ST. PAUL, Minn. — The music could be heard outside the Minnesota Wild locker room for the first time in two weeks. The smiles on the faces spoke to the relief Thursday night’s 4-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres provided.
For one night, Minnesota could feel good. Jason Pominville scored against his former team for the second straight game. Kyle Brodziak snapped a 30-game goal-less drought with an empty-net goal in the strangest way possible. Goaltender Niklas Backstrom won for the first time since Nov. 23 by making 19 saves.
"For everyone," Pominville said of the relief in the locker room. "We’re really excited for Backy. He played really well and I think we all know he was going through a bit of a tough-go. We weren’t scoring a lot of goals when he was playing, so just to get the lead for him tonight was huge and for him to stand tall when he needed to was huge for the team.
"It’s a relief for everyone. We needed points bad and we need to keep headed in that direction."
Marco Scandella scored his second goal of the season to open the scoring, and Jason Zucker added his first after being recalled from Iowa a day earlier. Mikkoi Koivu added two assists for the Wild, which hosts the Washington Capitals on Saturday.
Brodziak earned credit for the empty-net goal after he was pulled down from behind on a breakaway with an empty net.
"He deserved what he got tonight, as far as I’m concerned," coach Mike Yeo said. "He was going to score. He was going to go top shelf, for sure. But they held him down. But he earned that goal with his play. He was good all night."
Minnesota had lost six games in a row, including two straight at home. They’d been outscored 26-13 during the stretch. The last win was Dec. 17 in a shootout at the Xcel Energy Center against the Vancouver Canucks.
"I can’t express how good it feels to get that monkey off our back," said defenseman Clayton Stoner, who was activated off injured reserve Thursday. "There were some tough games, some tough losses, some real disappointing shootouts against not-elite teams. Those are kind of deflating, so it was a good game for everyone. We played well and it’s something everyone can build off of. Hopefully everyone gets a little more confidence and a little more swagger in their game and we can play better."
Minnesota felt it had something to build off of from Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues. After allowing four goals or more in the previous five games, the Wild got back to its defensive foundation only to be undone by two mistakes that led to two St. Louis goals.
After the loss, Minnesota spoke about continuing to build on its defensive structure. The players followed their own advice on Thursday. Buffalo had 12 shots on goal through two periods and went more than 13 minutes without a shot on goal.
"We needed that for sure, but we did it the right way, which is big," Yeo said. "That’s what we said after last game, that we have to take some of the things that we did and improve on some of the things that we weren’t quite good enough at. But pretty complete game tonight."
Yeo and the players all spoke about doing the little things and paying attention to detail.
"We didn’t do anything out of the ordinary today, but we did a lot of things right," Pominville said. "Our play with the puck was better, our defensive zone play was better. We kept them to the outside for the most part."
And Backstrom appreciated the help. He had entered the game with a personal eight-game losing streak, and had allowed at least three goals in six straight games.
Backstrom downplayed any personal satisfaction with getting the win and having a bounce-back performance.
"You try to approach the same way every day, it doesn’t matter if you play good or you play bad," Backstrom said. "You go out there and work as hard as you can and when you do that, good things are going to happen. You can’t focus on what happened in the past. You just approach the same way every day and believe in what you’re doing. It’s been working, so it’s going to be there sooner or later."