NEW YORK — While the rest of the Minnesota Wild slogged through an ugly first period, Jose Theodore stepped up and knocked back the New York Rangers.
Over the final 40 minutes, Theodore got plenty of help and the Wild got out of New York with a win they really needed.
Casey Wellman, recalled from the minors hours earlier, broke a second-period tie with his second NHL goal and Theodore made 40 saves for the Wild, who beat New York 3-1 on Thursday night and finished off the Rangers’ winless three-game homestand.
Minnesota was already down 1-0 when Ryan Callahan was robbed of a goal. Theodore lunged to his left with his outstretched arm, and stopped the drive at a seemingly empty net while his goalie stick was on the ice.
“That’s just a desperation move,” Theodore said. “I’m sure he thought it was open. I put my stick right on the goal line and was able to save that. Those are plays you need on the road to make a difference sometimes.”
The Wild looked as though they were headed for a third straight loss early on and an empty two-game trip to New York. They had already dropped below the playoff cutoff in the tight Western Conference race.
Minnesota shook off an uninspiring 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders and turned the trick on the slumping Rangers.
“We haven’t really played our best hockey the last couple of games,” centre Kyle Brodziak said. “We dropped down a few spots in the standings, and maybe it was a little bit of pressure.
“It was a must-win. We go into every game like it’s a must-win. We were very disappointed after last night’s game. We had to stop the slide for sure. Thankfully we did.”
The Rangers can’t say the same. They will play at Ottawa on Friday before returning home to face East-leading Philadelphia. After that, they will head to California for a two-game trip.
With only 16 games left, New York is trying to hold on. The Rangers dropped to eighth place behind Carolina on Thursday and hold only a two-point edge over Buffalo, which has played three fewer games.
“We come back to New York and we lose all three at home,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “It’s really tough mentally.”
Wellman was brought up on an emergency basis in case Cal Clutterbuck was unable to play following a hard hit he took from behind Wednesday. Clutterbuck was in the lineup, but Wellman replaced Jed Ortmeyer.
Brodziak also scored in the second to wipe out the Rangers’ 1-0 lead, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard added insurance in the third for the Wild, who were outshot 41-19.
“We gave up seven scoring chances. It was two-to-one in scoring chances, but it means squat. We lost 3-1,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said.
Sean Avery was the only one to beat Theodore, and that wasn’t enough for the Rangers, who were outscored 8-4 during their fruitless homestand. New York is 4-10-1 in its past 15, including 2-6-1 at home.
“We had 40 shots but we’d rather have 20 and four goals,” defenceman Marc Staal said. “We needed to get that second one to give us a little buffer, a little breathing room.”
Brodziak tied it 4:36 into the second when he tipped in defenceman Jared Spurgeon’s shot. Wellman put the Wild in front for good with another deflection, this one off a drive by Brent Burns.
Wellman’s only other NHL goal was scored last April 10.
“I was pretty pumped,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been dreaming about since the last one I had.”
Bouchard put the win away at 8:15 of the third on the ensuing rush after the Rangers nearly tied it when a puck got behind Theodore. The Wild goalie came in with an 8-0-1 mark and 2.34 goals against average and .920 save percentage in nine career road starts against the Rangers.
Theodore played for the second straight night after he replaced the ineffective Niklas Backstrom early in the second period Wednesday.
The Wild looked every bit as sluggish early on in the second half of their New York doubleheader as they did in the 4-1 loss to the Islanders.
Minnesota gave up the first eight shots to the Rangers before finishing with a three-shot flurry in the final 2:43 of the first period. The Wild’s three shots barely exceeded the two delay-of-game penalties they took in the opening frame.
The Wild killed each of those power plays, but they were already down 1-0 from Avery’s goal 3:13 in. It was Avery’s first goal in 23 games, dating to Jan. 8 at St. Louis, and only his third of the season.
Notes: Theodore is 13-3-2 in his past 18 starts against the Rangers. … The Wild have been outshot in 57 of 65 games this season but have 31 wins in those contests. … Staal (knee) and LW Ruslan Fedotenko (shoulder) returned to the lineup. Rookie D Ryan McDonagh injured a knee in the third period. Tortorella said there doesn’t appear to be any structural damage. … Rangers RW Marian Gaborik (concussion) missed his fourth straight game, but will make the trip to Ottawa.