ST. PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire was able to say something Saturday night that he hasn’t said in quite a while.
After a strong opening period, Lemaire looked at an assistant coach and said, “All of a sudden I like the team because everyone’s working and everyone’s doing what they were supposed to do, and I know we have a chance when they do this. Now it’s a matter of doing it.”
Owen Nolan had two goals and an assist, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Martin Skoula and Stephane Veilleux also scored in Minnesota’s 5-2 victory over Detroit.
The Wild ended a three-game losing streak and scored at least four goals for the first time in eight games. Niklas Backstrom made 35 saves.
“Tonight we made better plays and we got good shots on net,” Lemaire said.
Tomas Kopecky and Ville Leino scored for Detroit, which lost for the first time in four games, and just the second time in regulation in 11 February games.
Minnesota blew a three-goal lead in the first period one week ago in losing to Ottawa before falling to Calgary in overtime Thursday, a game that led Lemaire to question some of his player’s effort.
“This is huge, going into tomorrow’s game in Chicago and going into March with all the games on the road. It was a great team effort,” said Skoula. After Tuesday’s home game with Los Angeles, the Wild plays 14 of 17 away from the Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild badly needed the two points as they try to stay in the playoff chase. Minnesota entered the night two points out of a playoff spot in the ultra-tight Western Conference, but just three points ahead of the last-place trio of Colorado, Phoenix and St. Louis.
Detroit, 2-5-1 in its last eight road games, trails San Jose by three points atop the conference standings. The Sharks, who beat Atlanta 3-1 on Saturday, travel to Detroit on Wednesday night, the Red Wings’ next game.
Jimmy Howard will likely not be with Detroit for that one. The goalie was called up from Grand Rapids of the AHL on Thursday for the first time this season because Chris Osgood has been given a few days off to mentally regroup after a tough stretch.
“It definitely didn’t go as planned,” Howard said. “I’m still going to take some good things out of this game. I wish I could’ve done more with the opportunity I received here, but I still believe in myself and think that I’ll be an NHL goalie one day.”
Howard’s first start since Feb. 23, 2008, had a rough beginning.
Nolan, who has two three-point games in his last three outings, beat Howard through the pads with a snap shot from the right dot at 2:50, before coming from behind the net and putting a backhand past Howard for a power-play goal at 8:15. Two Detroit defenders were standing nearby. It was the second straight Saturday Nolan had two first-period goals.
“It was definitely the way we wanted to start. We were on the puck with good skating,” Bouchard said. “From back in net, from our D, from every forward, I think everybody stepped up their game.”
Kopecky scored early in the second, pushing in a centring pass from Leino, whose pass was lost in the skates of Brent Burns. It was his first goal in 22 games.
Detroit controlled play most of the middle period, but two late Wild goals put the game away.
Bouchard got a couple of strides behind Brian Rafalski through the neutral zone, grabbing a loose puck cleared from the Wild zone by Nolan, before beating Howard on a wrist shot.
Skoula scored 1:31 later converting a cross-ice feed from Mikko Koivu, who took the puck away from Rafalski and Pavel Datsyuk. It was Skoula’s first goal in 72 games, dating to March 2, 2008.
“I think we were both thinking the other guy was going to play the body and we didn’t want to mess with the other guy and nobody touched him,” Rafalski said.
Leino tipped in Rafalski’s shot from the blue line in the third period, but Veilleux added an empty-netter with 1.8 seconds left.
Detroit finished 0-for-5 on the power play, after going 7-for-11 in its previous two wins. Minnesota entered the game tied with the New York Rangers for the league’s best penalty kill at 87.2 per cent.
“They box in the neutral zone, they get above and below you. And their goalie made a ton of saves. Its not like we didn’t have opportunities, he just played well. Your best penalty killer is always your goaltender and I thought he was excellent tonight,” said Detroit coach Mike Babcock.
Minnesota left wing Andrew Brunette sat out the game because of a lower-body injury, ending the NHL’s longest active consecutive games streak at 509. He last missed a game Dec. 31, 2001, because of a shoulder contusion.
Notes: Howard’s last win was Nov. 28, 2005, eight appearances ago. … Detroit D Brett Lebda missed his fifth straight game with a bad back. He is listed as day-to-day. … Minnesota RW Craig Weller returned after missing 13 games with a head injury. … Nolan has 37 points in 48 career games against Detroit.