ST. PAUL, Minn. – With 11 players sitting in the penalty boxes across the ice, Minnesota coach Mike Yeo knew his team was doing something right.
The Wild were leading St. Louis by two goals early in the third period, and the Blues were losing their composure and starting to get a bit chippy.
“To me I think that that’s a great compliment when they go out and try to do the physical stuff,” Yeo said after his team’s 2-1 victory Saturday night. “I like seeing teams do that because to me it’s like saying, ‘This is the only way we can get it done.’ … That’s how we have to look at it, that the way we’re playing the game, we feel we’re in control.”
It’s been a while since the Wild have been able to say that.
Josh Harding stopped 30 shots to win his fourth straight start, and Dany Heatley and Guillaume Latendresse each scored for Minnesota, which also won its fourth in a row. That momentum is coming at just the right time, with the team about to embark on a five-game road trip.
“Even if we get four in a row, we’re going on our toughest stretch right now,” Latendresse said. “Five games on the road against really tough teams. The toughest part for us is we’re going to have to bring that game on the road and try to bring that game every night.”
Jamie Langenbrunner scored his first goal of the season with two minutes to play. The Blues pulled goalie Jaroslav Halak with 1:26 to go, but couldn’t get another shot past Harding.
Halak stopped 24 shots but lost his fifth consecutive start.
“His record is not speaking to the kind of goalie he’s been,” teammate Matt D’Agostini said. “He gave us a chance tonight.”
A night after ending a two-game skid in a 3-2 win at home against Vancouver, the Blues had a rough time getting the puck out of their zone and lost their third straight road game.
“We waited too long to bring the game to our level,” D’Agostini said.
Harding, on the other hand, has been at his best level since starting in place of Niklas Backstrom against Detroit on Oct. 29. Since then, Harding has stopped all but three of the 131 shots he’s faced and has a .977 save percentage with a 0.75 goals-against average. He’s won four in a row for the first time since December 2007.
Before the game, Yeo said he planned to start Backstrom at Calgary on Tuesday. Afterward, he seemed to hedge but said he still anticipated giving Backstrom the start.
“That’s the coaches’ call,” Harding said. “Whatever they decide. Obviously Backy, he’s been awesome.”
Two nights after taking 45 shots—a franchise record for a home game—against the Canucks, Minnesota came out aggressive again against the Blues but didn’t get many clear looks at the net early. After a scoreless first period that featured a combined 10 shots, the Wild went up 1-0 when Heatley scored his fourth goal of the season, beating Halak to the glove side on a 2-on-1 at 11:39 of the second.
Latendresse made it 2-0 seven minutes later on a pretty backhander after intercepting an ugly clearing attempt by Alex Pietrangelo.
Things got chippy toward the end of the second when Langenbrunner sparked a 10-man scrum by pushing Marek Zidlicky into the post after Harding froze the puck. The officials handed 5-minute penalties to three players from each team.
“We’re, for whatever reason, falling off our game for 10-, 15-minute spans and it’s costly,” Langenbrunner said.
NOTES: Minnesota is 7-1-2 against the Western Conference and 4-0-1 against the Central Division. … St. Louis plays its next five games at home, while Minnesota plays its next five on the road. The Blues’ next road game is back in Minnesota in two weeks. … Latendresse has 22 goals in 43 home games for the Wild. … St. Louis is an NHL-worst 3 for 40 on the power play this season. The Blues went 0 for 2 on Saturday. … Minnesota has killed 14 straight penalties.