Rau scores his first NHL goal as Wild celebrate Hockey Day with a win
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - The debate rages about whether Hockey Day in Minnesota is a true celebration of the game, or just a made-for-TV hype-fest. In any case, there was a celebratory nature to Saturday's Minnesota Wild game, where the team that has struggled for better than a month busted out in a big way.
A trio of quick goals in the second period turned a deficit into a commanding lead as the Wild blasted past the Dallas Stars 5-2.
And in the nature of celebrating hockey in Minnesota, a kid from the suburbs playing his first NHL game scored the game-winner. Eden Prairie native Chad Rau, called up from the minors on Thursday, scored in the second period when his shot across the front of the Dallas goalmouth deflected off a Stars stick and into the net.
Afterward, Rau was something close to speechless, describing his first NHL game, and goal, with his family looking on. And that was before he was congratulated by teammates with a celebratory shaving cream pie to the face. It was a fitting element to a locker room that had an air of a huge weight being lifted off the team. Even the coach was in a joking mood, quoting movie lines from "Bull Durham" in the post-game press conference.
"I'll start by quoting the great Nuke Laloosh and say that winning is way better than losing," Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
This one looked initially like another forgettable night, as the Stars scored the only goal of the opening period, in which the Wild mustered just five shots. Dallas' goal came via a deflection by Eric Nystrom.
Nystrom, you may recall, signed a three-year, $4.2 million contract with the Wild prior to the start of last season, then responded with his worst year in the NHL, with just four goals. He was waived by the Wild at the end of the preseason and ended up in Dallas, where he has bounced back nicely. Saturday's goal was his 14th of the season for the Stars, who, like the Wild, started the day on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoff field.
After Philip Larsen's second period goal gave Dallas a 2-1 lead, the Wild seemed to say enough is enough. A pair of fights between Darroll Powe and the Stars' Steve Ott got the bench and the crowed going, the defense started forcing turnovers, and then the offense cranked up.
"The one thing we've kind of gotten away from is doing it for each other, and it did feel like we got it back tonight," said Cal Clutterbuck, who scored his 12th goal of the season to start a record-setting second period rally. "We were on our toes. We created a lot more turnovers in the neutral zone than we have in a long time. It was having the mentality of just being ready to go north with it."
By the start of the third, Dallas starting goalie Kari Lehtonen had been chased from the nets, and Dany Heatley added a dagger of an early goal against Richard Bachman as the Wild cruised.
Trailing 2-1, the Wild got goals from Clutterbuck, Rau and Kyle Brodziak in a span of 59 seconds to grab a 4-2 lead. The trio of goals set a team record.
• 6: Goals scored by the Wild in their recent four-game road trip, in which they were 0-3-1. They scored five goals on Saturday.
• 3: Points notched by Dany Heatley, marking his first three-point game as a member of the Wild.
• 1: Goals scored by Eric Nystrom at Xcel Energy Center in each of the past two seasons.
• 1/09/10: The last time the Wild scored four goals in a period, versus Chicago.
With three key forwards (Guillaume Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Mikko Koivu) all missing due to injury, the Wild called up a quartet from Houston earlier in the week. All of them (Rau, Matt Kassian, Jed Ortmeyer and Nate Prosser) played a role in the win, which did not go unnoticed by the coach.
"In a perfect world you don't have to make any of those tough decisions and everything keeps on being easy, but nothing's been easy for us lately," Yeo said.
Stars - Eric Nystrom 14 (Robidas, Fiddler), 18:38
Wild - Devin Setoguchi 10 (Heatley, Prosser), 9:06, PPG
Stars - Philip Larsen 1 (Goligoski, Ericsson), 11:03
Wild - Cal Clutterbuck 12 (Cullen, Setoguchi), 13:37
Wild - Chad Rau 1 (McMillan, Ortmeyer), 13:51
Wild - Kyle Brodziak 13 (Heatley, Spurgeon), 14:36
Wild - Dany Heatley 14 (Peters, Zanon), 1:29
Shots: Wild 5-14-7-26; Stars 11-7-7-25. Saves: Wild, Josh Harding (23-25); Stars, Kari Lehtonen (14-18), Richard Bachman (6-7). Power plays: Wild 1-for-3, Stars 0-1.
One game remains before the All-Star break. On Tuesday the Wild travel to Denver to face the Avalanche, before getting a much-needed break of six days, while the NHL's best go to Ottawa for the All-Star festivities.