ST. PAUL, Minn. – Mikko Koivu gets his share of criticism for not being a more prolific goal scorer. A few more games like this and those critics will go away in a hurry.
Koivu scored twice and Matt Cullen netted the winner in the shootout as the Minnesota Wild beat the St. Louis Blues 3-2 on Saturday night.
Koivu tied the game with 1:38 to play with a power-play goal, and then scored in the shootout.
“I don’t understand the scrutiny. I don’t get it,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “The guy is the captain of our team. The guy is a complete team-first guy. It’s unfair to expect a guy to go out and score and do all these things night in and night out, but what you can expect is that you’re going to play for the team. He’s been doing that.
“He gives us a chance to win every game because of the way he plays the game, and it’s great to see him get rewarded.”
Minnesota’s Josh Harding turned away Kevin Shattenkirk in the tiebreaker, and the Northwest Division-leading Wild won for the ninth time in 11 games.
The Wild’s 27 points are the team’s most through 20 games in its 11 NHL seasons. Minnesota has won five straight at home for the first time since March 15-April 3, 2008, when the Wild went on a six-game streak.
T.J. Oshie and David Backes scored for St. Louis, which has lost four straight road games.
The Blues also lost to the Wild on Nov. 5, and then fired coach Davis Payne the next day. St. Louis is 4-0-2 under new coach Ken Hitchcock.
Oshie made it 2-1 with 13:53 to play in regulation, but the Wild continued their late-game heroics. Minnesota is 8-2-3 in one-goal games.
“The last 10 minutes, shift after shift, we went after them and created the momentum,” Koivu said. “It gives you confidence if you have chances.”
St. Louis took a 1-0 lead halfway through the first period on Backes’ seventh goal.
Seconds after Harding denied Jason Arnott from close range, Oshie fired a slap shot, and Backes poked in the rebound.
“You give them momentum, they took it and they played well,” Backes said. “They kept coming, and that’s why they’re so successful, they hang around, hang around and they bury their opportunities.”
Koivu tied it at 2:37 of the second with a short-handed goal, his second of the season and his first at home since March 20.
Koivu swiped the puck from Patrik Berglund, flashed in front of the net and beat surprised goalie Jaroslav Halak in the upper right corner of the net.
It was the first goal in six games allowed by the Blues in the second or third periods.
“You could just see it on the bench, everyone was so jacked up,” Wild defenceman Justin Falk said. “Everyone was so excited for Mikko. We wanted to see him get rewarded.”
The previous game between these teams was filled with penalties, including one stretch in which 11 players were in the penalty box.
Only four penalties were called Saturday, but the last one was big.
Arnott was whistled for slashing at 18:12 of the third, setting up the power play that led to Koivu’s tying goal past Halak.
“Two minutes to go, you can’t take a penalty there. You’ve got to be able to fight through it,” Hitchcock said. “It’s a physical game, you’ve got to be able to play physical, can’t be reaching and stuff like that.”
Halak stopped 30 shots, including a sprawling left-pad save on Cal Clutterbuck in the third that would have tied it with eight minutes left.
“He was stellar in net. We should’ve got the win for him,” Blues defenceman Barret Jackman said.
Harding got the start over regular goalie Niklas Backstrom, who is 4-0-1 with a .960 save percentage in his last five games.
NOTES: Wild D Marco Scandella skated in the morning, but missed his fourth consecutive game because of a concussion. Defenceman Marek Zidlicky missed his second straight game, and LW Guillaume Latendresse his fourth also because of concussions. … Blues D Ian Cole played after being a healthy scratch the previous three games. … Blues D Ryan Reaves used the back of his left hand to swat a flying puck past Harding midway through the second period. Reaves, who doesn’t have a point this season, grinned as referee Stephen Walkom immediately waved off the goal.