PITTSBURGH – Niklas Backstrom finally stole a win for the Minnesota Wild on the road, and in the most unlikely of places.
Backstrom made 34 saves and the Wild won an away game for the first time this season, beating the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 on Saturday night.
“Backy was great,” said Eric Belanger, who had the winning goal. “You need your goalie like that to steal you a game on the road, and that’s what he did for us tonight.”
Kyle Brodziak also scored in the first period for the Wild, who avoided being the first NHL team in 17 years to start 0-9 on the road. Including their victory over the New York Rangers on Friday, the Wild won consecutive games for the first time this season.
Minnesota beat the Penguins (11-3), who own the NHL’s best record, despite being outshot 35-15. The Wild (5-9) are 3-0 against Eastern Conference opponents.
“We played a simple game, played a great road game in a tough building to play in against a good team,” Backstrom said. “We tried to keep it simple and play our game and battle for every puck. We did it for a whole 60 minutes, and the result was good.”
Backstrom, a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, limited the Penguins to Pascal Dupuis’ first-period goal.
His best work might have come in the third, when Pittsburgh had been at its best. The Penguins had won three of five previous games in which they trailed after two periods – including overcoming a late 3-1 deficit in a shootout victory at Columbus on Friday.
“It’s weird how hockey works sometimes,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who had a six-game point streak snapped. “We played probably one solid period last night (against Columbus) and found a way to get two points, and then tonight we played three good periods and they kind of steal one from us.”
Backstrom stopped multiple Penguins during a flurry when the teams were playing 4-on-4 with nine minutes left. He also robbed Kris Letang, who was in alone, about two minutes later.
The Penguins, who were 9-1 when recording at least 30 shots, pressured Backstrom until the final horn. They created scoring chances after Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled for an extra skater in the final minute.
“He made the saves – the ones he’s supposed to make and plus more,” Minnesota defenceman Greg Zanon said. “Especially there at the end. There was a lot of pressure and we were just holding on and he made big saves.”
The Penguins had more shots on goal in the first (16) than Minnesota had in the game but trailed 2-1 after 20 minutes.
The Wild had only one shot until the sequence that gave them a 1-0 lead 12:11 in. Brodziak slapped a loose puck into an open net after a shot by Brent Burns from the point was deflected into Fleury by Chuck Kobasew.
Dupuis tied it with a one-timed slap shot. Craig Adams won a faceoff back to point man Martin Skoula, who quickly fed Dupuis in the slot.
“Justice isn’t always served,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “We know we could have been better off tonight. It was probably as close to a perfect game of 5-on-5 as we’ve played, and for 60 minutes. We played three hard periods and had a lot of action around the net. We dictated the pace around the offensive zone and we don’t get results.”
Belanger, who also scored in a 3-2 win over the Rangers on Friday, gave the Wild the lead for good with 0.6 seconds to play in the first. Martin Havlat found him wide open in the right circle, and Belanger fired a wrist shot past Fleury, who lost for the second time this season.
“I thought our defencemen competed very hard and so did our forwards, but you definitely have to give the credit to Backstrom in this one,” said Wild coach Todd Richards, who formerly coached in the Penguins’ system. “He made some huge saves for us, and when you’re where we are at in the standings, that is what you need. You need performances like that from your star players. And Nick is definitely one of those star players. “
NOTES: Crosby got the fourth fighting major of his NHL career when he traded slashes – and then punches – with Wild D Marek Zidlicky late in the second period. … The most recent team to start 0-9 on the road was the expansion Ottawa Senators in the 1992-93 season. … Belanger has a three-game point streak. He left the game with 1:34 to play after an inadvertent high stick drew blood from his face. … Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher and RW Petr Sykora were presented their Stanley Cup rings Saturday. Each was part of the Penguins’ organization last season.