CALGARY – With his team desperately in need of a victory, Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu stepped up and delivered.
Koivu scored his seventh goal and added two assists as the Wild opened up back-to-back games against Calgary with a 3-1 victory Saturday night over the Flames.
“When you’re struggling a little bit, it’s hard on everyone,” said Koivu, whose three points matched his season high. “You have to find a way to come out of it. You have to work as hard as you can and just believe in yourself.”
Koivu’s big night came a day after coach Todd Richards sat down with him for a one-on-one meeting.
“Mikko was tremendous in the game. He was great. He stepped up and the rest of the team followed,” Richards said. “I truly believe that teams follow their leaders. We have other leaders on the team but when you’re wearing the ‘C’, that’s one of the responsibilities that come with wearing the ‘C’, the team takes on your personality, takes on how you play the game.”
Koivu has 28 points this season. Last year, the he led the team in scoring with 71 points.
Antti Miettinen and Chuck Kobasew also scored for Minnesota (14-13-4), while Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom made 28 saves, 14 of them in the third period.
Matt Stajan scored the lone goal for Calgary (14-16-3).
“We blocked a lot of shots, the D did a very good job of keeping their guys away from the front of the net and letting Backstrom see the pucks and obviously, that’s huge,” said Koivu. “They’re a big team and they come to the net hard, and we knew that, it’s a big challenge for the D and they did a very good job tonight.”
The Wild had been struggling of late. A 2-5-2 skid coming into Saturday’s game had dropped the team to 14th in the Western Conference.
Saturday’s win moved them past Calgary into 13th spot, and the two Northwest Division rivals will meet again Monday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Flames captain Jarome Iginla failed to collect a point, ending his points streak at nine games (five goals, seven assists). Iginla entered the night with the second-longest active streak behind Sidney Crosby.
“We knew the importance of the game, they did too, they were coming off two losses they were a very desperate team,” Iginla said. “It’s not like we gave them a million chances, they were opportunistic, they got a power play goal and we didn’t capitalize on our chances and in a tight game, that was the difference.”
With the game scoreless late in the second period, the Wild got an opportunity at 14:03 when Calgary’s Niklas Hagman was penalized for a chop on defenceman Marek Zidlicky.
Minnesota took advantage of its first power play of the night with Koivu sending a cross-ice pass to Miettinen, who one-timed the puck past Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff.
The goal came after an uneventful first half to the game, including a 10-minute stretch of listless play in which both sides combined for just one shot on goal. The Scotiabank Saddledome sell-out crowd of 19,289 had little to cheer about.
Minnesota increased its lead to two goals in the final minute of the second when Koivu redirected Brent Burns’ shot past Kiprusoff.
“We were trying to get something going and that killed our momentum,” said Flames defenceman Cory Sarich.
Backstrom, who has struggled the past month having surrendered 28 goals in his previous six starts, was busiest in the final half of the third period as the Flames made a late push.
Stajan broke Backstrom’s shutout bid at 14:43 of the third period, scoring just his second goal in 45 games dating back to last season.
“We didn’t play the whole game like we played the last eight or nine minutes,” said Stajan, who had no goals in his last 18 games. “If we played like that the whole game, there’s not doubt how that game would have turned out.”
The Flames finish up 2-1 on a three-game homestand and now hit the road for a three-game road trip that wraps up on Dec. 23.
“You have to string wins together when you’re in a position like we are and tonight was a great opportunity,” said Sarich.
Notes: It was the first time since Oct. 19 Minnesota scored more than one goal in the second period. … Minnesota C Matt Cullen (groin) returned after missing three games. Absent was D Cam Barker (personal reasons). … LW Curtis Glencross was a healthy scratch for the Flames for the second game in a row. … Iginla leads all opponents with 31 career goals against the Wild, 13 more than the next guys on the list (Milan Hejduk, Daymond Langkow). … Calgary is 18-2-1 against Minnesota when Iginla scores.