ST. PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota coach Mike Yeo didn’t flinch after his goalie’s rare flop.
He went right back to Niklas Backstrom, and the Wild rode his glove to an important victory.
Backstrom rebounded from a rough game and an early exit on an emotional evening with 32 saves, and the Wild stopped a two-game losing streak with a 3-1 win over Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night.
“He’s been so good for us this year that he deserves that opportunity to bounce back after a game like that,” Yeo said.
Backstrom is 17-2-4 with a 1.91 goals against average in games after he has been pulled for performance and not injury. He, like many of the Wild players, was distracted by a ceremony honouring late teammate Derek Boogaard before Sunday’s game.
They lost that one 5-2 to Calgary, the same score of their defeat by Edmonton on Friday. This came after they won 10 of 12 going into Thanksgiving. Backstrom said it was “huge” to put the previous three days behind him.
“You can’t think too much. It’s hockey. A lot of things happen to you. Just rely on yourself, work hard and play your own game,” he said.
Stamkos scored again for the Lightning, but they misfired on a bunch of open nets. Cal Clutterbuck’s short-handed goal—his third this season—and Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s go-ahead score in the second period gave the Wild all the offence they needed. Mikko Koivu had an assist and an empty-net goal to cap a quick, clean game that featured only four penalties.
“We’re getting on the power play, if we’re lucky, twice a game,” Stamkos said. “I don’t know if that’s just a coincidence or if we’re not drawing enough penalties, but in order for our power play to be successful you can’t have one a game and expect it to score every time.”
The Wild played a smart, disciplined, aggressive game to close a season-high, six-game homestand. They had good puck placement against Tampa Bay’s 1-3-1 trap and weren’t fazed after a fruitless first period.
“We were confident. We were in our element. We knew exactly what we were doing. The biggest thing for us was just sticking with it,” Clutterbuck said.
Stamkos—the NHL’s second-leading scorer—struck first for the Lightning with a remarkable end-to-end rush early in the second period after stealing the puck from Dany Heatley. He has nine goals in 11 games and four goals in his last four games, but that hasn’t been enough to get the Lightning going.
The Lightning beat Florida twice over the weekend—Garon gave up only one goal in each game—but their momentum was slowed by Backstrom. They became the last NHL team this season to lose a one-goal decision in regulation, falling to 6-1-2 in those situations.
“We’ve got to make sure we earn every point. Some nights you empty the tank, and you still might come up short. That’s part of the game. We’ve got to start seeing those results shortly here, that’s for sure,” left wing Ryan Malone said.
The Wild and their fans got going when defenceman Eric Brewer lost control of the puck behind the net during a power play, and Koivu snagged it near the slot. He flicked it to Clutterbuck for the score, giving Koivu his fifth assist—he was the primary passer on all of them—in four games.
“That hurts. It gave them life,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard, off a feed from Nick Johnson, one-timed a shot past goalie Mathieu Garon with 2:54 left before the second intermission to give the Wild a 2-1 edge. Backstrom, who found himself on the bench less than nine minutes into Sunday night’s game after giving up three goals on eight shots, made it stand.
Dominic Moore had a clear path from close range when defenceman Clayton Stoner slipped and fell in front of him, but Backstrom kicked aside his shot. Then he thwarted Ryan Shannon’s breakaway with a glove save before the break.
“He was unbelievable. I don’t expect anything less of him. I don’t think anybody else in here did,” Clutterbuck said.
Defenceman Mike Lundin made his Wild debut, skating in an NHL game for the first time since the Eastern Conference finals with the Lightning last spring. He missed the first 23 games of this season recovering from a back injury.
Fellow blue-liner Greg Zanon joined him, returning to the lineup after a 16-game absence because of a groin problem.
NOTES: Lundin, who played at Apple Valley High School in the Twin Cities, became the 10th native Minnesotan to skate for the Wild in 11 years of existence. To make room for him and Zanon, C Warren Peters and D Nate Prosser were reassigned to Houston of the AHL. C Dave McIntyre was recalled from the Aeros for his NHL debut. D Justin Falk was scratched because of an undisclosed upper body injury. … This was the third time in 11 seasons that the Wild played home games on consecutive days. … Lightning RW Steve Downie was scratched for the third straight game because of an upper-body injury. … Koivu scored his 100th career goal.