Rustproofing: After slow start, Backstrom delivers Wild shootout win
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Sometimes it takes patience and persistence to see the beauty in a display that others find disappointing. Wait around long enough, and the ugliness can turn to joyfulness.
That may be the case of the season's second half for the Minnesota Wild, or at least an army of fans is hoping so. Step one in that direction happened on Tuesday night, as the team turned in a performance that was rusty, save for the play between the pipes, but hung around long enough to get a much-needed win anyway.
Out-shot for the game, and out-played for long stretches, the Wild emerged from the All-Star break undefeated, as goalie Niklas Backstrom stopped the 25 shots that came his way in regulation, two more in overtime, and both Los Angeles Kings attempts in a shootout. Pierre Marc-Bouchard was the only player on either team to beat a goalie all night, as his backhand shot slipped between the pads of Kings netminder Jonathan Bernier in round two of the shootout, giving the Wild a 1-0 win.
But it would be wrong to credit anyone but Backstrom for earning a victory on this night, as the offense looked lifeless for both teams during long stretches, and it became a defensive battle early on. The Kings, picked to be a Stanley Cup contender by many in the preseason, are quickly emerging as one of the league's great disappointments. But the Los Angelenos fired enough pucks to keep Backstrom and the team's shot-blockers busy all night.
"We knew they shoot a lot of pucks and they have a couple big guys on that team that like to go to the net," said Wild defenseman Greg Zanon, who had a season-high seven blocked shots in the game. "Our big emphasis for the D men was boxing out so (Backstrom) could see the puck. If we couldn't do that, we had to block it for him."
The goalie did his own amazing job of blocking in the shootout. Facing Kings defenseman Jack Johnson, Backstrom was beaten when Johnson made a nice moved and faked the goalie down, leaving lots to shoot at.
"From the bench, all I saw was open net," said Wild coach Todd Richards. But as he was sliding toward the post, Backstrom kicked his right leg up in the air, and Johnson's shot glanced off the goalie's skate.
"I just tried to wait him out. I tried to get him down and thought I had him waited out," said Johnson, whose team was playing the first of 10 straight on the road thanks to the NBA All-Star Game's complete takeover of Staples Center. "He stuck his pad up and I hit him in the toe. I've got to tip my hat to him. He made a great save."
Backstrom, who recorded his second shutout in the last four starts, admitted that he was beaten, and somehow recovered, on the play.
"He had me beat so I tried just to get something up there and got lucky," he said, after giving the Wild its first shootout win in six tries this season. "It hit my skate. You need those every now and then."
All but lost in the details was the fact that Wild winger Andrew Brunette played in his 1000th NHL game on Tuesday. Even he was let down by the effort, if not the end result.
"It wasn't very pretty to watch, that's for sure," said Brunette, who admitted he was touched by the standing ovation fans gave him at one point. "It was a little bit of a sleeper, and I think you get those after breaks."
As long as those sleepers come with two points at the end, and another step toward getting into the playoff picture, the Wild and the fans seem happy to wade through a lot of slow going to get to the good stuff, eventually.