Blues struggle, fall to Wild 4-2
By DAVE CAMPBELL
ST. PAUL (AP) Josh Harding made 36 saves, and Mikko Koivu had a power-play goal and two assists, propelling Minnesota past the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Sunday – a critical victory for a Wild team trying to climb into the playoff picture.
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 after one period, began the day five points out of the final playoff spot.
Patrik Berglund and Paul Kariya scored for St. Louis, which finished 4-2 on its six-game trip to surge back into contention. Mason made only four saves before being replaced. 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.
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.
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.
Koivu, the Wild captain, helped Harding find a groove with a stellar performance.
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.
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.
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.
Updated March 14, 2010