ST. PAUL, Minn. – Colton Gillies knocked in the rebound, and the 19-year-old rookie wore a wide grin. His Minnesota Wild teammates and coaches were smiling and cheering, too. Finally, they had a lead. Finally, they found some offence.
Gillies scored his first NHL goal, giving Minnesota the lead in the second period and sparking the Wild to a 4-1 victory over New York – the Islanders’ eighth straight loss.
“The guys just needed a little confidence boost out there,” said Gillies, the Wild’s 2007 first-round draft pick. “I mean if I can score, anyone can score, right?
Stephane Veilleux, Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard also scored to help the Wild end a six-game losing streak. They earned a point Wednesday night in an overtime loss to Calgary, but had only seven goals during the skid.
“It’s a good sign for us. Every line got chances. We all got some momentum in their end,” Koivu said.
Added Veilleux: “You’re trying, you’re trying, and you don’t get results. But you’ve got to keep a positive attitude.”
The Islanders’ faith has been tested, too. They’ve given up 39 goals over eight games in December, with only one point to their credit from an overtime loss Tuesday night against Washington. They were held to a season-low 16 shots by the Wild, including just three in the second period.
Defenceman Andy Sutton, their only player on the active roster with a positive plus-minus rating, hurt his foot blocking a shot in the first period and did not return.
“He’s our best player,” coach Scott Gordon said. “With him gone, our defence was overtaxed.”
Kyle Okposo returned from a 13-game absence, his sprained wrist healed sooner than anticipated. The University of Minnesota product and 2006 first-round draft pick’s comeback coincided neatly with the Islanders’ only visit to his hometown, too.
Blake Comeau, who is a minus-8 in six games since coming back from the minors, was scratched to make room. Okposo was on a line with Mike Comrie, who also came off injured reserve after missing 17 games due to a hip problem.
The Islanders were actually 57 seconds from taking a lead into the second intermission. Doug Weight’s perfect across-the-crease pass, nine seconds into a 5-on-3 situation, put Richard Park in position for a first-period goal against his former team.
The Wild desperately needed a lift, despite four power plays and 24 shots prior to Veilleux’s goal in the final minute of the second period. They had several prime chances to score, including a handful of close-up shots Marian Gaborik couldn’t poke past goalie Joey MacDonald. Andrew Brunette’s rebound attempt of Gaborik’s miss bounced off the crossbar.
But the Islanders committed 11 turnovers, and with the drastic shot differential it seemed inevitable the Wild would break through. MacDonald, filling in for Rick DiPietro while the regular recovers from knee surgery, was doing a decent job until Gillies pushed in a rebound of bruiser Derek Boogaard’s rare shot during a 2-on-1 rush. That ended a stretch of 408-plus minutes without a lead.
The Wild finished with a season-high 39 shots, leaving the ice to a rousing ovation from the crowd.
“You have to throw pucks on net and hope for those ugly goals,” MacDonald said. “You’re not going to score if you don’t throw anything on net.”
The Islanders have allowed an NHL-high 119 goals. Gordon was primarily upset by all the giveaways.
“Even if it didn’t generate an opportunity for them, the turnovers eliminated an opportunity for us to be able to establish a forecheck,” Gordon said.
Wild coach Jacques Lemaire has been trying to get his guys to keep their heads high and focus on the basics. He was clearly pleased by the way their perseverance yielded this breakthrough, even if it came against perhaps the NHL’s worst team.
The best part was that the offence came from unlikely sources, like Gillies and Veilleux – who got his first goal in 13 games and has only three this season. Rookie Krys Kolanos assisted with Boogaard on the goal by Gillies.
“It’s like everyone had 100 pounds off their shoulder,” Lemaire said. “Everyone was skating, enjoying the game, having fun. … Didn’t happen too many times the last couple of weeks.”
Notes: The Wild put RW Owen Nolan, who has played in only 17 of 31 games, on injured reserve with an unspecified lower body ailment. Kolanos was called up from the minors for the fourth time already this season, and he filled in at C while Eric Belanger sat out with an illness. … Sutton also played for the Wild for their first 1 1/2 seasons until he was traded to Atlanta for Hnat Domenichelli in early 2002. … DiPietro has resumed practising with the team. … The Wild are 26-2-1 in the last 29 games Bouchard has scored in.