EDMONTON – You can figure the Minnesota Wild back into the tight Western Conference playoff race.
Marian Gaborik had a goal and an assist as the Wild put themselves back into the playoff picture in the West, defeating the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 on Sunday night. Andrew Brunette and Martin Skoula also scored for the Wild (36-32-8) who kept themselves from slipping five points back of the playoff cut with the win to move one point back of the Oilers and three points back of eighth-place St. Louis.
“I’m happy for this team,” said Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom. “We are never going to give up. That is not what we are all about. We have come back in different games and hope that we can do that in the standings right now.”
Head coach Jacques Lemaire says it is just the first in a series of events that his team needs to go right to finish in a playoff position.
“The water is up to here,” he said. “We’ll start with winning the next one. We want the guys to get ready for the next game and focus on one game at a time and hope the teams that are ahead of us lose.”
Lemaire credited much of the win to Backstrom’s play, especially in the third.
“We were lucky that we had him,” he said. “He was really on his game there. Especially at the end.”
Fernando Pisani and Ales Kotalik had the replies for the Oilers (36-31-9) who have now lost four of their last five to fall two points off the playoff pace into 10th in the West.
Veteran Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson was willing to fall on his sword for a couple of soft goals after the loss even though he was making his 32nd consecutive start and was the main reason his team won in their last outing against Anaheim with 51 stops.
“It’s pretty much my fault isn’t it?” he said. “Two bad goals. You don’t let those two bad goals in and you win the game. I have to do my job and stop the puck. If I did that tonight than we would have won, case closed.”
Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish felt there were other candidates far more deserving of blame than Roloson.
“We played poorly and got what we deserved,” he said. “Too many guys are too content to be a non-factor rather than be a factor and step up and be assertive in a game that you desperately need. With six games left we are still looking for a team that will take charge of an opportunity.”
To make matters worse, Oilers defenceman Ladislav Smid suffered a fractured left hand in the loss.
Minnesota got off to the start it wanted with a pair of goals less than two minutes apart before the mid-mark of the opening period.
The Wild struck first seven minutes in when Gaborik’s whiffed shot was picked up in front of the net by Brunette and he was able to stuff a backhand shot for his 20th of the season past Roloson. Minnesota then held a 2-0 advantage 1:51 later when Skoula’s shot from the point skittered between Roloson’s legs on a play the veteran goaltender would likely wish to have back.
The shots were even after 20 minutes with both Roloson and Backstrom facing eight shots, then equal again with 17 apiece in the second.
Edmonton finally got on the board just 1:04 into the third period as Ethan Moreau held off Marc-Andre Bergeron and sent a backhand pass in front of the net where Pisani was able to tap it through Backstrom’s legs.
But the Wild restored their two-goal cushion just three minutes later with an extra man on the ice due to a delayed penalty call as Gaborik used a screen in front and deftly picked the corner for his seventh of the season.
Edmonton was able to make a game of it again with five minutes left to play as Ales Hemsky spotted Kotalik open at the top of the face-off circle and he beat Backstrom with a bullet to make it 3-2.
Edmonton had a number of late opportunities to tie the game up but Backstrom stood his ground to earn the win.
Both teams return to action on Tuesday with six games left apiece in the regular season. Edmonton plays the second game of a six-game homestand against Anaheim while the Wild return home to host Vancouver.
Notes: Captain Mikko Koivu returned to the Wild lineup after missing the last three games with a leg injury suffered in a collision with Edmonton’s Ales Kotalik the last time these two teams met. . . . Minnesota forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard missed his second game with what the team has been calling a headache following a big hit last Wednesday from Nate Thompson of the Islanders. . . . The home team had won all five of the previous meetings between the Oilers and Wild this season. . . . Sunday’s crowd of 16,839 represented the 150th consecutive regular season sellout in Edmonton.