ST. PAUL, Minn. – Clayton Stoner raised his arms to rile up the Minnesota crowd as he glided off the ice, his game-ending fight with St. Louis star David Backes a fitting way to finish another win for the surging Wild.
Backes was a bloody mess, with a big gash on his forehead after a rough loss for the Blues.
Cal Clutterbuck scored for the third time in two games, and the Wild sent Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak to an early exit in a 3-1 victory.
Probably tired of seeing each other, the teams traded punches and pushes all night. Playing a home-and-home, back-to-back weekend set with the Blues, the Wild stretched their home winning streak to a season-high four games. The Blues fell eight points behind the Wild, who moved into eighth place in the super-tight Western Conference.
“We’ve shown that we’re able to defend against speed and we’re able to match speed with speed,” said Clutterbuck, the NHL leader in hits who is tops on the team with a career-high 17 goals.
“This one was pretty rough,” Clutterbuck said. “We expect that from these guys, especially, but we responded. I think that’s the biggest thing.”
The Blues were outshot 12-5 in the first period, and the Wild had a stranglehold on the pace, the flow and the direction of the game, except for a five-minute surge by St. Louis started by Patrik Berglund’s power-play goal late in the second period. That stopped a streak of 17 straight penalties killed by the Wild.
“Obviously we came away with a result we’re not happy with, but it was an old-school battle,” said Blues centre T.J. Oshie, adding: “It’s fun to play in that atmosphere, guys running around hitting. They just got the best of us these two.”
The feisty play continued past the final horn as one final fight broke out around the net. Backes and Stoner dropped the gloves, each getting token five-for-fighting and game misconduct penalties.
“He was agitating all game,” Stoner said. “Good for him. He was playing hard, but at the same time we’ve got stand up for ourselves and I think we did a good job throughout the whole game.”
Minnesota improved to 9-2 in its last 11 games, with seven of those victories in regulation and a plus-17 goal differential—excluding shootouts—during that stretch. The Wild are 17-7-1 over the past 25 games.
“I think there’s another level of confidence right now with our group, figuring out the identity of our team and how we need to play,” coach Todd Richards said.
Halak was pulled for Ty Conklin midway through the second period after Kyle Brodziak’s goal made it 3-0. Antti Miettinen had a power-play goal for the Wild in the second period after muscling the puck away from Roman Polak on the backboards and one-timing a feed from Andrew Brunette.
“Any time you’re taken out, as a player you’re going to be angry and upset,” defenceman Erik Johnson said, “but we weren’t very good in front of him and didn’t give him much of a chance. It’s not his fault at all.”
Niklas Backstrom, who has allowed only 10 goals in his last seven starts since returning from a hip injury, gave the Wild another calm and controlled performance.
“Guys are playing great defensively,” defenceman Cam Barker said. “I think we’re keeping it to the outside. Goalies are seeing all the pucks, and obviously the goalies are playing well too.”
The Blues haven’t been the same since their 9-2-1 start was derailed by a rash of injuries. Oshie’s return ahead of schedule from a broken left ankle last month was a big lift, and the recent return of Andy McDonald from a concussion was another key development.
There is still time and room for them to finish strong and sneak into the playoffs. But with these back-to-back losses to the Wild, one of their primary competitors for a spot, and the continued absence of David Perron with a concussion, the Blues are in an urgent situation even though they’ve played fewer games than every team ahead of them in the standings.
“We have to understand that success comes from that collective five-man effort,” coach Davis Payne said. “This is not the time of year where you can have any guys off.”
NOTES: Three of the Blues’ young stars, Johnson (Bloomington), Backes (Spring Lake Park) and Oshie (Warroad), areMinnesotans. Backes also played his college hockey at Minnesota State in Mankato. All three of them were on the power play together late in the first period, right before Clutterbuck’s goal. … Berglund has three goals in his last four games. … Brodziak has 10 points in the last 11 games.