ST. PAUL, Minn. – Petr Sykora tried to act as if it wasn’t a big deal. Minnesota coach Todd Richards, however, saw a motivated player.
Two days after being banished to the press box as a healthy scratch, Sykora had a goal and to help Minnesota win for the first time in regulation this season, 3-2 over the New York Rangers on Friday night.
The game was originally billed as the return of Rangers star Marian Gaborik to Xcel Energy Center. That, however was scrapped when Gaborik was injured this week.
It ended up being Sykora’s redemption.
“I think Petr had something to prove,” Richards said. “I thought his battles in the corners, his battles for loose pucks, those are the things that were talked about.”
Sykora, who has scored 20 or more goals in each of the past 10 seasons, certainly got the Wild going. He scored the game’s first goal, giving the Wild a 1-0 lead for only the fourth time in 13 games this season.
When asked about being benched against Nashville on Wednesday night, Sykora said simply, “Let’s not talk about it.” But he was certainly pleased with the outcome.
“I’m happy with what happened tonight,” Sykora said. “I prepared the same way. I played a little hockey with my boy before the game, before I came to the rink. I got a couple two, three goals against him and it carried over to the game.”
That is something the Wild (4-9-0), who entered the game 29th in the NHL in goals per game, certainly needs.
“Petr’s a proven goal scorer, that’s his game,” said Minnesota’s Eric Belanger, who also scored. “You don’t like to see guys with that experience sitting in the stands. It’s good, it’s good to see him come back and get a goal and an assist. Hopefully he can keep going from here.”
For a Minnesota team that entered the game having lost eight of its past 10, the victory – the first this season in which the Wild never trailed – was much needed. Minnesota, which also got a goal from Antti Miettinen and two assists from Mikko Koivu, led 3-1 after two periods.
While the Minnesota players were somewhat disappointed by their lack of aggression in the third period and the fact that the Rangers (8-5-1) cut the lead to 3-2 on Marc Staal’s goal, Niklas Backstrom made six of his 18 saves over the final 20 minutes to pick up the victory.
In the end, however, the Wild players know they made progress for at least one night.
“We talked all day about trusting your teammates and believing in yourself,” said Miettinen, who broke a 20-game scoreless streak. “The biggest thing has probably been our confidence. Today we tried to build that and I think we came out good.”
For the Rangers, the loss extended a streak of poor play. After winning seven of eight games to start the season, New York is 1-4-1 in its last six games.
“We go back to work, there’s no magic potion trying to get out of this here,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “It’s just a matter of trying to cut down on our mistakes, especially the turnovers in the neutral zone, and go back to work and find a way.”
Dane Byers, playing in only his second NHL game, scored New York’s first goal on a rebound after almost not making it to the game. Recalled from Hartford of the AHL, Byers’ plane to Minnesota arrived late, he didn’t arrive at the arena until pre-game warmups were complete and finished dressing only about five minutes before the puck dropped.
NOTES: Sykora and first-year Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher will receive their Stanley Cup rings Saturday night when Minnesota plays at Pittsburgh. Fletcher spent the past three seasons as assistant general manager for the Penguins. Sykora scored 25 goals last season for Pittsburgh. … With Staal’s goal, the Rangers have 12 goals from their defencemen, best in the NHL. Calgary and Phoenix each have nine goals from the blue-line. … Sean Avery was scratched by the Rangers because of a knee injury. It was the fifth game this season that the left wing has missed. … The Rangers are in the midst of playing five of six on the road. The only game at Madison Square Garden in that stretch is Sunday against Boston.