The Minnesota Wild pulled off another rally on the road. The penalty-prone Anaheim Ducks were kicking themselves again after blowing another early lead and watching the visiting team take the game away from them.
Nick Johnson scored the go-ahead goal with 5:31 left in the third period, and Casey Wellman and Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored 32 seconds apart in the second period, leading the Wild to a 5-3 victory over the Ducks on Sunday night.
This was the third straight road game for Minnesota in which it overcame a two-goal deficit to win. It also was the 11th time this season that Minnesota has won when its opponent scored first, the most in the NHL. The victory ended a streak of 14 straight meetings between the clubs at Honda Center in which the team that scored first won.
”We have a group of guys in there that are not going to quit, they’re not going to give up and look for excuses,” rookie coach Mike Yeo said. ”One thing we can really credit our success with is that we try not to get wrapped up in the score. We just know that it’s about the next shift, going out and playing our game. All it takes is one play to get us right back in there.”
Josh Harding, who took over in net for an injured Niklas Backstrom after the first period of Minnesota’s 4-2 win over New Jersey on Friday night and stopped all 22 shots he faced, made 24 saves against the Ducks in his first start since Nov. 25 while rookie Matt Hackett served as his backup.
Dany Heatley scored a power-play goal and Kyle Clutterbuck added a short-handed empty-netter with 10.2 seconds left for Minnesota in the opener of a five-game trip. Matt Cullen had three assists for Minnesota against his former club.
The victory put the Wild atop the overall NHL standings with 37 points. They are off to their best start in the franchise’s 11-year history at 17-7-3, and have won four straight and nine of 11 – a stretch that began with a 3-2 win over the Ducks on Nov. 13 at Anaheim.
”It’s easy to say it, but we’re kind of walking the walk a little bit,” Cullen said. ”You preach: `Stay with it, stay confident, stay with the game plan and it’s going to come.’ We’re finding a way to stick with it, stay positive on the bench and play our game. That’s a huge key for us.”
Anaheim is 0-2 since recently deposed Washington coach Bruce Boudreau replaced Randy Carlyle behind the bench. The Ducks, who have won just three of their last 21 games, squandered a 2-0 lead just two nights after blowing a 3-0 advantage in Boudreau’s debut – a 4-3 overtime loss to Philadelphia.
”It’s tough when you’re up 3-0 and 2-0 in these games and lose both of them,” reigning MVP Corey Perry said. ”We got away from our game plan again, and once we do that, we’re not the same team. We were sitting on our heels and turning the puck over.”
Ryan Getzlaf, Saku Koivu and Cam Fowler scored for Anaheim and Jonas Hiller made 31 saves in his 200th regular-season game. Teemu Selanne, the Ducks’ career leader in goals, assists, points, power-play goals, game-winners and games played, had two assists in his 800th regular-season game with the club.
Fowler tied it at 3 with 9:15 to play. But Johnson got his fourth goal of the season when he converted a centering pass from Clutterbuck as Johnson and defenseman Luca Sbisa both crashed into Hiller. The puck went in off Johnson’s skate, but a brief video review allowed the goal to stand up.
”It’s a tough play,” Sbisa said. ”The guy threw it to the net, I tried to control the guy’s stick and had his stick up. But it went off his skate and in. I’ve got to try to maybe be more to the inside of him and kept him behind me. It’s frustrating when you lose on a goal like that. That wasn’t the best play on my part, but I’ve got to learn from that.”
Wellman, playing in his third game of the season following his recall from Houston of the AHL last Monday, tied it 2 at 15:18 of the second when he converted Cullen’s centering pass.
”We’re not playing solid in our own end, and that’s why we’re not winning,” Hiller said. ”We were playing well the first 10 minutes, because we were fighting hard, and then we relaxed again. You can have all the skills, but if you’re not working hard in your own end, you’re not going to win any games.”
The Wild took the lead moments later when Bouchard beat Hiller high to the glove side with a 17-foot backhander. At that point, Boudreau called a timeout to settle his team and lift their spirits.
”I said to them: `Don’t hang your head. You look like you’re a beaten crew,”’ Boudreau said. ”If you can’t face adversity in hockey, you’re not going to get anywhere. Pull up your socks and get mad, rather than feeling sorry for yourselves.’ When they got the third goal, it was like, `Oh, woe is us.’ So you’ve got to get that mindset out of them right away and be able to say: `Let’s go get it back.’
A 5-on-3 power play late in the first enabled Minnesota to come off the mat, after Bobby Ryan was sent off for interference and Toni Lydman joined him in 33 seconds later for high-sticking Devin Setoguchi. Heatley beat Hiller on a screened 35-foot slap shot between the circles with just 3.2 seconds left in the period and the Wild still on a two-man advantage.
”That one stemmed from a turnover where you’ve got to get the puck out of your end when you get the opportunity. Good teams do that, and we didn’t,” Boudreau said. ”Then we take the high-sticking penalty, and then made the mistake of chasing with 4 seconds to go in the period. It comes right back to the slot, where there’s nobody covering Heatley – and everybody knows what kind of a shot he’s got. Consequently, it goes in.”
Notes: Of the eight head coaches in Ducks history, Boudreau is the third to lose his first two games. Ron Wilson won on his third try, and Craig Hartsburg on his fourth attempt. … This was the first time in their 17 wins this season that the Wild allowed more than two goals. … Minnesota has won four straight on the road for the first time since a five-game stretch in March 2007.