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Updated: November 19th, 2011 10:48pm
Standout night by Mikko Koivu propels Wild to shootout win over Blues

Standout night by Mikko Koivu propels Wild to shootout win over Blues

by Nate Sandell
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Mikko Koivu underwent an offensive awakening on Saturday.

The Minnesota Wild captain scored a pair of goals -- only his second and third of the season -- to boost his team to a come-from-behind, 3-2 shootout win over the St. Louis Blues. With less than two minutes left, Koivu's second goal propelled the Wild into overtime, and eventually a shootout, where he and Matt Cullen capped off their team's fourth-straight victory with consecutive scores.

"He was so good and he really stepped up and took charge of the game, basically took over," Cullen said of Koivu. "Very happy for him. He works his tail off and it's nice to see guys like that get rewarded."

Koivu's scoring output this season has been small, which has drawn criticism from media and fans around the NHL, but his constant, stabilizing presence is a major reason for the Wild's current resurgence.

"I don't understand the scrutiny. I don't. I don't get it," coach Mike Yeo said after the game. "The guy is the captain of our team. The guy is a complete team-first guy and all he wants to do is win hockey games for the Minnesota Wild. And he does it every single night."

The soft-spoken, seven-year center -- always one to deflect credit to his teammates -- was a tad more understated about his standout night.

"It's not about one guy or one line. It takes us all. And I think we realize that," Koivu said. "We've been doing a lot of good things day-in-and-day-out that we just got to believe that sooner or later it's going to pay off and you get some wins. And we've been winning lately and that's a great feeling."

Josh Harding -- in net for the first time since surrendering five goals against Los Angeles last week -- anchored the Wild's solid defensive outing, and was back to his nearly impenetrable ways that sparked the team's first four-game win streak at the start of November. Facing 27 shots, Harding came up with a number of key saves, including two in the shootout.

Saturday's win held added significance for the Wild, who are now atop the NHL standings with fellow Western Conference-foe Chicago (27 points).

"Is that right?" Cullen said when told of the development. "That's a nice spot to be in."

The skinny

Lacking offensive energy early on, the Wild succumbed to an abrupt attack by the Blues midway through the first period. David Backes knocked in a goal off the feed from former Warroad high school star T.J. Oshie to put St. Louis out front.

With the Blues in command, the Wild's slow start continued throughout the opening period, as their scoring opportunities were kept to minimum thanks to St. Louis' high-pressure defense.

St. Louis had a chance in the second to pad its lead when Cal Clutterbuck was sent to the penalty box on a questionable charging call. But instead, it was the Wild who took advantage.

Playing down a man, Koivu caught a St. Louis defender making a lazy attempt for the clearance from behind the Wild's net. Koivu corralled the puck to the right of goaltender Jaroslav Halak, and made a swift move on the wrap-around to sneak in the tying goal.

After a 26-minute scoreless stretch, the Blues snatched momentum when Oshie deflected in a goal off a wobbly pass from Steen. A one-goal lead seemed to be all St. Louis would need as the Wild continued to be baffled by Halak. The home team, however, started to gain ground late in the period, going with a relentless attack up-and-down the ice.

"We tried to do that all game long and we just couldn't keep it up," Koivu said. "I think the last ten minutes, shift-after-shift, we really went after them and created the momentum."

That was until, with the Wild on the power play, Jared Spurgeon found Koivu all alone to the left of the net, leaving him to unleash the tying goal with 1:38 remaining.

"There was a strong belief we were going to get (the tying goal), it was just a matter of time," Cullen said. "That's a pretty powerful thing for a team to have that and we're growing that."

Neither team relented in overtime, setting up the decisive shootout. Pierre-Marc Bouchard missed on the Wild's initial attempt, but Koivu and Cullen scored back-to-back, while Harding stopped the potential tying goal from the Blues' Kevin Shattenkirk to seal the 2-1 shootout win.

Numbers game

9: Career short-handed goals for Koivu, drawing within five of Wes Walz's team record.

32: Shots on goal by the Wild.

4-for-4: Cullen's conversion rate in shootouts this season.

52: Minutes played by the Blues before incurring their first penalty of the game off a holding call on Ian Cole in the third period. They went on to tack one more, which resulted in Koivu's tying goal.

0-for-2: St. Louis' stat line on the power play.

Scoring Summary

First period

• St. Louis -- David Backes (7), assist by T.J. Oshie (7), 10:39. Blues 1, Wild 0

Second period

• Wild -- Mikko Koivu (2) shorthanded goal, unassisted, 2:37. Wild 1, Blues 1

Third period

• St. Louis - Oshie (6), assists by Alexander Steen (6) and Backes (5), 11:35. Blues 2, Wild 0

• Wild - Koivu (3) on the power play, assists by Jared Spurgeon (4) and Cal Clutterbuck (2), 1:38. Wild 2, Blues 2


No scoring

Shootout (Wild 2-1)

• Wild -- Pierre-Marc Bouchard (miss), Koivu (goal), Cullen (goal)

• St. Louis -- Steen (miss), Oshie (goal), Kevin Shattenkirk (miss)

Three stars

1. Mikko Koivu

2. Matt Cullen

3. Jaroslav Halak

Health watch

Guillaume Latendresse suffered a concussion on Nov. 10 against San Jose and was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. To fill his spot, the Wild signed Kris Fredheim to a one-year deal.

Marek Zidlicky (upper body), who was injured during last week's road trip, was scratched from the lineup again Saturday.

• Defensemen Mike Lundin (back) and Greg Zanon (groin) remain on injured reserve.

Coming up

A five-game West Coast road trip in mid-November has given way to the Wild's longest homestand of the season. Following a three-day break, they return to the ice Wednesday against Nashville (7 p.m. FSN) in the third of six consecutive home games.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to
Email Nate | @nsandell