ST. PAUL, Minn. — Patience finally paid off for Kyle Brodziak.
The Minnesota Wild center had been a healthy scratch for five of his team’s first eight games, something he hadn’t experienced before in his career. An injury to teammate Erik Haula presented Brodziak with the chance to jump back into the mix.
When given the opportunity, Brodziak made the most of it. He scored his first two goals of the season Thursday against San Jose to send the game to overtime. Minnesota eventually won 4-3 in a shootout, but the Wild would have never been there if not for Brodziak’s game-tying goal.
"It obviously feels good to contribute, but there’s still lots of time on the clock," Brodziak said of his second goal of the game, which knotted things up just over halfway through the third period. "I think we wanted to get some more and try to get the win in regulation."
Brodziak played in 81 games for the Wild last year. In fact, he played in at least 80 games in four of his first five seasons with Minnesota; the lone outlier was the lockout-shortened year. Even in his first two full seasons with Edmonton, Brodziak appeared in 80 and 79 games. Being a healthy scratch was completely new for the 30-year-old.
The addition of center Ryan Carter at the beginning of the season squeezed Brodziak’s playing time even more. But after Haula was knocked out in Monday’s loss against the Rangers, Minnesota needed another center to step in.
Enter Brodziak, who didn’t register a point in Tuesday’s 4-3 win over Boston but did plenty of little things to draw praise from head coach Mike Yeo. Fast forward to Thursday, and Brodziak made an even bigger impact.
With the Wild trailing the Sharks 3-1 in the third period, Brodziak sent a pass to Justin Fontaine and then skated toward the net. Fontaine passed to Thomas Vanek, who found Brodziak cutting toward the crease. Brodziak’s deflection beat San Jose goalie Antti Niemi and cut the Sharks’ lead to 3-2 at the 5:13 mark of the third period.
A little more than five minutes later, it was a very similar play — and that same Vanek-to-Brodziak connection — that tied the game when Brodziak again tipped in a Vanek pass for his second goal of the period.
"He’s an incredible passer. He’s got great vision and he sees the ice very well," Brodziak said of Vanek, who now has a team-high seven assists on the year. "I pretty much knew both of those ones were going to be on my tape. He thinks the game very well."
The two goals were Brodziak’s first two points of the year in just his fourth game of the season. The second elicited a big smile from Brodziak after he evened the score for the Wild.
Perhaps that time away from the ice made things that much sweeter.
"I’m definitely not the first guy that’s ever gone through it," Brodziak said of being a healthy scratch. "You’ve just got to stay positive and keep working hard so when you get the opportunity you can hopefully make the best of it."
The third-period comeback was the second in as many games for the Wild, who scored three times in the final frame against Boston to eke out a win. San Jose took a 2-0 lead early in the second, but a goal by Koivu trimmed the deficit to 2-1.
Joe Thornton scored on a 2-on-1 rush early in the third period to give the Sharks another two-goal lead. That’s when Brodziak’s line turned up its game after a quiet first two periods.
"Tonight, it was really nice to see him get rewarded," said Wild forward Jason Pominville, who scored one of Minnesota’s two shootout goals. "He’s put a lot of work in the last couple weeks to get back in, and he got his chance."
Tuesday’s game was the first for Brodziak since Oct. 11, Minnesota’s second game of the year. For five straight games, Brodziak had to watch from afar as his teammates skated without him.
He not only has rejoined them the last two games, but Brodziak turned in an impressive performance on Thursday, too.
"It feels good, for sure. That’s why you have to try to stay professional and make sure you stay ready for when you do get the chance to get back in the lineup," he said. "You want to make the best of it. I’m just glad I got the opportunity and glad I was able to make the best of it."