Wild 4, Blues 2
Strong goaltending has been a hallmark of the Minnesota Wild’s
During this transition to a new coach and a new playing style in
front of those nets, the goalie play has dropped off a bit. But at
least for the last two games, Josh Harding has been a steady
Harding made 36 saves, and Mikko Koivu had a power-play goal and
two assists to help Minnesota beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on
Sunday – a critical victory for a Wild team trying to climb into
the playoff picture.
“We know we have two solid goaltenders, and we know we can rely
on them each and every night,” Koivu said. “We’re trying to make
it a little bit easier on them. I think the defense did a very good
The offense, too.
Andrew Brunette and Guillaume Latendresse also scored in a
three-goal first period for Minnesota, which pulled within a point
of 10th-place St. Louis in the Western Conference. The Blues, who
pulled goalie Chris Mason for Ty Conklin at the first intermission,
began the day five points out of the final playoff spot.
Mason made only four saves before being replaced, with coach
Davis Payne desiring a fresh look.
“The other teams around us and in front of us are winning, and
this really hurts,” said center Keith Tkachuk, who blamed “dumb
breakdowns” for the early deficit: “At this time of year, you
can’t take a shift off.”
Patrik Berglund and Paul Kariya scored for St. Louis, which
finished 4-2 on its six-game trip to surge back into contention.
The Blues had won seven of their previous eight games.
Harding started his third straight game, in a four-night
stretch, with Niklas Backstrom nursing a groin injury. After giving
up five goals at Detroit on Thursday night – Harding called his
performance “brutal” – the 25-year-old snapped back.
He made 43 saves in a 3-2 win at Buffalo on Friday night and
carried that momentum into Sunday, stifling St. Louis until a
clearing attempt by the Wild in their own zone bounced off
Berglund’s shin pad and shot in the goal to cut the lead to 4-1
with 2:51 left in the second period.
That came on a power play, the sixth of the game for the Blues
after being denied by the energized Wild on their first five.
“Our power play has almost been our weakest link in a lot of
games this year, and it’s tough to win games when that’s the way
things are going,” said center T.J. Oshie.
Harding has been mentioned for the last year or two as a trade
possibility, with Backstrom entrenching himself as the regular.
Though Harding is only 7-9 this season with a save percentage
barely above .900, he has been called on more than the Wild
expected in recent months with Backstrom sidelined on separate
occasions due to multiple maladies.
“The more you play the more of a rhythm you get into,” Harding
said. “I know I need to be sharp. If Backy was in there, he’d be
doing the same job. I’ve got big shoes to fill.”
Minutes after Kariya scored from the slot early in the third
period, Brad Boyes had a chance to pull the Blues within one goal.
But Harding made a graceful backhand save with his glove after
Boyes had maneuvered into the slot for a close-range shot.
“He looks relaxed, and he looks big, and he’s square to the
puck,” Wild coach Todd Richards said.
Koivu scored for only the third time in 16 games, giving him 19
goals for the season, to make it 2-0. That came after he won a
faceoff to help set up Cam Barker for a slap shot that glanced off
Brunette’s stick for the game’s first goal.
Then in the second period, Koivu did a 360-degree turn in the
faceoff circle as he looked for an open teammate and found a
charging Antti Miettinen for a perfect feed to stretch the lead to
4-0. The Brunette-Koivu-Miettinen line totaled seven points.
NOTES: Four of Berglund’s 12 goals this season have come in the
last seven games. … Wild RW Owen Nolan was scratched because of
an unspecified lower-body injury. … Mason was pulled for the
second time in four games. This was his 11th straight start. He won
seven. … Minnesota’s bruiser Derek Boogaard got beat up in a
fight with D.J. King less than 4 minutes into the game – and just
11 seconds into Boogaard’s first shift. His nose, forehead and face
were bloodied. He went to the locker room and didn’t return.