Relieved Wild end winless skid with a resounding shutout of Boston
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The wave of relief felt in the Minnesota Wild locker room Sunday afternoon was stunning.
Songs from the Foo Fighters and Tenacious D blared in the background as the smiling players joked and laughed with each other -- a post-game sight that has been rare in the last several weeks.
One couldn't blame them for feeling the need for a brief celebration. Winless in seven straight games, the Wild squashed their losing skid with a resounding 2-0 shutout of the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. It served as their first home victory in almost a month.
"Am I allowed to smile?" coach Mike Yeo said with a grin as he spoke with reporters after the game.
He had plenty of reason to.
Goaltender Niklas Backstrom calmly mounted his best performance of the season, setting a franchise record for saves in a shutout by stopping all 48 shots unleashed by the Bruins.
Freshly recalled center Chad Rau -- in the lineup hours after getting the news of his promotion from the club's AHL affiliate (Houston Aeros) -- notched his second career goal and second game-winner with a line-drive shot in the second period. Yeo said he was told of Rau's availability off the bench five minutes before the opening puck-drop.
Center Matt Cullen added a padding of comfort shortly after by netting his first goal in 16 games, releasing a burden that had weighed heavily on his mind.
"It's nice to provide some offense here. It's been a tough stretch for me and for all of us, Cullen said. "It's a big win, a really big win."
It was without question an imperative, mood-altering victory for the Wild (26-24-9, 61 pts). However, one win only goes so far. The grind to stamp their name in the playoff picture is just beginning if they hope to climb back among the top-eight in the Western Conference. Calgary currently stands in eighth place -- four points in front of the Wild.
"We haven't done a whole lot here. We won one game. It was a tough game and I think it says a lot about our group, but we have a lot of work to do," Yeo said.
A quick glance at the shots on goal numbers after the first period (13-13) gave the impression the Wild were settled into an evenly matched tilt.
But despite the lack of goal production, Boston had wrested full command of the first period. The Bruins set up a bounty of potentially prime scoring chances, while the Wild were floundering to build chemistry throughout their lines.
Momentum abruptly shifted in the second. The Bruins' failure to convert caught up with them. With their defense showing significant resiliency, the Wild went after Boston, who lagged into a state of disinterest.
"It wasn't the best start, but the guys hung in there," Cullen said. "Obviously Backie was outstanding for us. Guys found a way to fight through and get into the game."
Seconds before leaving the ice for a line change midway through the period, left wing Dany Heatley dumped a slick sideways pass to Rau near center ice. Rau took off towards Bruins' goaltender Tim Thomas, rocketing a shot soon after crossing the blue line that settled neatly in the net.
"I just kind of got lucky," Rau said. "I had looked to pass and saw that (teammate Marco Scandella) was a little late, so last-second I decided to shoot. Luckily it went in."
Thrust into a 1-0 lead, the Wild increased the gap to two five minutes later. Cullen, fed the puck atop the Bruins' zone by Devin Setoguchi, rumbled past his defenders unabated, slipping in his team's second goal.
Boston's inability to render a response wasn't because of a lack of trying. Backstrom was under siege in the third period. The Bruins berated him for 22 shots in the final 20 minutes, but he didn't relent. Backstrom prevailed to snare his 26th career shutout.
"He was outstanding tonight, especially early in the game," Yeo said. "For him to look like that and make those saves, it gives us a lot of confidence for us going the rest of the way."
10-1-1: Wild's record in 12 games against the Bruins.
0: Power play goals for the Bruins in 36 chances all-time against the Wild. Boston went 0-for-1 on Sunday.
"I don't know if I've ever had one that long. That was long. It just kept going and going. He's a guy that is in extremely good shape. Not that I don't think I'm in good shape, but oof. You just wanted that thing to keep going."
-- Left wing Matt Kassian, addressing the lengthy gloves-off scrum he had with Boston's Shawn Thorton in the third period. The referees let the duo land an array of punches on each other before finally breaking up the fight several minutes later.
"I can't say how important it was for us to get that win. It was an obviously a demoralizing one yesterday. To find a way to come back and get a win and find a way to keep yourself alive is big."
-- Cullen, when asked about how the Wild rallied after being trounced 4-0 in St. Louis 24 hours earlier.
The NHL suspended center Warren Peters for one-game after his ugly cross-check to the head of St. Blues captain David Backes during a third period scuffle Saturday. Peters was ejected immediately for the hit, while Backes did not return to the ice.
An undisclosed injury sidelined captain Mikko Koivu for the second straight game. Koivu, who did not make the trip Saturday to St. Louis, has battled a shoulder strain that caused him to miss eight games in January and early February.
Defenseman Mike Lundin was placed on injured reserve Sunday as a result of a lower body injury. The move created the vacancy filled by Rau. Having appeared in only 17 games this season, Lundin left midway through last Thursday's loss to Winnipeg.
Following a three-day layoff, the Wild (26-24-9) start a two-game road trip Thursday with a visit to Sunrise, Fla., to the face the Southeast division's top squad -- the Florida Panthers (27-19-11).
Yeo expressed no concerns of the break spoiling the upsurge of momentum gained from Sunday's win.
"We could use a couple practice days to be honest with you," Yeo replied.