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Updated: December 31st, 2011 8:39pm
Winning streak is short-lived as Wild fall to Coyotes

Winning streak is short-lived as Wild fall to Coyotes

by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Sometimes, New Year's Eve is a time for celebration. Other times, when you've been struggling, turning the calendar over means looking forward to a fresh start. For the Minnesota Wild, it's definitely the latter.

"I'm ready to close out December, and bring on January," said a harried-looking Wild coach Mike Yeo.

In their final outing of 2011, the Wild surrendered a pair of goals two minutes apart early in the third period and eventually fell 4-2 to the Phoenix Coyotes.

Matt Cullen got a penalty shot goal to ignite the crowd and light a fire under his team midway through the third period. But they could not get another puck past Coyotes goalie Curtis McElhinney. It was the ninth loss in their last 10 games for the Wild.

The skinny

For as long as any of us can remember, the goals and the shots on goal are the only stats they display on the scoreboard at NHL games. There has been increased noise about finding new stats (ala baseball) to measure effectiveness, as those two numbers are not always indicative of who's dominating a game.

Case in point: The Wild had a 1-0 lead at one point in the second period, after Pierre-Marc Bouchard capped a gritty drive to the net. The advantage came despite the fact that the Coyotes were dominating the game just about everywhere. And indeed, by the early stages of the third period, Phoenix's mastery of the Wild showed in both numbers on the scoreboard.

Radim Vrbata scored a pair of goals 2:01 apart to give the Coyotes a 3-1 lead, and Ray Whitney ended the evening with an empty-net goal, sending a sellout crowd of Wild fans out onto the St. Paul streets to say farewell to 2011 in a dour mood.

"The game slipped away in the first period. You could see it," the coach said. "We just couldn't find a new level. In the second period we couldn't find another level, and coming out in the third period it caught up with us."

After Cullen was hauled down on the way to the net, and scored on the ensuing penalty shot, the Wild finally captured momentum and out-shot the Coyotes by a 2-to-1 margin in the third period. But McElhinney, making his first start for Phoenix, kept the Wild from tying the game, and Whitney ended the drama.

"It was unfortunate that the penalty shot did give them a bunch of momentum, but I liked the way our guys weathered, and we got the saves when we needed them," said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett. "Both of our teams play similar styles, so if you get the saves or get the breaks in the game, it can dictate the outcome. Tonight we got the breaks and made the plays."

In the other net, Niklas Backstrom was solid for much of the game, but didn't get much help from a Wild defensive corps that gave the puck away numerous times.

"Not good enough, that's for sure," said Backstrom, who had 26 saves. "It's every guy here. Just for us to find a way. Start fresh, start the new year and go one game at a time. There's a lot of hockey left."

Turning point

The Coyotes spent 40 minutes taking the game to the Wild in both ends of the rink, and had little to show for it. That changed quickly early in the third period, when Vrbata turned a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 lead for the visitors by scoring on consecutive shifts.

Numbers game

• 14-for-25: The Wild's all-time mark in penalty shots.
• 5-4-0: The Wild's all-time home record on New Year's Eve.
• 19: Goals by the Coyotes Daymond Langkow in 45 career games versus the Wild.
• 4: Goals by Bouchard in the Wild's last six games.

Health watch

Jarod Palmer showed just how quickly one's NHL fortunes can change during the Wild's win over Edmonton on Thursday. In the second period of that game, the Fridley native scored his first NHL goal. By the time the final horn sounded, he was on the bench with an upper body injury. The Wild placed Palmer on injured reserve on Saturday and called up Jed Ortmeyer from Houston to fill that spot. The better news was Jared Spurgeon's return to the lineup after missing two games with a lower body ailment.


Summary

First period
No scoring

Second period
Wild - Pierre-Marc Bouchard 9 (Johnson, Cullen), 6:19
Coyotes - Daymond Langkow 6 (unassisted), 15:02, PPG

Third period
Coyotes - Radim Vrbata 17 (Whitney), 4:15
Coyotes - Vrbata 18 (Chipchura, Yandle), 6:16
Wild - Matt Cullen 10 (unassisted), 8:12, Penalty Shot
Coyotes - Ray Whitney 14 (Klesla), 19:41, ENG

Shots: Wild 8-8-14-30; Coyotes 10-13-7-30. Saves: Wild, Niklas Backstrom (26-29); Coyotes, Curtis McElhinney (28-30). Power plays: Wild 0-for-1, Coyotes 1-3.

Three stars
1. Radim Vrbata
2. Matt Cullen
3. Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Coming up

The Wild get a few days off to welcome 2012 before hitting the road for western Canada once again. A two game Northwest Division road trip is up next as Minnesota travels to Vancouver on Wednesday and Calgary on Saturday.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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