Niklas Backstrom injured as Wild rally, fall in shootout
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For the Montreal Canadiens, this will go in the books as a 5-4 win, as they bested the Minnesota Wild in a shootout. But for the Wild, this was perhaps the unlikeliest point of the season earned for forcing overtime.
Trailing 4-1 with less than five minutes to play, the Wild got a trio of goals late to force the extra session, on a night where seemingly everything else went wrong.
Tough guy Matt Kassian, who had played 20 NHL games without recording so much as a single assist, scored twice. Yes, you read that correctly. Beyond that there was a mess of penalties, a fight in the opening seconds and what looks like it might be yet another significant injury to a key player, as starting goalie Niklas Backstrom left in the first period, favoring his right leg.
Josh Harding came on in relief and stopped 19 of the 22 shots he faced, but David Desharnais of the Canadiens scored the only goal for either team in the shootout, as the Eastern Conference's worst team salvaged a two-point night.
"It's too bad we couldn't get that second point because I'm really impressed and happy with the way our guys battled back in that third period," Wild coach Mike Yeo told reporters in the postgame scrum. "We overcame a lot of adversity tonight for sure."
It's hard to tell where to start with this one. There was a fight, a major penalty against the Wild, another penalty against the Wild, two power play goals by the Canadiens, and the injury to Backstrom. And that was just in the game's first five minutes.
"We're down 5-on-3 for an extended period of time and then we lose our starting goalie, so we find ourselves in a real hole right from the start," Yeo said.
Things didn't get dramatically better fast either. Yes, Kassian's first career goal cut the Montreal lead in half, and the Wild had a golden opportunity to tie early in the second via an extended power play. But with the final minutes of the game ticking away, and the raucous Canadiens fans sensing an end to the team's five-game losing streak, the Wild finally woke up.
"It was sort of an understanding after the second period," Yeo said, describing the rally. "We were doing some good things but we took a look at what we were doing and how we were being successful and then we had four lines and six defensemen committed to going out and playing that way."
Kassian again cut the lead in half, then Yeo pulled Harding for an extra attacker, just in time for Dany Heatley to snap a shot off the crossbar, then poke the rebound under Montreal goalie Carey Price to make it 4-3.
With Harding off again and less than 10 seconds to play, Devin Setoguchi slipped the puck behind Price and the improbable comeback produced overtime. Setoguchi had another chance to be hero in the shootout, but lost control of the puck en route to the net, and the game ended with the Canadiens victorious.
Kassian was clearly the spark that nobody expected, scoring in the first and third periods, and nearly getting the hat trick in the second. Yeo said clearly one of the keys to the game was getting production from the fourth line, and especially from Kassian.
"Great game for him, but I loved the way he did it, just going to the net," Yeo said. "He's a tough guy to contain."
• 30: Shots in the game for the Wild, after needing more than 13 minutes of the first period to get their first shot on goal.
• 20:14: Time on the ice for Wild defenseman Tom Gilbert, which led all Minnesota players in the game.
• 61: Combined penalty minutes for both teams in the 65-minute game.
• 100: Career goals for Devin Setoguchi.
With key forwards Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse all out of the lineup, a key defensive loss is the last thing the Wild need. But it look like that's what they have, after Backstrom was helped from the ice early in the game.
"I know what it is," Yeo said. "I know it's lower body but I don't know the extent of it."
Prior to the trade deadline, there was rampant talk that the wild would move Harding and pull up Matt Hackett from Houston to serve as the team's backup. Instead Harding, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, is still here, and may have Hackett as his backup if Backstrom's injury proves long-term.
Canadiens - P.K. Subban 5 (Kaberle, Desharnais), 2:33, PPG
Canadiens - Lars Eller 13 (Gomez, Campoli), 4:28, PPG
Wild - Matt Kassian 1 (Powe, Johnson), 15:27
Canadiens - Max Pacioretty 26 (Desharnais, Subban), 11:59, PPG
Canadiens - David Desharnais 14 (Pacioretty, Kaberle), 8:50
Wild - Kassian 2 (Johnson, Prosser), 16:07
Wild - Dany Heatley 20 (Brodziak, Setoguchi), 18:17
Wild - Devin Setoguchi 16 (Cullen, Johnson), 19:50
1. David Desharnais
2. Max Pacioretty
3. P.K. Subban
From the Eastern Conference's worst team to the Western Conference's best team in less than 24 hours. That's the task ahead of the Wild, who made for the airport immediately after the game in Montreal and head to Detroit for a Friday night date with the Red Wings.