in his 400th career NHL game. "The guys in this locker room won't quit. That's a great part of this team."
A scoring flurry in the early goings resulted in the Wild capturing a 2-1 lead only four minutes into the game. But the Kings went on to score two unanswered goals, setting their opponent into comeback mode by the third period.
While Christensen's goal served as the rallying point for the Wild, the victory was buoyed by an unlikely source. Freshly arrived left wing Jason Zucker, making his second appearance since signing an entry-level contract earlier in the week, notched his first career points on a pair of assists -- the final of which led to the leveling score.
"I got the jitters out last game and was able to come in tonight and play more my game," Zucker said.
Goaltender Niklas Backstrom recovered from a rocky start by stopping 26 shots, including critical saves in overtime and the shootout.
It was already 2-2 before the crowd at the Xcel Energy Center had time to get comfortable. Forty-seconds into the game, the Wild -- not usually one for fast starts -- bounded out to a rapid lead after Darroll Powe swiftly redirected in a puck that was launched on net by Nate Prosser.
Los Angeles' Brad Richardson answered minutes later with the first of his two goals. The break-neck start to the night geared up again when the Wild's rebuttal came within 20 seconds off a goal from Nick Johnson, lined up by Zucker.
The Kings gradually shifted the tempo in their favor. With Stephane Veilleux in the penalty box for slashing, Dustin Brown knotted the score five minutes from the first intermission. Richardson further eliminated the Wild's buzz with a goal 57 seconds into the second period.
The Wild appeared to be degrading towards a sputtering defeat reminiscent of the bulk of their losses this season. But they were reinvigorated when Zucker's pass glanced off Christensen's leg and found its way past Kings' goalie Jonathan Quick at the 9:03 mark in the third period.
"I didn't even see it. I just felt it go off my leg," Christensen said of the goal.
Though the score set off a spirited closing stretch, neither team could capitalize on their prime chances at the potential game-winner. Devin Setoguchi, granted a penalty shot in overtime after Kings' defenseman Alec Martinez carelessly hooked him in front of the net, glanced the puck off the left crossbar, which proved to be the last legitimate scoring opportunity before the shootout.
Once a source of dismay for the Wild, shootouts have become a welcomed reprieve. Christensen and captain Mikko Koivu scored on back-to-back attempts, while Backstrom didn't yield, sealing the Wild's third straight shootout victory in the last three weeks.
Backstrom's sprawling save in overtime was the anchoring boost the Wild needed. The Kings, who thought they had the game won, couldn't recover. Backstrom's strong showing in the latter half of Saturday's game was bookended by stops on the Kings' pair of shots in the shootout.
"That was an unbelievable save," coach Mike Yeo said, shaking his head slightly with disbelief. "I'm pretty sure their bench was standing up at that point. I thought it was great. In the shootout, to deny both guys, that is an area of his game that has certainly improved."
7: Points tallied by Christensen in his last 10 games.
9-8: The Wild's record in shootouts this season.
6: Players recorded two or more points in the game -- Christensen (2), Zucker (2), and Justin Falk (2) for the Wild, and Richardson (2), Brown (3) and Anze Kopitar (3) for the Kings.
300: Career games logged by right wing Cal Clutterbuck, who is wrapping up his fourth full NHL season.
"He played great. His first few steps are pretty quick and he's willing to shoot the puck from the wing. The play he made when I attacked the blue line and cut across is exactly what I want a guy I'm playing with to do."
-- Christensen on Zucker's second career game.
• Los Angeles -- Brad Richardson (4), assisted by Dustin Brown (30) and Anze Kopitar (45), 3:28. Wild 1, Kings 1
• Wild -- Nick Johnson (8), assisted by Jason Zucker (1) and Erik Christensen (5), 3:45. Wild 2, Kings 1
• Los Angeles -- Dustin Brown (21) on the power play, assisted by Mike Richards (24) and Anze Kopitar (46), 15:31. Wild 2, Kings 2
• Los Angeles -- Brad Richardson (5), Anze Kopitar (46) and Dustin Brown (30), 0:57. Kings 3, Wild 2
• Wild -- Erik Christensen (7), assisted by Jason Zucker (2) and Justin Falk (8), 10:57. Wild 3, Kings 3
Wild -- Erik Christensen (made), Mikko Koivu (made)
Los Angeles -- Justin Williams (miss), Mike Richards (miss)
One week remains in the Wild's forgettable 2011-12 campaign. The team went directly to airport following the game to catch a flight to Chicago, where they will face the Blackhawks (43-26-9) Sunday at 6 p.m.