ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild weren’t at their best and still found a way to win again. The Phoenix Coyotes played better than they had been recently, though it wasn’t enough to stop their freefall.
Mikko Koivu scored at 2:43 of overtime to give Minnesota a 4-3 comeback victory over Phoenix on Wednesday night, extending the Wild’s winning streak to seven and the Coyotes’ skid to seven.
Koivu skated out from the corner and beat goalie Jason LaBarbera between the pads to complete the rally and move Minnesota into a tie with Vancouver atop the Northwest Division. It was his third career overtime winner.
“Pretty simple story. We had a few individuals who said, ‘We’re not going to lose that game’ tonight,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
Minnesota tied it with 54.3 seconds left in regulation, with Ryan Suter scoring on a wrist shot from the left point with Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom off for an extra attacker.
“You have to find ways to win when you’re not at your best. We weren’t at our best tonight and we knew that, and we were able to come out in the third period and get the win. I think that says a lot about us,” Suter said.
Torrey Mitchell and Matt Cullen also scored for the Wild, and Backstrom stopped 24 shots to tie a career high with his seventh straight win.
“It’s a confidence boost, but also a bit of a wakeup call, too,” Cullen said. “We can’t afford to go into games not quite ready. It was a good sign for us to come back and get the win, kind of grind one out.”
Rob Klinkhammer, Boyd Gordon and Michael Stone scored for Phoenix, which trailed 2-0 before rallying for a 3-2 lead in the third period. LaBarbera made 33 saves.
“It’s about a big of a kick to the nuts as you’re going to get. I felt like we were going to win that game,” LaBarbera said.
The Coyotes, in serious danger of missing the playoffs after reaching the Western Conference finals last season, finally found some offence after being outscored 16-5 in their previous six losses.
“We battled back for a point, but the reality is in our situation we need more than one point. … When you continue to find ways to give points away it’s very frustrating,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said.
Stone gave the Coyotes a 3-2 lead early in the third period. Backstrom stopped Shane Doan at the edge of the crease and the puck trickled out to the top of the right circle to Stone, who let go with a slap shot that found the top corner.
From there, the Wild picked up their intensity, while the Coyotes were forced into a bit of a defensive shell clinging to the slight advantage.
“I think anytime you’ve got a desperate team on the other side, they’re going to come with a lot of aggressive forechecks and pucks in and getting opportunities. You just can’t afford to sit back,” Stone said.
Through Feb. 26, Minnesota was last in the league scoring just 2.06 goals per game, but since then the Wild has averaged 3.64 goals per contest. The Wild have outscored their last seven opponents 31-17, and have scored at least four goals in five of its past seven and eight of its past 14.
“I don’t know that we would’ve handled that as well earlier in the year. It’s another good indication of the fact that we’re a different team right now. The bench was still up, the bench still believed and guys went out and raised our game,” Yeo said.
Minnesota opened the scoring on Mitchell’s goal off a rebound with 4:45 left in the first period, and Cullen made it 2-0 at 5:29 of the second. From behind his net, LaBarbera tried to clear the puck up the ice, but Cullen knocked it down with his stick and put it into the empty net.
“I had to redeem myself after that dumb play and I knew from that point on I had to shut the door, and the guys responded,” LaBarbera said. “Down 2-0 we were struggling a bit, but the guys hung in there.
Klinkhammer countered at 11:13, fighting of a check and lifting a shot over Backstrom’s glove. Gordon tied it with 5:32 left in the period, tipping in Keith Yandle’s weak shot for his first goal in 35 games.
NOTES: Cullen has three goals and 11 assists in his last 14 games. … Phoenix LW Lauri Korpikoski missed a game for the first time this season. He’s day-to-day with an upper-body injury. … Minnesota has scored first in 10 of its last 12 games. … Phoenix is 1-9-3 this season when trailing after one period, and 8-1-1 when leading after 20 minutes.