ST. PAUL, Minn. – Mikko Koivu’s deft playmaking helped make up for the absence of Wild star Marian Gaborik.
Koivu assisted on goals by Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen and Brent Burns to lead Minnesota over the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 on Monday night.
Koivu, Brunette and Miettinen have combined for 29 points this season to lead the Wild (6-0-1) to the only unbeaten regulation record in the NHL. Gaborik has missed five straight games because of an unspecified lower-body injury.
“The goals come from Mikko’s line, and it’s a lot of goals,” Wild coach Jaques Lemaire said. “If you look at their shifts, their shifts are all in the offensive zone. They control the puck so well, move the puck so well.”
Chicago, which had its seven-game point streak snapped, grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first period on a goal by Patrick Sharp, but allowed the next three goals and had its third-period rally fall short.
A turning point came when the Wild killed a 5-on-3 Chicago power play in the second.
“I always feel if you don’t score on a 5-on-3 that you don’t deserve to win the game, and that’s generally the result,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Koivu has been Minnesota’s best player during its early season streak. The fourth-year Finn leads Minnesota with 13 points and is among the league leaders in assists with 12.
“It’s better not to think about it,” said Koivu who has notched at least three points in a game seven times in his career. “Individually and as a line, you’ve just got to focus and find a way every night.”
Goalie Niklas Backstrom is also streaking, posting an 11-0-1 record in his past 12 decisions dating back to last season. He stopped 34 shots Monday.
Lemaire has always had confidence in Backstrom, but really likes what he’s seen so far this season.
“He doesn’t give up bad goals,” Lemaire said. “They have to work for the goals they get.”
The Blackhawks (3-3-3) remained winless on the road this season and have only won three times in 15 tries in Minnesota.
Duncan Keith’s point-blank slap shot trickled past Backstrom and cut Minnesota’s lead to 3-2 with under five minutes left in the third.
“It’s a tough loss, but we feel like there’s going to be a lot more streaks,” Sharp said.
The Wild have struggled in its last three third periods. On Oct. 23, it gave up a two-goal lead and lost to Buffalo. On Saturday, Columbus nearly tied the Wild in the third, but saw a last-minute goal overturned.
If not for the strong play of Backstrom late, Minnesota may have coughed this one up, too.
Nonetheless, Lemaire felt better during this tense third period than the last two.
“The guys started to understand how to play in the defensive zone,” he said. “It gave me more confidence than the last two games.”
Chicago had a 23-11 advantage in shots on goal at one point late in the second period, but three of Minnesota’s shots sneaked past goalie Cristobal Huet.
Brunette made it 1-1 late in the first after he took a pass from Miettinen off his chest and stuffed it past Huet.
Owen Nolan forced a neutral-zone turnover 4:31 into the second period that set up Koivu’s 3-on-2 feed to Miettinen, who put a shot through Huet’s legs that made it 2-1.
Burns’ goal came on a nifty backdoor pass from Koivu 13:12 into the second and proved to be the game-winner.
A reporter suggested to Keith after the game that his team played well despite the loss. Keith disagreed.
“We kind of played right into their hands,” he said. “So saying it’s a good game, I don’t think that sits well with us.”
“I still think we did a lot of good things tonight on our side,” Quenneville said. “Bottom line is I think there’s a lesson to be learned.”
Notes: Burns left the game late in the second period with an undisclosed injury and never returned. … Cam Barker, the No. 3 pick in the NHL draft in 2004, was called up from AHL Rockford before the game and made his season debut for Chicago. Jordan Hendry and Niklas Hjalmarsson were sent down on Sunday. … The Wild have yet to allow an opponent to score a power-play goal in 22 chances. … … Sharp has a point in seven consecutive games.