ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu saw an opportunity, so he circled in front with the puck eyeing a shot attempt on the Florida Panthers goal in the third period on Friday night.
As Koivu turned in the faceoff circle, two Florida defenders converged and knocked him off the puck. Former Minnesota Gophers star Nick Bjugstad corralled the loose puck and went up ice. He was defended at the blue line and lost the puck, which slid right to Jonathan Huberdeau who snapped a shot past Wild goaltender Josh Harding to tie the game 2-all.
Koivu knew his turnover had cost his team. He made sure he atoned for the mistake.
Koivu fed Charlie Coyle, who had boxed out a defender right in front of Panthers’ goaltender Tim Thomas, for the game-winning goal with 8 minutes, 22 seconds left and Minnesota recovered after giving up a two-goal lead to win its third straight game 3-2 against Florida. The Wild now has points in seven straight games (6-0-1) and their 28 points (12-4-4) set a franchise record for the most points through the first 20 games of a season.
“Obviously teams are going to take advantage of that and I think we have to learn from that,” Koivu said of the Minnesota letting up after leading 2-0 into the third period. “The good thing is we got a win. So that’s the good thing.
“Their tying goal, that was a mistake by me, a turnover. So, myself, I have to learn from that. And obviously mistakes happen, but just have to be smart with the puck. But the good thing is we got it back on the next shift, so that’s a good feeling.”
Coyle’s game-winner was his second goal of the season and he has two goals and two assists in five games since returning from a knee injury. Zach Parise scored his 10th goal of the season, a power-play marker to give him six power-play goals on the season, tied for second in the NHL.
Jason Pominville added his team-leading 12th goal of the season, while Josh Harding made 22 saves and is now 11-2-2 this season with a league-leading 1.26 goals-against average.
Coach Mike Yeo appreciated Koivu, the team’s captain, taking responsibility for the tying goal and the recovery to make up for one bad play, and the message that goes along with the response.
“To me, I love that,” Yeo said. “I love that he said that. Because he played a great game and was huge in helping us win this game, and here he is taking ownership for playing. And that’s what you want from your players, you want them having the idea the mentality that every play is the difference in the game. And I love that he says that. I love the way that he responded afterwards. That’s what you want. That’s leadership.”
Koivu had two first assists for his second multi-point game of the season, and none were bigger to him than his pass to Coyle for the game-winner. Koivu said he felt he needed to get the Wild back on top after his turnover negated the lead.
“Yeah, you do,” Koivu said of feeling the need to respond. “Well, you can’t force that obviously, but I think mistakes are kind of part of the game. But when you recognize it’s on you, basically, when you lose the puck in the zone that you should not lose it, you know that and obviously you want to get it back. You went to get that goal back and it’s a tight game at that point. So we really wanted that and it’s a good thing Charlie put it in.”
Coyle used his big body to shield Florida defenseman Mike Mottau and Koivu skated around behind the net and sent a centering pass in front to Coyle, who snuck the puck past the left pad of Thomas.
“Well, I know he’s strong when he gets in front of that net,” Koivu said of Coyle. “He’s a big body, tough to handle for the ‘D.’ So, I knew he was there. Happened quick, good way to finish that. He played a strong game and he’s just getting stronger and stronger each and every day.”
The Wild are now 9-1-2 in their last 12 games and are 9-1-2 at home.
“If you’re going to have success, then you’re going to have to win games different ways and you’re going to need to have different people contributing at different times,” Yeo said. “We talk about this a lot: if we’re doing the right things, and we’re doing the right things more often than not, everybody’s going to get their turn to be in the spotlight, to wear the cape, whatever you want to say. I think that we’ve seen that. We recognize as a group.
“Obviously it’s easier from the outside — you look at the boxscore, you see the score, you see who the stars of the game were — but we recognize the little things, too, inside our dressing room. If you want to have success like we’ve had success, then you have to understand how important little things are. Even though some guys score goals and they get credit for it, they deserve it, for sure, but the other guys are doing little things to help us win games, too.”