ST. PAUL, Minn. – Niklas Backstrom and the Minnesota Wild were fed up.
With the way the Edmonton Oilers were playing against them. With two losses in a row to their soon-to-be-former division rival. With an eight-game losing streak that sent them tumbling out of first place in the NHL.
Dany Heatley scored his third goal in four games to help the Wild snap out of their skid and beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 on Thursday night in a snippy game from start to finish.
“At some point, enough is enough,” Backstrom said.
Even he, the stone-faced goalie, got riled up.
“We get run over two or three times every game and keep hearing it’s an accident. So, you know, I think we’re smarter than that. It’s not by accident.”
Oilers left-wing Ryan Smyth even took a swing at Backstrom during the final skirmish of the night as the game ended.
“He slashed me four times before that, so I had a lot of things to catch up on,” Backstrom said in his usual deadpan.
Mikko Koivu, Jarod Palmer and Pierre-Marc Bouchard also scored for the Wild, who went 0-5-3 following a seven-game winning streak. Backstrom improved to 16-0-0 at Xcel Energy Center in his career against the Oilers, the best record of any NHL goalie at home against a single opponent.
Marek Zidlicky had three assists and fellow defenceman Greg Zanon had two for the Wild, whose 17-game home winning streak against the Oilers ended on Nov. 25. The Oilers have lost six straight road games since. They fell to 3-8 in December.
Taylor Hall, Ladislav Smid and Shawn Horcoff scored for the Oilers, who have lost six of their past seven games. Their only win was against the Wild last week.
“We came back with a lot of intensity and we can hang our hats on that, but at the end of the day when we don’t get a win after we’re winning, that’s tough,” said Hall, who scored just 84 seconds into the game.
Koivu tied it with a slick backhand fake on defenceman Tom Gilbert, skating across the slot for a forehand. Then there was Palmer’s first NHL goal midway through the second period and Bouchard’s 19 seconds later, nearly identical scores that zipped past the glove-side shoulder of Nikolai Khabibulin.
Smid’s back-door tap-in cut the lead to 3-2, but Heatley answered with his team-high 12th goal 46 seconds later. Six of the first 33 shots on net went in. Khabibulin was pulled for Devan Dubnyk for the start of the third.
“We have to make sure we keep playing this kind of hockey, and if we do we’re going to be fine,” said Horcoff, who scored early in the final period to pull the Oilers within 4-3.
They had a power play with 1:23 left after Justin Falk was called for interference when Hall went down along the boards. That was the 19th penalty of the game, for 68 minutes, but the Wild tightened up and killed off the power play for the victory.
“I love emotion in our game, and we had emotion right down the line,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
In the last game between these teams as Northwest Division opponents—realignment next season will send Minnesota to a new grouping—the action was every bit the essence of an NHL rivalry. There were plenty of tussles in their game in Edmonton last week, and this one was just as tense.
Matt Kassian fought Darcy Hordichuk twice, both times taking down the Oilers’ tough guy. He pumped his arm after the first one to encourage the fans and twirled his finger after the second one as he skated off.
Wild bruiser Brad Staubitz took a hit from Theo Peckham and dumped him over the boards into the Oilers bench at one point, drawing a loud roar from the sellout crowd, and even the goalie got into the fray.
Backstrom wrapped his arm around Ryan Jones—jockeying for position in the crease—in the third period and slammed him to the ice. Backstrom was called for roughing, but a bewildered Jones got two minutes for goaltender interference.
“I like the fact that it was emotional and there was some animosity,” Oilers coach Tom Renney said, adding: “That’s good. The outcome of a lot of games should result in that. It makes for good rivalries. It’s almost unfortunate that we’re done withthese guys this year.”
Including the pre-season, they’ve played eight times in the past three months. But this is it for the season.
“There’s going to be some bad blood. It makes for fun hockey,” Heatley said.
Notes: RW Ales Hemsky returned for the Oilers after missing the past two games because of an illness, but his fellow alternate captain, D Ryan Whitney, sat out for a second straight game due to an ankle problem. … The Wild improved to 13-0-3 when leading after two periods. … Koivu also had an assist and has recorded at least one point in his past nine games. … Dubnyk made eight saves in the third period.