ST. PAUL, Minn. – Todd Bertuzzi was showered with boos as he glided left, then right, then charged forward on the empty ice.
His 1,000th career game came to a fitting and dramatic conclusion, when he slowed in front of the net and veered right before flipping a backhander over Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom into the far upper corner to clinch a 2-1 shootout win Sunday for Detroit.
With help from goalie Jimmy Howard, Bertuzzi savoured a victory over his old nemesis the Wild, the fifth straight for the Red Wings.
“There’s no better place to get the two points and also score,” said Bertuzzi, who became a villain in Minnesota during the 2003 playoffs with Vancouver. “It’s a great atmosphere. Every time we come here it’s always a real good game for the fans.”
Bertuzzi became the 263rd player in NHL history, 33 of them still active, to reach the 1,000-game milestone. Family members were here to mark the occasion.
“It’s pretty special. Pretty cool,” Bertuzzi said.
After Pavel Datsyuk pushed a wrister past Backstrom in the first round, Howard denied the Wild’s Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Matt Cullen to set up Bertuzzi’s winner. Backstrom said he thought he had it. Howard has yielded one shootout goal in 14 tries this season.
“It’s just being patient and letting them make the first move and just moving with them,” said Howard, who raised his record to 30-10-3. “It’s been successful this year.”
Xcel Energy Center was an ironic site for Bertuzzi’s big game. The bearded, rugged right wing first riled up the fans here by telling people in line for advance playoff tickets to see Game 6 of their second-round series eight years ago not to bother because the Canucks were going to end it before then.
The Wild came back from a 3-1 deficit, and Bertuzzi never heard the end of it. He was booed during the all-star game here in 2004, and even as he switched teams over the years his bad-boy reputation always preceded him. This game was no different, whenever his name was announced. During the kiss cam feature on a break in the action, Bertuzzi was shown on the video board on the bench next to Ruslan Salei, seemingly oblivious to the jeering.
With two goals apiece in three of his previous four games, the revitalized 36-year-old is becoming a bigger part of the push to catch his old team the Canucks in the Western Conference.
“Got to be excited for him,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
Minnesota’s Martin Havlat answered Nicklas Lidstrom’s goal early in the third period by scoring on a breakaway to tie the game. Backstrom, who gave up only eight goals in his six previous starts this month, made 38 saves to keep the Wild competitive.
The Red Wings had at least one goal in 12 straight periods, scoring 20 times over the previous four games, but Backstrom and his blue-line buddies denied every opportunity by the league’s second-highest-scoring team over the first two frames.
When Detroit’s Danny Cleary was by himself on the edge of the crease and tried to lift a turnaround backhander over the goalie’s sprawled-out arm in overtime, Backstrom—his legs split wide apart—snapped his glove out and snagged the puck to preserve the tie.
“He played great. It guess it’s something that you come to expect, making certain saves look easy and making some saves that you’re not expecting him to make,” coach Todd Richards said.
Richards praised his team’s effort—Cullen called it “a character point”—and was happy to join a pack of four other teams that began the day tied for sixth place in the conference with 68 points. They played without captain and first-line centre Mikko Koivu, who blocked a shot and hurt his hand Friday. His leadership, defensive skills and special teams ability will be missed.
“When he’s gone, we want to step up and help him and make sure we’re still in the race or in the playoffs when he comes back,” Backstrom said, adding: “We’re a hungry team. Maybe at some point the one point can feel good, but the next couple hours, it won’t.”
Notes: The Wild reassigned rookie D Marco Scandella to their AHL club in Houston. He hadn’t played since a concussion on Jan. 14. The Wild dressed seven defencemen, moving Eric Nystrom up to playthe wing with Cal Clutterbuck and C John Madden and double-shifting Havlat and others on the fourth line. They’re giving D Marek Zidlicky a chance to regain his conditioning in his first few games back from a shoulder injury. … Lidstrom’s goal, the 12th of the season for the 40-year-old captain, was his first in the last 22 games. … This was the first time the Wild had a home game televised nationally by NBC. The sound crew played the network’s signature three-note chime as an homage.