Wild springs ahead, doesn't fall back, to beat Caps 2-1
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - The end of daylight savings time is still more than a week away, though the Minnesota Wild already seems particularly adept at the whole "spring ahead, fall back" concept. But in a refreshing change on Thursday, the team refused to fall back after springing ahead, in a 2-1 win over the powerful Washington Capitals.
The "spring ahead" part had not been a problem recently, as evidenced by the Wild's 2-0 lead over the Kings earlier in the week. But seeing that lead turn into a 3-2 shootout loss was one of the primary focuses during the week's practices. On Thursday, the brief distraction caused when Martin Havlat's agent squawked about his client's playing time was put aside, and the Wild moved back above .500 at 4-3-2, keeping one of the NHL's best offenses - and arguably the world's best player - off the scoreboard for the first 58 minutes.
"I'm really impressed with the performance of the guys," said a happy coach Todd Richards. "We weren't perfect, but we battled and competed and for most of the game I thought we out-played one of the premiere teams from the East."
For a team plagued by penalties in recent losses, staying out of the penalty box was a key to keeping Washington winless all-time at the Xcel Energy Center. The Caps are now 0-5-1 in St. Paul, which has the only NHL building where they have never won a game. The Wild took just two penalties in the game.
"If we give (Washington) seven power plays, they're going to score twice," Richards said, acknowledging that avoiding penalties had been a topic of much discussion during the week both by him and in players-only meetings.
Keeping the Caps, and dangerous forward Alex Ovechkin, at bay started from the superstar's first shift, when he was flattened by Wild defenseman Brent Burns. That physical play, coupled with 21 saves by Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, had Ovechkin feeling frustrated afterward, despite the fact that he scored Washington's only goal, threading a shot through traffic with 96 seconds left in the game.
"In the third period we wake up or we play different," said Ovechkin. "We didn't make any points in the first two periods. We didn't shoot the puck, we didn't hit their guys, we didn't finish our checks."
On the flip side, the Wild went back to making the man advantage count, getting a goal from Mikko Koivu in the dying seconds of the middle period, with the Caps' Matt Bradley in the penalty box. It snapped an 0-for-9 streak that had many wondering who had turned out the lights on the league's most effective power play unit.
"When you're playing a team like that, it's easy to get into. The emotions are high," said forward Chuck Kobasew, who scored the Wild's first goal off a pretty cross-ice pass from Andrew Brunette. "What we did different tonight was we stayed out of the box. Significantly fewer penalties than last game, when penalties killed us."
It was the first point of the season for Kobasew, who found himself skating on the team's top power play unit despite being hampered by a nagging groin injury. He played through pain, while Antti Miettinen and Guillaume Latendresse could not. Both were out of the lineup on Thursday, making way for Colton Gillies and Casey Wellman - called up from the minor league team in Houston earlier in the day - to see action.
The most intriguing on-ice absence was linesman Mike Cvik, who was scheduled to work the game, but could not because his equipment was lost by an airline during a layover en route to St. Paul. They played with two referees and one linesman until another NHL linesman, Twin Cities resident Thor Nelson, was called in and showed up on the rink in the second period.
With an encouraging win complete, there is little time for the Wild to bask in this glory. Defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago visits St. Paul on Saturday evening.