ST. PAUL, Minn. – Andrew Brunette came up with a dramatic kind of “welcome home” gift for his new coach in the Minnesota Wild’s first win of the season.
With Todd Richard coaching his first NHL regular season game in his home state, Brunette’s power-play goal in overtime lifted the Wild to a 4-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night in Minnesota’s home opener.
Trailing 3-0 with less than 14 minutes to play in the third, Mikko Koivu, Petr Sykora and Eric Belanger scored for the Wild to send the game to overtime.
Joffrey Lupul, Evgeny Artyukhin and Saku Koivu scored in the second for the Ducks, who were held to just two shots in the final 20 minutes of regulation as Minnesota rallied. It was an exciting start for Richards and the Wild – a franchise that is now 8-0-1 all-time in home openers since joining the NHL in 2000.
“I’ll tell you exactly what it was. It was a commitment by each guy,” said Richards, describing the rally. “Each guy made a commitment to each other, to the team, that they were going to play hard for one another. Win some battles.”
Looking to bounce back after being thumped 4-1 by San Jose at the Honda Center on Saturday, the Ducks instead saw a seemingly secure lead slip away.
“We didn’t play well enough to win. Simple as that,” said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle. “It’s a 60-minute game, and we played 50 minutes.”
With the teams skating four-on-four in overtime, Anaheim’s James Wisniewski was penalized for roughing during a post-whistle skirmish. Brunette poked a puck past Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastian Giguere on the ensuing power play.
Lupul, who returned to Anaheim in the June trade that sent star defenceman Chris Pronger to Philadelphia, opened the scoring with his first goal of the season near the five-minute mark of the second, tipping a Ryan Whitney shot past Minnesota goalie Nicklas Backstrom. Less than a minute later Lupul was helped from the ice after going down to block an Antti Miettinen shot and getting hit in the face by the puck. He returned to the game after receiving 14 stitches over his right eyebrow.
Artyukhin and Saku Koivu scored in quick succession later, building a 3-0 lead for the Ducks.
Giguere, who has made a habit of frustrating the Wild in his career, looked solid for two periods, and shakier in the third, finishing with 28 saves.
“We’re a young group and I think we need to learn how to win, and tonight we found a way to lose,” said Giguere. “We were all a little bit on our heels as the (third) period went on. We were all afraid to make a mistake or give up a bad goal, and when you play like that, more often than not, it happens.”
Richards was hired for his first NHL head coaching job by new general manager Chuck Fletcher over the summer and has talked of instilling a more wide-open game than Minnesota fans are used to after nearly a decade with defensive-minded Jacques Lemaire running the show. Things were more wide-open on Tuesday, but instead of creating offence for Minnesota, the Wild often looked uncharacteristically disorganized on defence through the first two periods. Held to just 17 shots through the first 45 minutes, the Wild offence finally cranked into gear late.
“In the third, even though we were down three goals, we were playing a lot better defence than we did in the first two,” said Mikko Koivu. “Then you get the goals, you get the guys going in front of the net, and that’s the way you’ve got to get the goals.”
Backstrom finished with 16 saves for Minnesota.
NOTES: Martin Havlat, the Wild’s most talked-about off-season acquisition, assisted on Minnesota’s first three goals. … The Ducks have not lost in regulation in their last 10 road games, after finishing the 2008-09 regular season on a 7-0-2 streak away from home. … With Minnesota on a power play late in the first period and the puck at neutral ice, fans in the building erupted in a loud ovation as the Minnesota Twins’ game-winning hit versus the Tigers was shown on televisions in the arena’s concourse and suites.