ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild watched a two-goal lead with a little more than three minutes remaining in regulation vanish.
Their response was enough evidence for coach Mike Yeo that his team’s moxie has returned after a rough skid right through the holidays.
Matt Cullen scored in the third period and in the first round of the shootout and put six shots on goal to help the Wild recover from a late stumble Tuesday night to beat San Jose 5-4 and stop the Sharks’ four-game winning streak.
“That was the team we were three weeks ago,” Yeo said.
The Wild went 1-8-3 after reaching the best record in the NHL and entered the night tied for 12th in the league and down to seventh in the Western Conference. This was just the third time in their last 13 games they scored more than two goals. For that, they got two big points.
“Boy, we needed that,” Cullen said, adding: “It’s time. We’ve struggled here for long enough, and you can’t afford to struggle too long in this league. Teams pass you by, and we see where we are in the standings. We want to climb.”
Their effort and energy was so strong Yeo didn’t even want to nitpick about the goals by Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau 22 seconds that tied the game with 2:44 remaining in regulation. Cullen had given the Wild a 4-2 lead with 6:20 left. But the Sharks outshot the Wild 18-8 in the third period, and Josh Harding had to make 34 saves.
“Because of what we put into that game, there’s this feeling and there’s a sense that you deserve it,” Yeo said.
After Cullen’s shot glanced off Antti Niemi’s stick in the shootout, Mikko Koivu scored. Harding stopped shots by Michal Handzus and Ryane Clowe. But Sharks coach Todd McLellan wasn’t exactly pleased by the way his team pulled out a point. There wasn’t enough hustle or muscle in front of the nets or along the boards.
“Grinders need to grind. Workers need to work. We need some energy and some fire from some guys,” McLellan said. “We can’t always rely on the big boys to get everything done.”
McLellan warned his team to expect such a surge from the Wild.
“We knew they were going to be desperate,” Marleau said.
Dan Boyle scored on a 5-on-3 in the first period, and Benn Ferriero brought the Sharks within 3-2 midway through the final frame. But four goals weren’t enough to start a four-game road trip.
“It’s tough putting yourself in a hole like that and trying to dig out. We’d like to have a better start and make teams chase us,” said captain Joe Thornton. “We’ve got to get back to that.”
With the Sharks in first place in the Pacific Division and a perennial power in the Western Conference coming off consecutive appearances in the Stanley Cup semifinals, this was the optimal of opponent for the Wild to get their game going again—and rebuild some confidence.
They played without three of their top-six forwards. Devin Setoguchi was scratched for an unspecified violation of team rules, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard has joined Guillaume Latendresse on the injured list with post-concussion symptoms. Nick Johnson played on the first line with Dany Heatley and Koivu and scored for the first time in 16 games.
Cal Clutterbuck had a goal and an assist, and Warren Peters also scored for the Wild.
“We’ve had guys out the whole year, and we’ve been struggling to pick our game up here, so I think this was a big, big game for a lot of guys in this room,” Clutterbuck said.
Clutterbuck and Jamie McGinn tussled on the ice during one of several scrums and had to be separated. They kept yapping at each other on the way to and in the penalty box.
Andrew Desjardins was called for boarding near the end of the middle frame after a vicious hit from behind Clayton Stoner that sent the defenceman head first into the corner. Stoner was all right, but the Wild were fired up.
“We showed a huge amount of fight, and I hope it really showed out there,” Falk said. “Guys were banging bodies, pushing and shoving in scrums, and we weren’t backing down from anything.”
NOTES: Cullen, a native of Moorhead, Minn., who played at St. Cloud State, appeared inhis 1,000th career game. This was just his third goal in the last 24 games. …This was the first game back in Minnesota for San Jose defenceman Brent Burns, who was drafted by the Wild in 2003 and made the All-Star team last season before being traded to the Sharks during the summer. … The other former Wild player traded to the Sharks last summer, Martin Havlat, missed his ninth straight game because of a lower-body injury.