Sweet 17: Cullen delivers in regulation, shootout as Wild top Oilers
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Matt Cullen scored three even strength goals all of last season, his first with his home-state hockey club. On Thursday, in the Minnesota Wild's fourth game of this season, Cullen got his third even strength goal and added another in the shootout, as the Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 2-1.
Trailing 1-0 after a sluggish first period, the Wild (2-1-1) got Cullen's goal in the second, then completely dominated the Oilers for the final 20 minutes of regulation, forcing repeated turnovers by the Edmonton defense, but not finding another way to score. In overtime, the Wild moved the puck well and had a two-minute power play, but still could not solve goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. Until the shootout, that is.
Cullen and Devin Setoguchi scored for the Wild, while Niklas Backstrom allowed only one goal on four Oilers attempts as Minnesota won its first Northwest Division game of the season and beat the Oilers for the 17th consecutive time at home.
He'll never admit it, but heading into Thursday night's shootout, Backstrom may have been a little nervous. In the decisive moments of the Wild's previous game -- a shootout loss in Ottawa earlier in the week -- the Finnish netminder had faced three shots and saw all three get past him in the shootout.
Wild coach Mike Yeo called Backstrom to the bench and the two spoke briefly before the shootout began on Thursday.
"I gave him a little pat on the back, and that's it," Yeo said. "I don't have to say much to him. He's a great goalie."
Prior to that point, Backstrom may have been getting sleepy back there, as not much happened in his end of the rink during the third period and overtime. Yeo said despite the inability to get a second puck past Khabibulin in regulation or overtime, he had a feeling of confidence that when you dominate a team the way that the Wild were dominating Edmonton, you're going to find a way to win, eventually.
For Cullen, it's been the start to the season that he expected when he came to the Wild. It's just coming 12 months later than he expected.
"It's kind of positive affirmation that we're doing things the right way and that our game can be really good when we play our way," said the Moorhead native, who won a Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006. "Anytime we've done that so far in this young season we've been really effective and taking it to teams, so that's a confidence-booster for us."
The Wild trailed after a sleepy first period, in which Edmonton's Ryan Smyth got the only goal. Then came the wakeup call, as Minnesota scored in the second and completely dominated play in the third.
• 17: Consecutive home wins by the Wild over the Oilers, tying the current NHL record held by the Predators, who have won 17 straight versus the Blue Jackets in Nashville.
• 15-1: Shots on goal advantage by the Wild in the third period.
• 0: Shots on goal by the Wild in their overtime power play.
• 15,878: Tickets sold on Thursday, making it the smallest home crowd in Wild history.
While the Wild escaped unscathed, the Oilers suffered a big loss early when alternate captain Ales Hemsky had to leave the game with a shoulder injury.
"He was really flying around early," said Oilers coach Tom Renney. "He was really good tonight and it's unfortunate he got hurt. The game was definitely different when he left."
Oilers - Ryan Smyth 1 (Belanger, Eberle), 11:40
Wild - Matt Cullen 3 (Latendresse), 8:18
Shots: Wild 9-10-15-1-35; Oilers 12-7-1-2-22. Saves: Wild, Niklas Backstrom (20-22); Oilers, Nikolai Khabibulin (34-35). Power plays: Wild 0-for-4, Oilers 0-2.
With the Timberwolves not playing and the Gopher football team idle, wouldn't it makes sense that the ticket-buying public would spend some money in St. Paul. That's what the Wild higher-ups are hoping at least as the team hosts Detroit on Saturday night.
"This is where we have to build as a team," Yeo said. "Our challenge now is not just the fact that we're playing the Detroit Red Wings in the next game. We have to find a way to make sure that our game is at the level we're playing at tonight."