The puck sailed past the Vancouver goalie to tie the game, and Minnesota seized the momentum. Rolston’s 10th goal of the season was a major part of the Wild’s rally from a sluggish start in a 5-2 win over the Canucks on Thursday night.
“I was out, too, so he just got a piece of it and beat me,” Luongo said. “That’s the bottom line. Not many guys are going to take a slapper from there. I’ll tell you that.”
Nick Schultz, Pascal Dupuis and Branko Radivojevic scored in the third period as Minnesota broke open the game, and Niklas Backstrom subbed for an ill Manny Fernandez to stop all 19 shots he faced over the final two frames.
“The way the team responded was unbelievable,” said Backstrom, a 28-year-old rookie from Finland who picked up his second NHL victory.
Backstrom became the first goalie in the modern era, which began in 1943, to win twice before starting a game. Backstrom relieved Fernandez after a three-goal first period against Nashville on Oct. 7 and Minnesota came back for a 6-5 victory.
Failing to control the puck and trailing by two with 15 seconds left in the first period, the Wild used two big officiating breaks to get back in the game.
Todd White’s goal was initially waved off for kicking, but a video review reversed the original call and cut the lead to 2-1. White claimed he was skating away from the net and simply trying to stop the puck as it sped toward him, not shoot.
The Canucks were livid.
“Everybody knew it in the building. That’s all I’ve got to say about that one,” Luongo said.
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault questioned White’s goal and argued that the call was wrong on defenseman Rory Fitzpatrick that gave Rolston his penalty shot late in the second period.
Rolston raced past Fitzpatrick to win a 1-on-1 chase, tried a shot and then went sprawling on the ice after he was tripped. Fitzpatrick figured he only should have been called for hooking or interference.
“He still got the shot off,” Fitzpatrick said.
There was another turning point for the Canucks, though, that had nothing to do with the referees. Luongo, who made 19 saves, was in command until Rolston’s first-period power-play slap shot stung him on the left shoulder and sent him face down on the ice in pain.
“I was fine. I was just a little numb for a few seconds there, but it went away gradually,” said Luongo, who had an obvious welt on the area afterward.
Ryan Kesler and Jan Bulis scored 51 seconds apart in the first period for Vancouver, which went 0-for-6 on the power play and continued to struggle with the man advantage. The Canucks, just 9-for-81 this season, entered the game tied for 24th in the league in that category.
Fernandez, who has started all 12 games in the net and entered the night with a league-best .942 save percentage, didn’t have much help from his defence.
Kesler, on a behind-the-net pass from Alexandre Burrows, sent a shot between Fernandez’s legs for the first score. Then Bulis, positioned perfectly between Wild defencemen Martin Skoula and Petteri Nummelin, sent in a rebound of Mattias Ohlund’s shot to give Vancouver a two-goal edge.
Minnesota tightened up the checking in its own zone after that, though. It was a much better overall effort for the Wild than the last game, a 4-1 loss at Colorado that prompted coach Jacques Lemaire to characterize his club’s performance at the level of a junior team.
But despite a 10-2 record that’s tied for second-best in the Western Conference, there is plenty of room for improvement.
“Let’s say it’s OK. Just OK. Only OK,” Lemaire said.
Notes: Rolston – who moved into a tie for third in the league in goals – was named captain again for November, the sixth time in Minnesota’s six seasons that a player has been awarded the honor in consecutive months. The team has a tradition of rotating captains, instead of naming one for the entire season. … Luongo has played 13 of 14 games.