ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild have played from behind so much this season they have almost forgotten what it is like to be ahead.
After scoring three goals on four shots, and sending New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur to the bench, the Wild spent way more time in their zone than they wanted.
But in what has become the story of this season, Minnesota found a way to win and held off the Devils 4-2 on Friday night.
Behind the relief goaltending effort of Josh Harding and a pair of goals from Kyle Brodziak, the Wild won their third game in a row and eighth of 10 outings. Minnesota (16-7-3) jumped ahead of idle Pittsburgh atop the NHL standings with 35 points.
“We had a great start, something we haven’t had a lot of lately. The place was rocking,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “I do think that when you score three goals like that—bang, bang, bang—it is a little tough to keep your focus.”
The Wild gave much of the credit for this victory to Harding.
Niklas Backstrom (10-5-2) started the game and played the first period for the Wild. But he sustained an undisclosed lower body injury and was unable to continue.
Despite coming in cold, Harding stopped all 22 shots he faced and kept the Devils (12-11-1) from tying the game. Yeo said Backstrom’s injury was “nothing extremely serious,” but more will be known Saturday.
“I thought (Harding) was great,” Yeo said. “They had some real flurries, some real scrambles around our net, and he stood tall.”
Harding, who might play more on Minnesota’s five-game road trip if Backstrom is out, said he was simply doing his job.
“You’ve got to be ready as a backup goalie when they give you a chance,” Harding said. “Backy has put the bar pretty high and I’ve got to step in there and do the job.”
While the Devils outplayed Minnesota for most of the final 50 minutes, New Jersey was undone early for the second consecutive game.
Dany Heatley, Brodziak and Casey Wellman scored in a 3:03 span of the first period to turn an early Wild deficit into a 3-1 lead and knock Brodeur out of the game just 8:17 in. After Wellman tipped Matt Cullen’s shot past Brodeur, first-year Devils coach Pete DeBoer had seen enough and yanked Brodeur for the first time this season, and replaced him with Johan Hedberg.
“It’s been two games now with a tough start,” Brodeur said. “The puck doesn’t seem to want to hit me or anything. So it’s definitely disappointing for me. I’m going to get right back at it to try and have a better performance, but it is what it is.”
Brodeur (5-7) has struggled recently, giving up three goals earlier in the week in a loss to the New York Islanders and allowing six in a loss at Colorado on Wednesday. Brodeur didn’t return to the Devils bench after being pulled, but both he and DeBoer said that was because of a lack of space on the visitors bench.
DeBoer made the move to give his team a spark.
“I looked at the goals, I don’t think he could have really done much on them,” DeBoer said. “It was the second game in a row that we’ve started with three goals on five or six shots so I think everybody has to take responsibility, including me, for not coming out of the gate better.”
The 12 goals are the most given up by Brodeur in a three-game span since he allowed 13 in three games and 20 in six games last December. This marked Brodeur’s second-shortest outing of his career, just longer than his eight-minute stint at Carolina on Jan. 1.
“You can’t say you play well when you allow three goals in eight minutes or so,” Brodeur said. “But you look at the quality of the goals I got scored, it was not like I was weak or anything. The puck just doesn’t hit me.”
Hedberg, who made 11 saves, shut down the Wild until late in the third period. With both teams playing a man down, Brodziak gave the Wild a 4-2 lead at 16:24. Brodziak picked up a loose puck at centre ice, drove to the net and beat Hedberg on the glove side.
“We weren’t at our best, but we found a way to win,” Brodziak said. “I think we’ve got to recognize what happened, and the main thing was starting to make softer plays that we haven’t been making all year.”
Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk scored for the Devils, who left frustrated.
“I thought we deserved better tonight,” Parise said. “We played much better than we did in Colorado, but we just hit a tough little stretch there where we gave them all three of them.”
NOTES: Wild RW Cal Clutterbuck sat out after taking a knee to the thigh Wednesday at Edmonton. … This was Minnesota’s last home game before a five-game trip that begins Sunday at Anaheim. … Backstrom was credited with his fifth career assist on Heatley’s first-period goal. … New Jersey RW Dainius Zubrus was in the lineup despite being struck by a puck on his right ankle Wednesday. He missed practice on Thursday. … Devils D Andy Green returned to the lineup after missing Wednesday’s loss at Colorado with a lower-body injury. … Hedberg is expected to start in goal on Saturday when the Devils play at Winnipeg.