ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Ottawa Senators have found their confidence – and their scoring touch – under new coach Cory Clouston.
Daniel Alfredsson scored a short-handed goal early in the third period and the Senators overcame a three-goal, first-period deficit to win their fourth straight game, 5-3 over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night.
Brian Lee, Antoine Vermette, Chris Phillips and Dany Heatley also scored for the Senators, 4-1-1 since Clouston replaced the fired Craig Hartsburg.
Alex Auld got the victory, stopping 17 shots in relief of Brian Elliott.
“It goes back quite a ways since we’ve had a win like this,” Phillips said. “It’s a big lift for a team that for the most part this year has struggled. To come back against a team that is known for their defensive play, it’s that much harder. But it feels that much better when you can come back on a team like that.”
Alfredsson intercepted a cross-ice pass from Marek Zidlicky, and went in 2-on-1 with Mike Fisher. Alfredsson’s shot from the left circle was stopped by Josh Harding but the rebound popped up in the air, came back down off Harding’s arm and into the net 2:29 into the period. Officials reviewed the play, but the call stood.
“When we were down 3-0 we knew it would be tough, but we it was an upbeat locker-room,” Alfredsson said. “It’s a pretty impressive win.”
Minnesota’s Owen Nolan had two goals, Pierre-Marc Bouchard also scored, and James Sheppard had two assists. The Wild have lost two straight. It was the first time in team history Minnesota lost at home when leading by three goals.
Much of the credit for the recent Ottawa success had been its offensive aggressiveness, strong blue-line play and stellar goaltending. Absent for the first half of the game, it returned for the second half.
That was partially due to some changes made during the first intermission, including a shuffling of line combinations, which Clouston thought provided some extra energy.
“They’re a group that believes right now. We’ve been down a couple times in the last few games and we’ve been able to squeak out some points,” Clouston said. “All the credit goes to those guys. They went out and executed and got results.”
Up 3-0, Minnesota returned to its traditional defensive shell in the second, allowing the Senators to tie it with three goals in a 6:22 span. Minnesota was booed off the ice after the period.
Lee, from Moorhead, Minn., scored his first goal in 19 games on a wrist shot from the right circle at 12:39 – 7 seconds after a Wild penalty expired.
Vermette one-timed a pass from Chris Kelly into the Wild net 4 minutes later before Phillips and Alfredsson converted a 2-on-1 short-handed opportunity with 58.8 seconds to play in the period. Kelly had two assists.
Niklas Backstrom, who was 4-1 with a 1.39 goals-against average and .950 save percentage in his last five home starts, was pulled after the period and replaced by Harding, who had 39 saves Thursday night in a 4-2 loss at Detroit.
“It was the toughest loss of the season so far,” said defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron, whose team fell to 10th place in the Western Conference standings.
“I hope these two points are not going to haunt us,” Backstrom said.
Bouchard put Minnesota up 1-0 just 1:15 in, taking a pass from Nolan, cutting to the slot, and beating Elliott with a wrist shot.
Nolan scored on the power play eight minutes later, tipping a slap shot by Brent Burns into the Senators’ net. Nolan’s second goal of the period came four minutes later when he redirected a pass from Sheppard into a vacant Ottawa net. Elliott had moved to his left to focus on Sheppard, who deked two defenders before passing to Nolan.
Elliott, who allowed three goals in his past two games, was pulled after the third Minnesota goal. He stopped just nine of the 12 shots he faced.
“After we went up 3-0 it wasn’t the same plan,” Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. “Some players had their own plan, and we tried to tell them it’s not what we want, but they kept going. It’s 3-nothing, then 3-1, and then the force changed sides. Now they had confidence and they came back, and then at 3-3 you wake up and try to come back.”
Heatley scored an empty-netter for his third goal in two games.
Notes: Minnesota had allowed just two short-handed goals in its first 54 games. … The teams last faced one another on Nov. 20, 2006. … Ottawa forward Shean Donovan played his 900th NHL game. … Minnesota fell to 11-3-1 against the Eastern Conference this season, the most wins of any team against the other conference. … Nolan’s only other two-goal game this season was Jan. 4 at Colorado – with both goals also scored in the opening frame.