Scrappy Saturday for Wild in 3-1 win over Blues
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Back-to-back games with the same team are common in college hockey, and less so in the NHL. But with two former WCHA players behind the benches, and a handful of prominent ex-collegians on the ice, having the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues play a Friday-Saturday series seemed perfectly appropriate.
And that's where the trouble started.
Fortunately for the Wild, the trouble ended with the home team in possession of a 3-1 win, and prominent opponent creating an ugly pool of blood on the ice. The fight between the Wild's Clayton Stoner and the Blues' David Backes after the final horn had sounded featured Stoner splitting open a nasty cut on Backes' forehead and the one-time Minnesota State, Mankato star heading off for stitches.
That was just the last of many dust-ups on the ice as six fighting majors were handed out throughout the course of the game - the Wild's ninth win in the past 11 games. For two teams with no real geographical, divisional or historical rivalry, the physical play was a flashback to the bitter North Stars-Blackhawks battles of a generation ago.
"That's hockey. Just a good battle weekend," said Blues forward T.J. Oshie, who played on this same ice sheet for Warroad High School and for North Dakota before making hockey a paying career. "Obviously we came away with a result we're not happy with but it was an old-school battle. Emotions carried over from last night into tonight. It's fun to play in that atmosphere, guys running around hitting. They just got the best of us these two."
Coupled with Friday night's 5-4 shootout win in St. Louis and Vancouver's Saturday night home win over Calgary, the Wild are back in the playoff equation if the season were to end today. Of course it does not, but the Wild's coach feels that the sudden on-ice intensity comes from that feeling that the clock is ticking on the 2010-11 season.
"When you play back-to-back at this stage and you watch other games and you see what's going on around the league, the games are so big," said Todd Richards. "We've got 28 or 29 to go. They've got one more than us. The games are so important. The game is intense."
Richards' teams are out-shot more often than not - a fact that he claims bothers him not at all. But on this night the Wild was clearly the aggressor, out-shooting the Blues right from the opening faceoff, and weathering a St. Louis storm after building a 3-0 lead which chased Blues starting goalie Jaroslav Halak from the net in the second period.
Richards also claims that he does not know what the team's leading goal scorer, Cal Clutterbuck, likes better, putting the puck in the back of the net, or putting an opponent hard into the boards. Clutterbuck did a little of both on Saturday, scoring his team-leading 17th goal and recording five hits in the game.
"It's probably one of the most encouraging things to know that you can just elevate your game to another level and beat teams that are going to try to crank it up to that level," said Clutterbuck. "That's one of the biggest things in the league today, to be able to keep up with speed."
The Blues' team speed was a problem only once, during a second period power play when Oshie started a play that Patrik Berglund finished, keeping Niklas Backstrom from recording a shutout. But that was Backstrom's only blemish in collecting his 18th win of the season.
He'll likely get a crack at number 19 on Tuesday, when Northwest Division-leading Vancouver visits St. Paul.