ST. PAUL, Minn. – Anton Khudobin acknowledged feeling a little nervous at the start of his sudden NHL debut.
He sure didn’t show it.
Martin Havlat’s first two-goal game for Minnesota, and Khudobin’s flawless emergency goaltending gave the Wild a 4-2 win over Edmonton 4-2 on Thursday night for their 12th straight home victory over the Oilers.
“It’s pretty tough, but what can you do?” said Khudobin, who was awarded his first career victory after stopping a total of nine shots in less than 10 minutes after Josh Harding was injured. “It’s your job. You have to do it.”
Antti Miettinen’s early third-period goal, his career-high 16th, made it 2-1 for the Wild before the game took a dramatic turn.
Marc Pouliot punched in the tying score in thick traffic for Edmonton while a sprawled-out Harding desperately tried to keep the puck from getting in.
Harding aggravated a hip injury he’s been bothered by lately on that play and later hurt it worse while making a highlight-reel diving save of a dangerous, open shot by Jean-Francois Jacques.
With regular starter Niklas Backstrom sick and another backup Wade Dubielewicz scratched for the game, Khudobin was sent in with 9:33 remaining.
“Everybody came to me and just said, ‘Relax. Play your game,”‘ said Khudobin, who was called up from Houston of the AHL before the game. “I just said to myself, ‘I have to stop the first shot, and it’ll be OK after that.”
He made several difficult saves during a power play to help preserve the victory. Then Guillaume Latendresse manoeuvred through the slot for a back-hander with 7:48 left, and Havlat – who was strong all night and got some double shifts with the Wild using only 11 forwards – stretched the lead a little later.
Coach Todd Richards was beaming afterward about the rookie goalie’s performance.
“He looked confident and ready to go,” Richards said. “Those young kids, when you get your opportunity you’re always thinking about succeeding.”
Mike Comrie scored for the first time in three months for the Oilers, whose modest two-game winning streak ended on the heels of a brutal six-week stretch that pushed them to the bottom of the league. Coach Pat Quinn lamented three goals “that you don’t really like” in the third period.
Jeff Deslauriers made 30 saves, but the late lapse dimmed a bit his 1-0 shutout of Philadelphia the night before.
“That’s been the story of a lot of our games,” Quinn said. “We just don’t do it, and they do. We waste a good effort. I suppose it’s not a waste if we learn something.”
The Oilers were tired after a late-night arrival from Edmonton.
“Our legs were maybe tired and not ready because we didn’t skate this morning,” Pouliot said. “I think overall we did pretty well.”
After an almost unfathomable 1-18-2 record from mid-December through the end of January, the Oilers started February strong with two wins this week. They got a break here, too, when nemesis Backstrom was put on injured reserve by the Wild before the game.
Backstrom, who missed his fourth straight game, was in the net for all 11 of Minnesota’s wins during the streak against Edmonton at Xcel Energy Center with a goals against average of 1.08. The rest of the Wild goalies who previously played at home against the Oilers were a collective 4-9-1.
After Dubielewicz started in Tuesday night’s defeat at Dallas and ended the Backstrom-Harding tandem streak at 234 games, dating four seasons, Harding got the call for this game despite his less-than-healthy hip.
In the end, the Wild had a solid start for their critical five-game homestand without the lament of numerous wasted scoring chances throughout the first two periods. They’re 7-0-1 in their last eight games here.
NOTES: Following their game in Edmonton on Wednesday night, both the Oilers and the Flyers flew to Minnesota. Philadelphia faces the Wild here Saturday night. … The Wild have outscored the Oilers 43-14 during this home winning streak. Their last loss to Edmonton at home was more than three years ago. … Antti Miettinen has at least one goal in seven of his last nine games for the Wild. … Comrie scored on a power play in the second period, seconds after a 5-on-3 ended. The two-time 30-goal scorer missed 30 games this season because of mononucleosis. … Richards on Harding: “We’ll talk to the doctors and find out what’s going on. He had to have been hurting pretty bad seeing him come off the ice.”