Ahh Yes! A Wild victory. The looong 6 game losing streak is over and Mike Yeo lives to coach another game. Hopefully this is the start of a turnaround for the Minnesota NHL franchise who had a horrible month of December 2013, but are undefeated in 2014! The Minnesota Wild beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1, handing the Sabres their 11th consecutive road loss and 26th overall. To say the Wild needed this win would be an understatement. The franchise record 6 consecutive regulation losses had fans wringing their hands, calling for Mike Yeo’s head on a platter and shipping various players off to the antarctic. Tonight however the Wild came through with a convincing win, albeit against the worst team in the NHL, but hey the two points count the same whether it’s against Buffalo or Chicago. Those points increase the Wild’s total to 47, moving them into a points tie with Dallas, and within 7 points of third place Colorado.
Niklas Backstrom picked up the victory stopping 19 of 2o shots and coming with in 1:12 of a shutout. Jason Pominville scored the game winner, his team leading 18th goal of the season against his old team on his bobble head night. Minnesota got goals from the defense, the top line, the 21-year-old line, and the 4th line. Mikko Koivu had 2 assists giving him 100-multi point games in hie career. The Wild defense limited the Sabres chances throughout the game and the Minnesota penalty killers were a perfect 4 for 4. It was pretty much a solid effort from top to bottom tonight by your Minnesota Wild. After the game Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “It was a good win, we needed that for sure. We did it the right way, which was big.” This was more than a “good” win this was a skid stopping, confidence building, 4 goal scoring WIN! The Wild needed this win Thursday night like a drowning man needs a life ring. The challenge now is for Minnesota to build on this victory and keep the momentum rolling into the next game and beyond.
The first period of the game was a defensive and slow one for both the Wild and Sabres. Minnesota gave Buffalo two power plays in the first 10 minutes but the hapless Sabres could not do much with wither of them and finished the period with just 7 shots on goal to the Wild’s 8. Overall not a very exciting period of hockey for the announced crowd of 18229. The second period was a completely different on for your Minnesota Wild. Marco Scandella opened the scoring on a pretty give and go passing play with Matt Cooke that ended with Scandella smoking a shot past Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller. The Wild would take a two to zip lead just 1:46 later as Jason Pominville took a cross ice feed from Captain Koivu and with one smooth movement buried the buck in the net before Miller could slide over and make the save. By this time the Xcel Energy Energy Center crowd was in full voice and begging for more. There would be about 10 minutes for the Wild to strike again. That’s when Jason Zucker, just called up from the Iowa Wild, took a Nino Niederreiter pass that banked high off the boards. Zucker gloved the puck, dropped it to his stick, and skated in on Miller before unleashing a wicked wrister that beat the Buffalo goalie high in the upper right corner of the net. Zucker’s goal was his first of the season with the NHL club. That would wrap up the scoring for the second period. Not a bad period offensively OR defensively. The Wild D held the Sabres to just 5 shots in the 2nd and a two period total of just 12 shots on goal. The new line combinations were paying off. In a single period the top line scored with the goal by Pominville and the assists going to line mate Mikko Koivu and defenseman Ryan Suter. The 21-year-old line saw Zucker score with the helpers going to line mates Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund. The opening goal was scored by a defenseman turned loose by a great pass from third liner Matt Cooke. With net minder Miller on the bench for an extra skater the Sabres managed to avoid a shutout when Matt Ellis found a loose puck in the middle of a scrum in from of Backstrom and knocked home a garbage goal. The Wild would add what will be in the record books as an empty net goal by Kyle Brodziak. He was racing into the zone with the puck and an empty net ahead when he was hauled down by a Buffalo defender. Because the net was empty Brodziak was awarded the goal without taking a shot. The goal was Brodzy’s first in 30 games. Those four wild goals resulted in 10 different Wild players with at least a point in the game and Koive and Suter had multi-point nights.
Niklas Backstrom picked up the win, just his third of the season, raising his overall record to 3-9-2 on the season and lowering his goals against average to 3.16 and save percentage increased to .896. Backstrom only got the start tonight because #1 goal tender Josh Harding was not feeling well. Darcy Kuemper was called up from the Iowa Wild, where he’s been tearing up the opposition, to back up Backstrom. Hopefully Harding is feeling better soon.
Thursday night was a fun game for the Wild and their fans. Even Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was smiling at the end of the game! They broke the losing streak and can head into the second game of the new year with a win under their belt. The trick now is to start a winning streak by winning the second game of 2014. That second game, by the way, is against Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. I’ll be back Saturday morning with a full preview of Wild vs Capitals. Until next time this is Scott Drain triumphantly shouting, “LET’S GO WILD!!”