Carly Peters' Five Takeaways vs. Edmonton
Thursday, 03.31.2011 / 11:30 PM / Features
By Carly Peters - Media Relations Coordinator
After Tuesday's win, the Wild could finally breathe a sigh of relief at its late-season slump coming to an end. Yet nearly all of the talk from the players and coaches in the last two days was about bringing the positive vibes to home ice, and how the victory didn't mean much if the Wild didn't start giving some solid performances in St. Paul. Captain Mikko Koivu went as far as to say the team owed the fans and that the solitary focus would be on getting a W in front of the home crowd.
It was big talk, but the Wild certainly backed it up from the drop of the puck tonight. Gone were the slow starts and quick goals against. Instead, seemingly every player was in full-on "go" mode for 60 satisfying minutes. The Wild didn't make the home crowd wait long to cheer and had them roaring with two goals 35 seconds apart in the first period. When the final horn sounded, 12 different Wild skaters had tallied a point and the all lived up to their expectation of sending the crowd home happy.
I can only imagine how much more frustrated the Oilers become with each plane ride back to Edmonton after a loss in St. Paul. The Oilers haven't won at Xcel Energy Center since Jan. 16, 2007. More than four years is bad enough, but it becomes even worse when you realize that, as a division rival, they're playing in Minnesota three times a season.
Tonight's game was the 16th consecutive home win for the Wild against Edmonton, which ties Nashville's 16 against Columbus as the longest current home win streak by one team over another in the NHL, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Making it more frustrating for the Oilers is that the games haven't been close on too many occasions, with the Wild outscoring Edmonton, 58-21 during the streak.
I mean, I'm certainly not shedding any tears for Edmonton and I can only hope the Hockey Gods keep this thing going another four years, but man, the Oilers must despise the Xcel Energy Center visiting locker room.
Perhaps the biggest reason the Oilers continue to go home angry is Niklas Backstrom. After Jose Theodore's solid play in net Tuesday, you wouldn't have questioned it if he started tonight. But when you look at the numbers, you understand why Todd Richards was thinking when he chose Backs as the starter against Edmonton.
First and foremost, to say Backstrom has Edmonton's number is an understatement. The Finn has never lost to the Oilers in St. Paul. This isn't one or two games, either. He now is 14-0-0 against the Oilers in Minnesota which is the longest current home win streak vs. one team by an NHL goaltender according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Yes, Backstrom wasn't perfect and did allow two goals tonight, but he made 33 saves, including many tough stops. No stop was better than his robbery on Liam Reddox in the third period. After Gilbert Brule took all of the Wild defensemen with him as he carried the puck into the zone, Reddox slipped down the left side unnoticed for a one-on-one chance with Backs. The netminder stood tall and used a stellar toe save to keep the puck out of the back of the net. Lest we forget, Backstrom also had the most important stat of the night after 60 minutes of play: W.
For the past few games, a few Wild players have been on the verge of hitting career milestones. Something must've been in the air tonight because when the game was over, three Wild players had reached important marks.
Brent Burns was selected as the game's No. 3 Star and set a personal and team mark with an assist on the fourth Minnesota goal. The helper was his 44th point (16-28=44) of the season, a new single-season career high for Burns and a Wild franchise record for most points in a single season by a defenseman.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard's assist on the second goal of the night was his 300th point (87-213=300) in the NHL. Matt Cullen was named the game's No. 1 Star and, with an assist on the Wild's first goal, became the eighth Minnesota-born player to reach the 500-point mark (181-319=500) in his NHL career.
Tonight's game marked the first night of the Wild's 2011 Fan Celebration. Minnesota's players and staff talked before the game about what great fan support they have and how they wanted to win for the fans. But with the Wild having struggled at home since a victory against Colorado on March 8, I couldn't help but think of what fans' reactions would be if the Wild couldn't get the W tonight.
Maybe I should've had more faith in the players because there was no need to worry. Minnesota scored early and never trailed. It gave a solid effort throughout the game. The Wild was physical and showed plenty of emotion. It was really everything the fans were waiting to see in a home game over the last few weeks. And the fans rewarded the players with loud cheers and a sellout crowd of 18,120, the 23rd sellout of the season.
It was fun to again see the Wild come to center ice at Xcel Energy Center and raise their sticks to the home crowd. It was even more fun to watch the players give lucky fans the jerseys off their backs in a postgame ceremony on the ice, completed with post-victory smiles.