For much of the Minnesota Wild’s home opener, it appeared that the loudest cheers from the crowd would be the yelps that emerged from the concourse when fans saw the Minnesota Twins clinch a playoff berth with an thrilling extra inning victory over the Detroit Tigers. Shortly after that game ended, the Wild watched the Anaheim Ducks pump in three straight goals to build a 3-0 lead.
Was a team that was unbeaten in home openers to get manhandled so easily? Was this the new system that was supposed to showcase skating, puck possession, and most of all, scoring? Was Todd Richards going to get a win?
After 20 minutes, all can be answered yes, as the Wild staged a furious comeback to earn a 4-3 overtime win, giving Head Coach Todd Richards his first career victory. And, he can thank a guy who didn’t figure in the scoresheet, but turned the game around by taking a penalty.
With his team down three, John Scott scored a KO victory over Anaheim enforcer, George Parros, and the Wild rolled from there.
“To me, that was the turning point of the game,” said Richards.
Mikko Koivu, Petr Sykora and Eric Belanger followed the fight with third period goals, and Andrew Brunette rapped home the game-winner with 1:52 left in overtime. Martin Havlat added three assists in his home debut, giving him 400 career points.
Niklas Backstrom, who had zero chance to save any of the three pucks that got past him, earned the win with 16 saves.
It will go down as one of the most memorable regular season games in franchise history, and it marked the first time the Wild has ever come back to win after trailing by three in the third period.
“It will be one that I’ll always remember, I’ll tell you that,” said Richards.
After a hard fought first period, that was highlighted by a roar from the crowd upon hearing the news regarding the Twins game, the second period unraveled for Minnesota.
A tip-in goal by Joffrey Lupul was followed by one-time goals by Evgeny Artyukhin and Saku Koivu. Minnesota mustered just seven shots on goal and even fewer scoring chances in the period.
“The second period got away from us,” admitted Richards. “I don’t think we played real good hockey. I think the players felt that way, too. But we turned it around in the third. Each guy made a commitment to each other to turn it around. The guys were rewarded.”
Added Havlat, "We didn't do the things that we've been told. Once we realized that after the first two periods, we did exactly what the coaches wanted us to do. Everybody battled hard to the end of the game, and that's why we won."
Koivu got things rolling by responding to his brother’s goal with a power play marker at 6:29 of the third. Then, the Wild’s most recent free agent signing, Sykora, showed off his rifle shot by ripping a one-timer from the slot just inside the post.
With the momentum building and the sellout crowd of 18,256 in a delirious state, Belanger triggered pandemonium with a slap shot from the left circle that somehow wiggled through the legs of Giguere.
"I think everybody stepped it up in the third, worked hard, and we got the win," said Havlat.
The Ducks woke up after Belanger’s equalizer, but their typical aggressive play became their undoing in overtime. Well after an overtime whistle, and right in front of an official, Ducks blueliner James Wisniewski sucker punched Kyle Brodziak to give the Wild a 4-on-3 advantage. That’s when Brunette converted the Wild’s third power play goal of the night.
“It was a good win. They should be proud of win. The guys played really hard in the third,” said Richards, who was happier for his players than he was for himself. “It’s good for me, but hopefully it will be a bigger boost confidence-wise. We have to build off these last 20 minutes that we played.”
Wild Post-Game Notes
LW Andrew Brunette scored a power-play goal – his first career overtime regular season goal – with 1:52 left in overtime, C Eric Belanger tied the game with 2:13 left in regulation and RW Martin Havlat supplied three assists to reach the 400-point mark for his career as the Minnesota Wild rallied from a three-goal deficit for a 4-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks in front of 18,256 at Xcel Energy Center. C Mikko Koivu and LW Petr Sykora scored a goal apiece and G Niklas Backstrom made 16 saves for Minnesota, which leaves Wednesday for a five-game, 11-day trip that begins Thursday in Los Angeles at 9:30 p.m.
LW Andrew Brunette scored his second goal of the season, the game-winner with 1:52 left in overtime. It marked his 27th career regular season game-winning goal – first-ever in the regular season in overtime. Brunette scored in overtime in Game 7 of the 2003 Western Conference Quarterfinals against Colorado.
The Wild extended its home-opener win streak to eight games, tied with Washington for the longest active streak in the NHL. Minnesota tied Philadelphia in 2000 but has won its last eight home openers.
Minnesota had not overcome a three-goal deficit to win a home game since Dec. 29, 2007, a 5-4 overtime win over Edmonton. The Wild rallied from three down to win 4-3 in overtime at San Jose on March 5, 2009.
RW Martin Havlat posted three assists, moving him to 400 career points (169-231=400) in 473 NHL games. Havlat, signed as a free agent, has assisted on four of the five Wild goals this season.
C Eric Belanger forced overtime with 2:13 left in regulation with his first goal of the season. He also assisted on Brunette’s game-winner.
RW Petr Sykora scored his first goal with the Wild with 7:50 left in regulation. It marked Sykora’s 301st career NHL goal.
Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher statement on Pierre-Marc Bouchard: “Pierre-Marc Bouchard won't play [tonight] due to recurring headaches. He came to [Head Coach] Todd [Richards] this morning after the skate and indicated he hadn't slept well last night and he still wasn't feeling well. After consultation with Todd, Pierre-Marc and [Athletic Therapist] Don Fuller, we made the obvious decision to pull him from the lineup. At this point, we'll certainly seek out some medical solutions to find out what's wrong with him and get him healthy.”