'The feeling of playoff hockey,' as Wild beats Avs 3-2
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - The calendar, and the thermometer, clearly state that it's February, not April. But for the Minnesota Wild, approaching recent games with an eye toward the stunningly tight Western Conference standings seems to be working, as wins are coming and the team is staying solidly in the playoff picture.
For the second time in a week, the Wild survived a tight game with its Northwest Division rivals from the Front Range, holding off the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 on Wednesday.
"To me it had the feeling of playoff hockey, just talking about the desperation and physicality to it," Wild coach Todd Richards said. "We scored some timely goals and got some big saves."
It's the same blueprint the Wild used to get a one-goal win over the Avs last week in Denver - get an early lead, play solid defense, don't give up power play goals, and hold off a late charge by the opponent. While all of that worked to perfection, and while it's clear that the Avs are not a team completely in the rear-view mirror just yet, the Wild seems to be clicking at home, finally, after struggling in St. Paul for what seems like months. It was the third consecutive home win for the Wild.
It also served as a reminder that all of the complicated offensive schemes drawn up by the finest minds in hockey are unnecessary if you simply take away the opposing goalie's ability to see. On Thursday folks like Andrew Brunette and Kyle Brodziak didn't show up in the goal-scoring column (Brodziak had one assist) but they repeatedly showed up in front of Colorado goalie Craig Anderson, taking away his eyes while others shot the puck to the back of the net.
"I didn't see the puck at all on the last goal," said Anderson, recalling a shot by John Madden that gave the Wild a 3-1 lead and sent the goalie to the bench for the rest of the night. "It's pretty tough to stop what you don't see."
What the sellout crowd saw was simple, hard-working hockey, that has been successful of late.
"That's the recipe for success," said Brunette, who was honored for his 1,000-plus career games in a lengthy pregame ceremony, and even had the family dog make a much-applauded appearance at the rink. "We're a good team when we're kind of grinding down low."
And the grind is definitely the right word to describe this stretch of the schedule, which has the Wild playing 14 games in the 28 days of February - which equates to one game every other night.
Niklas Backstrom, some argue, is playing even better now than before his hip troubles in late December sidelined him for weeks. He had 23 saves on Wednesday (it's not a shocker that the Wild was out-shot) and said there's a feeling on this team that things are coming together.
"We've got four lines playing hard every night and it's tough to play against a team that keeps coming after you shift after shift. We want to be a team like that," said Backstrom, who is 3-1-0 in his last four starts. "We've been playing some good hockey, but the thing is we can't look in the past. We want to look forward tomorrow, to right now. We're a good team now, but we want to be even better."
They'll have a chance to prove they're better right away. The busy slate gets even busier over the weekend, with back-to-back games Friday in St. Louis and Saturday at home with the Blues.