The Minnesota Wild beat the Coyotes 4-2 in Phoenix on Thursday night. The Wild scored four goals, two by Dany Heatley, and they needed every one of them as the Coyotes made it close late in the third period on goals by Keith Yandle and Shane Doan. The win moves the Wild, at 10-7-2, past Phoenix, 9-8-3, into the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings. Minnesota is now 8-2-2 in one goal games this year. Tomorrow, the Wild face Anaheim–the top team in the NHL in one goal contests with an 8-0-1 record.
Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo has preached the need for fast starts if Minnesota is going to be a winning team. That is exactly what the Wild did tonight. Jason Zucker scored just 1:35 into the game. The play started with Matt Cullen winning a defensive zone face off, feeding the puck to Devin Setoguchi. Seto carried the puck into the offensive zone, flipped it back to Cullen, who fed a perfect pass to Zucker flying down the slot. Zucker took the saucer pass on his tape and redirected it past goalie Mike Smith, putting the Wild up 1-0. The goal was Zucker’s third since being recalled from Houston on February 16th.
A few minutes later, Phoenix agitator Paul Bissonnette (BizNasty2point0 on Twitter) tried to break Mike Rupp‘s hand by smashing his face into it repeatedly. If Bissonette was trying to motivate his squad, he flat out failed. Later in the period, Setoguchi nearly made it a 2-0 game when he rang a shot off the pipe behind Smith. Dany Heatley, however, did not miss. He cruised in on the left side, after receiving a pass from Ryan Suter, and snapped off a shot that beat Smith cleanly, high on the stick side for his 7th goal of the season. The single assist went to Suter, his 12th of the season, ranking him third among NHL defensemen. After the game Suter said, “We came out flyin’, the way we need to play if we’re gonna be successful.” “If we want to be successful, that’s the way we need to keep playing.”
Minnesota started the second period playing as hard as the first. Phoenix had a 1:52 of power play carry over from a Zach Parise unsportsman-like penalty. The Wild easily killed off the man advantage for the Coyotes, registering two shots on goal to Phoenix’s zero. The Minnesota lead increased to three goals, just after a penalty to Phoenix’s Antoine Vermette expired. Dany Heatley scored his second of the game, and 8th of the year, snapping a wrist shot past Phoenix netminder Smith. The assists went to Cullen and Setoguchi. Those were the second helpers of the game for Cullen and Setoguchi, raising their season totals to 8 and 6 respectively. The Coyotes would cut the lead to two, scoring their first of the game on a shot by Klesla that deflected off of defenseman Tom Gilbert‘s stick past Backstrom at the 10:58 mark.
The Wild would regain the three goal lead however just over five minutes later. Jared Spurgeon became just the third Wild defenseman to score a goal this season, when he smacked home a Mikko Koivu rebound for a power play goal. The goal marked just the third time the Wild have scored 4 goals in a game this season, the last time coming back on January 27th. Minnesota went 1 for 5 on the power play tonight while Phoenix was 0 for 3. With two periods in the books, the Wild were up by a score of 4-1, outshooting the Coyotes 11 to 5 for the period and 19 to 16 total.
The Coyotes came out pressing early in the third, trying to cut into the Wild’s momentum. Phoenix Head Coach Dave Tippett benched Mike Smith, and sent out goaltender Jason Labarbera, hoping to spark some offense. Smith’s night ended with 4 goals on 19 shots for a .789 save % and the loss. Labarbera would face just 4 Minnesota shots in 18:24 of ice time in the third period, stopping them all. The Coyotes would then score one of the strangest goals of the season. Keith Yandle threw a harmless looking dump in off the glass into the Wild zone. The puck caught the small piece of plastic at the top of two panes of the glass and kicked directly toward the Wild net and squeaked past goalie Backstrom and into the net. Yandle was as surprised as Backstrom when the puck went in. Just as surprised were Derek Morris and Mikkel Boedker who got assists on the play. The strange play gave the Coyotes some momentum that resulted in a Shane Doan goal with Labarbera pulled for an extra skater at the 18:35 mark. That brought Phoenix to within a goal of tying things up, but they would get no closer as the Wild defense clamped down earning the victory 4-3.
After the game, Devin Setoguchi, who had two assists and a shot on goal for the night, summed up the Coyotes comeback saying, “We got the win, that’s all that matters!” The victory moves Niklas Backstrom‘s record to 5-1-1 in his last 7 starts, with 1.66 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was pleased with his team’s effort tonight, saying, “I thought we had everybody going tonight. That’s what you need. Lots of good things tonight.” When asked about the teams offensive explosion, he said, “I’d rather win and score less goals than lose and score lots of goals.” He also praised the efforts of the Wild’s defensemen, singling out Jared Spurgeon and rookie sensation Jonas Brodin. About Brodin he said, ” Another huge performance by him (Brodin). Huge for us, unbelievable composure by a kid like him.” As for rookie Jason Zucker‘s third goal in five games, he said simply “He knows how to score goals.” Scoring goals is what the Wild needs going forward.
Tomorrow, the Wild face the powerful Anaheim Ducks, who are 14-3-1 on the season and seven points ahead of the Wild in the Western Conference standings. We’ll take a closer look at the Wild vs Ducks matchup with the game preview tomorrow on GonePuckWild.com. For now, enjoy the Minnesota victory over the Phoenix Coyotes and the four goal explosion that went with it. Tomorrow, it’s Duck season! Let’s Go Wild!!