Niklas Backstrom was supposed to be a spectator when the Minnesota Wild visited the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday afternoon.
Instead, the goalie was called into action for the first time since suffering a concussion on Nov. 13 when starter Josh Harding was injured during the warmup.
Backstrom made a smooth transition, turning aside 37 shots before teammate Charlie Coyle scored the winner in the fourth round of the 3-2 shootout victory.
”You have to be ready all the time and you never know what’s going to happen so you have to find a way to be ready and be at your best,” Backstrom said after picking up his second win of the season.
Harding suffered a lower-body injury in the warmup after he slipped on a puck.
Backstrom was returning from his first concussion, suffered after an elbow to the head by Nazem Kadri on Nov. 13 that led to the Toronto forward being suspended for three games. His first full practice was Friday.
Wild backup goalie Darcy Kuemper was on his way to Iowa of the AHL, but was contacted at the Winnipeg airport and whisked to the MTS Centre to sit on the bench in case Backstrom needed relief.
”He (Backstrom is) the difference in the game for us,” Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said.
”I mean, obviously I give our players a great deal of credit for dealing with the adversity with what happened at the beginning of the game. It’s a little bit easier to deal with it when you see your goalie go out and play the way that he was.
”In the first period, we just weren’t good enough by any stretch and he kept us in it and gave us a chance to continue to find our game and it’s a real credit to Backy.”
Minnesota moved to 15-5-4 and has won six of its past seven games and is 9-1-1 in November.
The loss extended Winnipeg’s losing streak to four games (0-2-2).
It was the Jets’ eighth shootout of the season and third loss. Pavelec made 33 saves.
Aside from Coyle, who deked to beat Pavelec for his first career shootout goal, Mikko Koivu also scored in the shootout. Bryan Little beat Backstrom for the Jets.
Michael Frolik and Matt Halischuk each had a goal and assist for Winnipeg (10-11-4).
Nino Niederreiter and Zach Parise scored for Minnesota, with Parise’s 11th of the season sending the game into overtime. Parise added an assist and has 12 points in his past 10 games.
Jets coach Claude Noel said his team played a pretty good game against the surging Wild.
”They’ve been the best team in the National Hockey League in the month of November,” Noel said. ”It’s not been an easy task. We’ve lost to them 2-1, 2-1 and now 3-2 in a shootout so we’re close, we’re getting there.”
Winnipeg was ahead 2-1 and it looked as if the lead might be secure when Wild defenseman Marco Scandella was called for hooking at 14:02.
But the Wild had no problem being short-handed.
Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu and Parise got on a 3-on-2 breakaway and Parise fired a low shot past Pavelec at 15:05.
”The puck got rimmed around, didn’t quite make it to the defenseman and boom, they came back 3-on-2,” Noel said.
Pavelec thought his teammates played better, but was lamenting not getting two points.
”The way we lost today, it’s disappointing,” Pavelec said. ”We had the game. We had it. We should close it up. We didn’t and we lost the point.”
After a scoreless first period in which Winnipeg outshot the Wild 14-4, Frolik scored his sixth goal of the season in the second when the Wild turned the puck over just outside their blue line.
Frolik got the puck and sent a pass to Halischuk, who fired high at Backstrom. The puck went into the air and then onto the ice near the crease, where Frolik was on the spot to flip it into the net at 13:07.
Minnesota tied 1-1 at 3:21 of the third when Scandella took a pass from Parise and fired a shot from the high slot. Niederreiter got the rebound and put it past Pavelec.
The Jets regained the lead just over two minutes later after Halischuk took advantage of his own rebound to score his second of the season.
Wild forward Jason Zucker broke up a 2-on-1 rush as Evander Kane was about to shoot and Devin Setoguchi’s low shot was stopped by Backstrom.
Notes: Winnipeg embarks on a six-game road trip, beginning Monday in New Jersey. Minnesota finishes a four-game road trip in St. Louis on Monday. … Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart returned after missing 10 games with a hip injury.