Wild take over division top spot
VANCOUVER—Thanks to considerable help from Niklas Backstrom, the new-look Minnesota Wild continue to show that they’re for real.
Backstrom made 35 saves as Minnesota took sole possession of the Northwest Division lead by beating the Vancouver Canucks 3-1 last night.
“They came on, especially in the second,” he noted. “But we battled that and scored a big goal there, and then got a couple goals in the third.”
Charlie Coyle’s goal early in the third period broke a 1-1 tie while Jonas Brodin and Matt Cullen also scored for the Wild (16-10-2), who moved two points ahead of Vancouver for first place in the Northwest.
It was Minnesota’s eighth win in 11 games.
The Wild had struggled in Vancouver for more than three years. The victory was the Wild’s first in the Canucks’ unfriendly confines since Jan. 31, 2009, ending an 11-game winless skid.
“I knew we haven’t won in some games,” said Backstrom. “But they played some pretty good games here and they got more than we got.
“Even last time we played here [this season], I think we had a great third period in [the second game in] a back-to-back,” he added.
Henrik Sedin replied for the Canucks (13-9-6), who suffered their second-straight loss and 11th in 16 games.
Backstrom faced uncertainty because he is playing in the final year of a four-year, $24-million deal.
Meanwhile, No. 2 goalie Josh Harding had signed a three-year, $5.7-million deal.
But Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November during the NHL lockout, and requested time off in February as he struggled to manage his medication.
With Harding still out, Backstrom’s workload has intensified.
“It’s not something I think about,” stressed Backstrom, who is trying to offset fatigue by eating right and getting plenty of rest.
“For me, it’s just the next game and practice [and] next game.
“You go small steps at a time,” he reasoned.
The Wild are trying to do likewise as they introduce high-priced stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter into their lineup, along with youngsters and other newcomers.
Last night’s win bolstered their hopes of qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
But the low-key Backstrom refused to get too excited about the win.
“We’re not a playoff team yet,” he admitted. “We want to be a playoff team.
“We can’t look too far ahead,” he stressed. “We can’t keep watching in the standings what other teams are doing.
“For us, it’s just to play the right way night in and night out.”
Still, second-year coach Mike Yeo was feeling pumped after the “big” win in Vancouver for the first time under his guidance.
In addition to crediting Backstrom for an “outstanding” effort, he praised rookies Coyle, 21, and Brodin, 19.
“There’s a reason why they’re on our team, and they’re showing it,” said Yeo.
“Those guys are really good,” added Cullen.
“They are playing big, important minutes, and I can’t say enough about how well and how mature they have played.”
Wild captain Mikko Koivu said his team, which struggled early in the season, just needed time to learn the Wild system and come together.
“I think we’ve been for real from day one this year,” he remarked. “It was just ups and downs.
“It’s not easy to just click a notch and move and go win all these games,” Koivu added.
“You’ve gotta build.”
Elsewhere in the NHL, Dallas nipped Calgary 4-3, Chicago beat Colorado 5-2, the N.Y. Rangers edged Carolina 2-1 (SO), Tampa Bay doubled Philadelphia 4-2, Anaheim downed San Jose 5-3, and L.A. blanked Phoenix 4-0.