GLENDALE, Ariz. – Eric Belanger is playing a number of roles for the injury-riddled Minnesota Wild, and he is loving it.
Belanger scored with 9:25 remaining to lift the Wild past the Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 on Saturday night. “I feel good out there and I’m playing with a lot of confidence,” Belanger said. “My legs feel great. I’m playing in every situation, and as a player you can’t ask for any more.”
Benoit Pouliot and Mikko Koivu also scored for the Wild, who snapped a two-game losing streak. Minnesota has not lost to the Coyotes in nearly two years.
Olli Jokinen scored twice, Shane Doan had two assists, and Ilya Bryzgalov made 30 saves for the Coyotes, who have lost five of seven.
Niklas Backstrom stopped 25 shots to improve to 7-0 against Phoenix.
“It’s been a while since we beat that team,” Doan said. “As a group we didn’t play a full 60 minutes, they did and they got rewarded for it.”
The Wild, already without Marian Gaborik and Owen Nolan, lost defenceman Brent Burns minutes before the game to an upper body injury sustained in warmups. Tomas Mojzis, originally on the list of scratches, dressed and left in the second period with an upper body injury.
Asked how long he could keep patching together lineups, Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said, “Until I die. And it’s coming.”
Jokinen tied it 2-2 with 2:33 left in the second period when he outfought defenceman Kim Johnsson for the puck just inside the Wild zone, skated toward the crease and deked Backstrom to the ice before scoring on a backhanded shot.
“Going into the third period it was a tie game and those are the games you want to win, especially at home,” Jokinen said.
Minnesota took advantage of a Coyotes turnover to take the lead. Peter Mueller’s attempted clearing pass was intercepted by Marc-Andre Bergeron, and the defenceman bounced a pass off David Hale’s leg and onto Belanger’s stick in the left circle. Belanger shot a wobbler, but the puck slipped over Bryzgalov’s pad and into the net to make it 3-2.
“We were forechecking pretty good and created the turnover,” Belanger said. “I was in the right place at the right time. It went right on my stick.”
Phoenix took a 1-0 lead 7:17 in when Jokinen corralled a long rebound off the end boards and fired the puck into the top right corner of the net from below the left circle.
Pouliot made it 1-1 at 1:29 of the second.
“They gave me my chance tonight and I tried to prove it,” Pouliot said. “That’s what they want me to do, contribute. For the beginning of the season it’s going good and we’re winning games.”
Minnesota took the lead midway through the period when Koivu took a pass from Antti Miettinen and scored from the low slot.
“We had a lot of turnovers in the first half of the game,” Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. “Against a team with as strong discipline as they play, you just can’t turn the puck over too many times.”
Notes: Jokinen has three goals in two games. … Doan has five points in two games, including Thursday’s winning goal against Pittsburgh. … Phoenix’s last win in the series was Nov. 14, 2006, at home. … The Wild played their eighth straight game without Marian Gaborik and fourth consecutive without fellow forward Owen Nolan, who are out due to lower body injuries. … Mojzis had an eventful night for someone announced as a scratch. Off-ice officials discovered Mojzis had dressed when he went to the penalty box to serve a first-period bench minor. He was back in the penalty box for Jokinen’s first goal before leaving in the second.