ST. PAUL, Minn. – Niklas Backstrom hadn’t heard anything like this from the Xcel Energy Center crowd – not even in the playoffs.
Nursing a one-goal advantage, Backstrom and the Minnesota Wild withstood Carolina’s two-minute 5-on-3 advantage in the third period and ultimately hung on for a 3-2 victory on Tuesday night.
Marian Gaborik, Cal Clutterbuck and Stephane Veilleux all scored goals and Backstrom made 35 saves – including six during the Hurricanes’ two-man advantage – to help Minnesota win for just the second time in its last nine games and earn a roar of approval from the home crowd.
“Guys threw their bodies out there blocking shots, diving for the puck,” Backstrom said. “I’ve never played in front of a crowd like that. It was unbelievable how the crowd got pumped for that.”
Backstrom frustrated Carolina’s 22nd ranked power play that finished 0-for-4 against the Wild and holding the Hurricanes in check after they gained a 2-0 lead.
“We had some great shots, but their goalie made some big saves,” Carolina captain Rod Brind’Amour said. “We had some real good looks but the puck just wasn’t bouncing our way. Passes weren’t quite on and it gave them time to recover. That was the difference in the game.”
Brind’Amour snapped his 16-game scoring drought at 18:46 of the first period and Ray Whitney was credited with a goal that went off Minnesota defenseman Nick Shultz’s stick and through Backstrom’s legs at 1:35 of the second frame, but the Hurricanes couldn’t solve the Wild goaltender from there. Carolina failed to earn a point for just the second time in its last nine games.
Hurricanes netminder Mike Leighton stopped 20 shots, but fell to 1-5-2 in his last eight outings.
“We made two or three … mistakes with the puck,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. “Going in, I wouldn’t have traded our chances for theirs. I thought that what we played a solid game. I thought their goaltender made the difference.”
And when Wild coach Jacques Lemaire paired Mikko Koivu and Gaborik together in the second period, the offense opened up.
Clutterbuck knocked home Minnesota’s first goal at 4:17 after fancy stick work from Koivu to get in close and draw Leighton away from the net. Gaborik also assisted on Clutterbuck’s third goal of the season and first since scoring two against Washington on Nov. 24.
Gaborik, in his fourth game since missing 27 with a lower body injury, buried his third goal this season on a power play at 8:18 of the second.
“As soon as I start to put Gabby with Mikko and (Andrew) Brunette it seemed like there was better chemistry there,” Lemaire said. “I started with Gabby and Mikko in one game and it wasn’t good. So I guess they are better when they feel the other guy and then when they got back together they were active.”
Veilleux’s shorthanded game-winner went in at 18:18, giving Minnesota its second short-handed goal this season. After giving up 13 short-handed goals in 2007-08, the Hurricanes have now allowed five this campaign. But the Wild’s second-ranked penalty-kill came up even bigger in the third period.
With 2:08 remaining on Krys Kolanos’ four-minute high-sticking penalty, Antti Miettinen went to the box for a hooking minor at 5:05. Backstrom and the Wild buckled down from there – clearing the puck twice and keeping Carolina from making cross-ice passes.
When it ended, the building sounded as if Minnesota was on its way to more than just a 3-7-1 December record.
“That’s a feeling you’ll never forget,” Koivu said. “For sure next time you want to give it everything you have for them and do it together with them. I think every guy on the bench realizes that. We’re here together as a team with the fans. If they give us that effort we want to give it back to them every chance we get.”
Koivu finished with two assists, giving him a four-game points streak. Minnesota improved to 9-1-1 against the Eastern Conference and 6-0-0 against the Southeast division this season
Whitney’s goal was his fifth in his last eight games and he also assisted on Brind’Amour’s goal. He has a four-game points streak and has at least a point in nine of his last 10 games (5-7-12).
Notes: Wild D Marc-Andre Bergeron missed his second game with a lower body injury and is not expected to return immediately following the two-day holiday break. … C Eric Belanger was back in the lineup after missing the previous two games with an illness. LW Benoit Pouliot was a healthy scratch for the first time all season. Pouliot has no goals and just four points in his last 17 games after scoring five goals in Minnesota’s first 15 contests. … Carolina D Niclas Wallin sat out his eighth straight game with a leg injury. … The Hurricanes are 2-5-2 in their last nine road games.