Skate’s on other foot this time around

By Jamie MacDonald
FOXSportsNorth.com
Feb. 18, 2011

The last time the Ducks and Wild met, Dec. 12 in Anaheim, one line did what seemed like all the damage for the home team. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan accounted for 11 points in a 6-2 win.

That game may also famously be remembered for Ryan picking up the discarded stick of Mikko Koivu and scoring with it after Koivu had ripped Ryan’s from his own hands.

Koivu would again figure prominently on Friday in the teams’ third meeting of the season. Unfortunately, the Wild captain was most conspicuous by his absence. Not long after bulling his way to a goal that was as brutish as it was timely to knot things early in the first at 1-1, Koivu left at the 7:09 mark with a hand injury.

Without Koivu, the Wild scrambled lines, hung on during an Anaheim push, scored a shorthanded goal in the midst of that push, then hung on a little more before turning the tide in somewhat surprising fashion in the second period.

Friday’s game goes in the books as a 5-1 win, but it sure didn’t feel at times like the Wild were going to come out of it with a four-goal win.

“It was a gutsy performance by the guys,” said Todd Richards, who referred to playing shorthanded without Koivu. “Missing your captain for the majority of the game, you’re looking for guys to step up, and we got that.”

THE BAD NEWS

Anaheim opened the scoring at 3:30, but Koivu answered on one of his won’t-be-denied drives off a wall and to the net. With the puck behind and to the left of Curtis McElhinney, Koivu, while wearing Lubomir Visnovsky, drove to a shooting spot, then fended off countryman Toni Lydman in the crease for good measure, hammering in his own rebound at 5:01 of the first.

“Everyone knows how strong he is,” said Kyle Brodziak. “Basically, the way I see it, when he has [the puck] on his stick, you’re not taking it off it no matter what you do.”

A few shifts later, while caught in a sort of no-man’s land in the Wild zone, big Andy Sutton stepped into a slap shot that caught Koivu flush. As the Wild broke out of the zone, the team’s captain pulled off his glove and could be seen shaking his bare hand.

He did not return and logged only 2:15 on the night.

Richards was unsure after the game about the nature of the injury.

“It will be something that we have to see,” said Richards. “Hand injury, you never know. I don’t have any information.”

Richards is also looking at the upside of what could be thought of as a very serious loss. Koivu is a top penalty killer, a top power play player, and a top even-strength player who eats minutes and can take over shifts with his effort or skill. Simply, Koivu is a force and would be impossible to replace individually, but Richards is looking at what the Wild could gain if Koivu is lost for any amount of time.

“I’m looing at it like it’s an opportunity for other guys,” Richards said. “To me, that was the positive out of tonight’s game. We didn’t have him and we stepped up and played a good game.”

Brodziak highlighted Koivu’s importance.

“It’s a big void if he’s not in there,” Brodziak said. “Everyone has to give that little extra. You’re not going to be able to replace a guy like that.”

CULLEN STEPS UP

Matt Cullen already appeared slated to be taking up residence with new linemates — Martin Havlat and Pierre-Marc Bouchard — and he wound up playing a team-high 22:17 on Friday. Cullen has been playing very well lately, using his speed to create chances on his own and for teammates.

On Friday, he scored what may have been the game’s biggest goal. After Koivu’s goal, the game opened up for a bit, probably more than the Wild would have liked. Cullen was then called for goaltender interference at 12:59 to put Minnesota a man down.

Anaheim’s best chance came on some tick-tac-toe passing, but it wasn’t a great power play overall. Then Brent Burns took a double-minor high-sticking penalty at 14:56 to give the Ducks another four minutes on the power play.

Anaheim won the next draw back to Visnovsky, who thought he had enough time to zip the puck across the top of the zone for a one-timer. Brodziak, though, jumped into the lane, while Cullen, now out of the box, took off, and Brodziak sent his teammate in alone on a breakaway.

Cullen held the puck on his forehand, pumped once, then roofed a shot over McElhinney’s blocker to make it 2-1 at 15:07 of the first.

“Lucky timing,” said Brodziak. “It was just fortunate timing there.”

Cullen helped the Wild take that lead into the locker room when he drew a Ryan penalty during a hard forecheck at the 17:15 mark. That led to 1:41 of four-on-four.

In all, it was an important turn of events, but not the only fortuitous turn.

HOW QUICKLY THINGS CHANGE

Bouchard’s long slapper from inside the blue line was about as dangerous as things got for the Wild through the front end of the period.

Brandon McMillan’s hooking penalty, however, gave Minnesota a chance. Only the Wild spent much of the man advantage squandering it. In fact, it led not only to a little restlessness from the crowd as Corey Perry zipped around the Wild end with the puck unchecked, but also to Eric Nystrom seeing time at the tail end of the man advantage.

Nystrom had not scored since Nov. 14, an empty-netter, for his only goal of the season. And yet there he was Friday, the trailer in a four-on-two break led by John Madden. Madden dropped the puck to Nystrom, who ripped a shot high-blocker at 13:32 for a 3-1 lead. Quite a shot, too, for a guy who couldn’t catch a break.

As that goal was being announced, Brodziak made it 4-1 when he knocked a deflected puck out of the air near the crease, baseball style, and into the net at 13:59.

NYS GUY FINISHES

As soon as Nystrom scored, he was mobbed. He smiled wide. He said, “Finally,” perhaps to no one in particular. And his teammates were just as happy.

Afterward, Nystrom, typically upbeat in most circumstances, was especially jovial.

“What a feeling it is,” he said, still able to smile at the thought. “It’s a great relief. To see it finally go in is huge, and, more important, we got two points.”

Nystrom admitted the scoring drought had been difficult to deal with this season.

“I felt a lot of guilt, like I wasn’t helping the team,” he said. “And that weighs on your shoulders. Still, it’s only two goals, but to chip in tonight and help the team, it feels really good.

“You guys don’t even know what the mental challenges are when you go through something like that, to stay positive. And there are days where you just can’t even believe it.”

ZID’S RETURN

Marek Zidlicky returned from 21 games after suffering a shoulder injury, giving the Wild seven defenseman and logging 11:55.

It didn’t take him long to get into the game, either. Only 1:07 in, he ran Apple Valley, Minn., native Dan Sexton along the boards near the benches, a hit for which he was penalized.

“He wasn’t going to be shy about how he was going to play the game,” said Richards.