Clutterbuck, Wild getting taste of playoff intensity
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Cal Clutterbuck has played 344 games in his six-year career for the Minnesota Wild and is one of the last remaining players from the 2007-08 team that advanced to the playoffs.
Clutterbuck, then a rookie who played in just two games that season, didn't get to play in Minnesota's last playoff appearance and has never had the chance to experience a postseason atmosphere.
Tuesday might as well have been a playoff game to Clutterbuck and the Wild. Minnesota is clinging to the seventh spot in the Western Conference, tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets with 51 points but holding the tiebreaker with the most regulation wins. The Wild got a much-needed victory at home against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings with Clutterbuck scoring the game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory.
Clutterbuck snapped an 18-game goalless streak in the first period with the snap of a wrist shot that beat Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Bernier. It was the second of the two goals for the Wild within 16 seconds, and the veteran forward jumped into the glass, jubilant after his fourth goal of the season.
"This was a huge game for our team," Clutterbuck said. "This was probably the biggest game I've ever played in for this franchise, so I was excited."
Rookie Charlie Coyle had scored his eighth goal of the season the shift before to ignite the Wild, who now have 53 points and are two points clear of idle Columbus in eighth place, three ahead of idle ninth-place Detroit and five up on 10th-place Dallas, which played at San Jose late Tuesday.
The Wild snapped a five-game home losing streak and secured a much-needed two points with just two games remaining in the season. Clutterbuck's play Tuesday, after being elevated to the second line with Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, highlighted Minnesota's level of urgency. Clutterbuck's goal was his first since March 16.
"Just because we've got an opportunity to make the playoffs and this was a huge, huge game for us," Clutterbuck said, describing why Tuesday was the most important game he has played in for the Wild. "I would have been just as excited if Cullen had scored, that's just the way I am. I just really am an emotional guy."
The emotional and energetic forward did Tuesday what he always does, providing a physical presence by tying center Kyle Brodziak with a team-high six hits. Clutterbuck displayed in his play how important Tuesday's game was to him and the Wild.
"What was really important to me was that he was going out and he was a real physical impact in the game," coach Mike Yeo said. "He was going forward with pucks and helping Cully and Seto get going with speed to the offensive zone, and I thought he was a nice complement."
The Wild lost forward Jason Pominville after he took an elbow to the chin from Los Angeles forward Dustin Brown, and the game quickly took on the intensity and physical nature of a playoff game.
"That's setting the bar for what we need, going forward, and the idea is to keep raising the bar," Yeo said. "It was obviously a very strong game, but again the bar has been set and we've got to make sure we're ready to bring at least that the next game."
Minnesota hosts Edmonton on Friday before finishing the regular season Sunday at Colorado.
Pominville out: After taking the elbow from Brown midway through the second period, Pominville missed the rest of the game.
Brown had the puck near the side boards and Pominville closed in. As Pominville approached, Brown turned toward Pominville and connected with his elbow. No penalty was called. Pominville went down and was visibly shaken as he skated off the ice.
Yeo didn't have an update on Pominville's status after the game.
The Wild didn't retaliate. Clutterbuck said the team's focus was on getting the win.
"It's difficult," Clutterbuck said. "At the same time, we had a clear goal in mind that we couldn't really allow ourselves to get distracted. I think the way things are these days, if somebody feels it deserves a second look then they will take a second look."
Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said he isn't worried about the play being reviewed by the league. Brown was also part of a collision in Sunday's game at Dallas in which he appeared to clip a Stars player. Brown wasn't penalized for that play either and didn't face any disciplinary action from the league.
"I haven't seen it yet, but I have the puck on my stick, he's coming to hit me, I'm just bracing myself," Brown said after the game. "Almost the reverse, I don't know, like I said, I haven't seen it yet."
Follow Brian Hall on Twitter.