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Updated: November 3rd, 2011 9:34pm
Matt Cullen scores twice as Wild's offensive drought comes to an end

Matt Cullen scores twice as Wild's offensive drought comes to an end

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Mike Yeo felt it was a matter of time before the Minnesota Wild had a break out game offensively. He might have been one of the few to hold this belief.

The Wild opened the season with a four-goal performance against Columbus, but had not equalled that total since. The Wild hadn't scored more than two goals in eight consecutive games and had played five one-goal games in a row. 

But Yeo's faith was rewarded Thurday night as the Wild had its most dominant performance of the season, scoring three second-period goals and getting two third-period scores from Matt Cullen in a 5-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at Xcel Energy Center.

The victory was the Wild's third in a row and came in a game in which they got a single-game home record 45 shots on goal.

"We don't expect that every game, but we've been generating some chances and we haven't capitalized on them at the rate that we'd like to," said Yeo, in his first season as the Wild's coach. "I think offensively we took another step tonight, and hopefully this is a game we can build off of as far as the number of chances and number of opportunities we created in shooting the puck. Certainly we will use this game as an opportunity to reinforce that message with our group. It's amazing what it can do for you."

The Wild fell behind 1-0 after one period, but unlike some games this season in which giving up a goal has deflated them, the Wild just kept creating chances against Canucks goalie Cory Schneider.

After outshooting the Canucks 12-8 in the first, the Wild got second-period goals from Guillaume Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Marco Scandella. It was the team's first three-goal period of the season.

"I think everybody knows we have the talent to get those kind of games," Latendresse said. "It's just a matter of time of when it's going to click and when everybody's going to feel good about their game. I think tonight everybody felt good, everybody worked hard and the puck went in."

The game marked the third start in a row for goalie Josh Harding.

Harding, starting ahead of Niklas Backstrom, had been brilliant in back-to-back starts against the Detroit Red Wings, stopping 36 shots in a 1-0 victory last Saturday and 36 more in a 2-1 overtime victory on Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena.

Harding did not have to singlehandedly hold the Wild in Thursday's game as he made 24 saves. Harding gave credit to Schneider, who stoped 40 shots, saying, "I thought their goalie played fantastic." 

The skinny

The Canucks took a 1-0 lead at 2 minutes, 20 seconds of the opening period when defenseman Dan Hamhuis lifted the puck past Harding after a centering pass from Alexandre Burrows.

But the Wild rebounded to begin putting pressure on Schneider, who made the start over No. 1 goalie Roberto Luongo.

The Wild's two best scoring chances of the opening period came from Dany Heatley and Cullen.

Heatley took a stetch pass from Jared Spurgeon with 10:40 left, made two nice moves to get around former Gophers defenseman Keith Ballard and fired a shot from the slot that was stopped by Schneider.

Five minutes later Cullen had an opportunity from in front but Schneider again made the save.

The Wild tied the score with 15:13 left in the second period when Guillaume Latendresse skated in on Schneider, made a move around defenseman Kevin Bieksa and then got off a backhand shot that bounced off Schneider's mask into the net.

Twenty-one seconds later, Cullen fed Pierre-Marc Bouchard with a pass in the circle to the right of Schneider. Bouchard blasted a slap shot past the goalie for his first goal of the season to make it 2-1.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault called time out to settle his team down.

The Wild continued to get chances and went up by two goals at 17:05 of the period when Kyle Brodziak fed Marco Scandella and the defenseman''s slap shot from just above the right circle beat Schneider. Brodziak also served as a screen on the play.

The goal was Scandella's first since opening night.

The Canucks nearly pulled within a goal at 17:32 when Vancouver center Ryan Kessler took a feed from the side of the net while being tied up by Nick Schultz and directed a shot past Harding.

The puck, however, rode the goal line as it made its way toward the far post and a review proved it never completely crossed the line.

Harding came up with a big save late in the second period with Schultz off for delay of game. Kessler took a feed alone in front and put a low shot on Harding that he was able to stop before a pile up occurred.

"He obviously wasn't tested like he was in the Detroit game," Yeo said of Harding. "But I thought that when he was he was great. ... It's a good sign because as a goalie you're going to see different types of games and this is a different game for him than the Detroit game was.

"He wasn't as busy as in those games. You've got those longer moments when you have to be able to keep your focus and stay sharp and stay on top of your game. I thought he did a great job of that."

Cullen increased the Wild's lead to 4-1 at 6:08 when he moved down the left wing side, put a move on a Canucks defenseman and then snapped a shot from in deep over Schneider and just inside the crossbar. Cullen added his second of the game at 17:52.

"It was a good night," said Cullen, who leads the Wild with six goals and is tied for the team lead with eight points. "My linemates (Bouchard and Devin Setoguchi) were both jumping and we were on the puck. We have three guys that can really skate. I think tonight that we made it hard on them. We took away a lot of space and time and when we create those turnovers in the offensive end the three of us have some pretty decent skills."

Things got heated between the Northwest Division rivals with 5:19 left in the game when Brodziak entered an already-in-progress skirmish near the Vancouver bench. The Canucks' Maxim Lapierre attempted to lift the Wild's Cal Cluttberbuck into the bench. Both players received 10-minute misconducts.

Clutterbuck appeared to end up hitting a linesman during the scuffle. That is something the NHL will review.

"I'm sure they will look at it," Yeo said. "I looked at it and I know what happened. He's got one guy draped on him, he's got somebody grabbing him from the (Vancouver) bench and he can't see what's going on.

"He's just trying to protect himself. So I know that for sure, he's the last person that would want to do anything like that. He's just trying to protect himself and can't see what's going on."

Turning point

The Wild had quality chances on Schneider in the first period, but the tide did not turn until Latendresse scored early in the second.

That goal gave the Wild all the momentum in the second meeting of the season between the teams. The Wild lost, 3-2, in overtime on Oct. 22 at Vancouver.

Numbers game

• 25: Shots the Wild have averaged per game this season.

• 45: Shots the Wild had Thursday night, a record for a Wild home game. It was the fourth time the Wild has ever topped 40 shots at home.

• 43: The Wild's previous single-game high for shots in a game at home. That came on Jan. 10, 2003 in a 2-1 victory over Phoenix.

• 9: Shots by Wild center Matt Cullen in the game. He finished with two goals and an assist.

• 7: Shots by Wild left winger Dany Heatley. He finished with no points on the night.

• 22: The Wild's shot total in the second period Thursday. It was the team's most in a single period since it had 23 on March 22, 2009 against Edmonton.

• 12: Consecutive penalties the Wild have killed, including five on Thursday.

• 4-0-2: The Wild's record when giving up the game's first goal. The Wild went 8-31-4 last season in those situations.

• 0-3-1: The Wild's record in its past four games against Vancouver entering Thursday.

• 3-9-2: Robert Luongo's record at Xcel Energy Center. That is certainly one reason he got the night off. Luongo's 3.56 goals-against average at Xcel Energy Center is his second-highest in any arena. Luongo has a 3.65 GAA in Anaheim. His .873 saves percentage at Xcel is his lowest in any arena.

Health watch

Defensemen Clayton Stoner (hand) and Greg Zanon (groin) missed Thursday's game. Defenseman Mike Lundin (back) also remains out and has yet to play this season.

Summary

First period: Vancouver - Dan Hamhuis 1 (Alexandre Burrows, Daniel Sedin), 2:20.

Second period: Wild - Guillaume Latendresse 2 (Marek Zidlicky), 4:47. Wild - Pierre-Marc Bouchard 1 (Matt Cullen, Jared Spurgeon), 5:08. Wild - Marco Scandella 2 (Kyle Brodziak, Colton Gillies), 17:05.

Third period: Wild - Cullen 5 (Bouchard, Nick Schultz), 6:08. Wild - Cullen 6 (Devin Setoguchi, Bouchard), 17:52. 

Shots: Canucks 8-8-9-25; Wild 12-22-11-45. Saves: Canucks, Cory Schneider (45-40); Wild, Josh Harding (25-24). Power play: Canucks 0-for-5, Wild 0-3.

Three stars

1. Matt Cullen

2. Marco Scandella

3. Guillaume Latendresse

Coming up

The Wild will complete a two-game homestand at 7 p.m. Saturday against. St. Louis. The Wild will then hit the road for a five-game trip to Calgary, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and Columbus. The Wild won't return to Xcel Energy Center until Nov. 17 when they will face Colorado.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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