Petr Sykora has played quite a few games in the NHL. Entering the Minnesota Wild’s Friday night tilt with the New York Rangers, he had played in 927 to be exact. But he didn’t play in Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to Nashville, and that apparently didn’t sit well.
His coach, Todd Richards, told the media on Friday morning that he wanted Sykora to “stick it to him” and “prove him wrong.”
Scoring a goal and adding an assist might qualify as “sticking it to his coach,” but more importantly, Sykora helped the Wild to a much-needed 3-2 win over the New York Rangers in front of 18,106 fans at the Xcel Energy Center.
“The funniest thing is we were driving together to the game and we knew that we were going to play together so we had a little bit of motivation, especially after what happened to him last game” said Sykora’s linemate, Eric Belanger. I had a feeling we would have a big game and we did.”
Richards didn’t necessarily require Sykora to have a big game, but he was looking for him to raise his game in all facets, not just on offense.
“I think Petr had something to prove,” said Richards. “We need more from him, and more from all the other players. I thought some guys really elevated their play tonight.”
It was the Wild’s first regulation win of the season. It was the first time Minnesota did not trail in a game. It was only the second time the club has led by more than one goal (the other being in a 4-2 loss at San Jose), and this time, it was able to hold on.
And, tonight will be the first time the Wild can take a late night flight to a road city and feel good about itself going into a game with the Pittsburgh Penguins tomorrow night.
Belanger and Antti Miettinen had a goal each for Minnesota, which built a 3-1 lead after two periods. Niklas Backstrom stopped 18 of 20 shots and helped the club hold on late in the third.
“New York was coming and taking chances because they had to,” said Richards. “I like the way we played and we managed the game well in the third period.”
“I’m happy with the way the guys played with a lead in the third period.”
He should be happy with the way the team played the entire game. Without having to worry about containing the injured Marian Gaborik, Minnesota went on the offensive early, sending shot after shot on goal, and taking the body at every turn. The Wild finished the game with 32 shots on goal, and 37 hits.
“We made it hard for them and we battled hard,” said Miettinen. “That was a really good sign.”
Late in the first, Sykora caused a turnover in the Ranger zone, and eventually got the puck back off a pass from Mikko Koivu. He easily punched in his second goal of the year, and punched the air mightily in celebration.
In the second, the Rangers briefly tied the score at 1-1 on Dany Byers’ first NHL goal. But Sykora again worked along the wall to free the puck, giving Martin Havlat a chance to feed Belanger for his third of the year.
With one minute to play in the second, Mikko Koivu showed off his playmaking skills by carrying the puck into the New York zone, undressing Dan Girardi and dropping a pass back to Miettinen for a one-timer.
That gave the Wild a lead to play with, something it was unfamiliar with so far this season, and something that Richards was anxious to see.
“It’s a lot better than looking up at the scoreboard and fighting for your goals.”
LW Petr Sykora notched a goal and an assist for his first two-point game since Jan. 28, 2009, also against the Rangers.
C Mikko Koivu had two assists to move into the team lead with 12 points (3-9=12).
C Eric Belanger scored his third goal of the season, and first in eight games since Oct. 14 at Anaheim. Belanger is second on the Wild roster in scoring with 11 (3-8=11) points.
RW Martin Havlat recorded an assist, his first helper in nine games since Oct. 6 against Anaheim and first point in eight games since Oct. 8 in Los Angeles.
RW Antti Miettinen scored his first goal of the season, his first goal in 21 games dating back to March 25 at the N.Y. Islanders.
G Niklas Backstrom made 18 saves and is 12-1-4 in his last 17 decisions at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild improved to 4-1-0 at home this season and is 10-1-4 in its last 15 home games, dating back to last season.
Minnesota improved to 2-0-0 against the Eastern Conference this season, with tomorrow night’s match-up in Pittsburgh on tap. The Wild went 12-5-1 versus the East in 2008-09.
Minnesota led after one period for the fourth time in 13 games this season.
Tonight marked the first game in which the Wild did not trail at one point during the game.
Rangers LW Dane Byers scored his first NHL goal in his second NHL game. Byers became the second player in two games to score his first NHL goal versus the Wild, joining Nashville’s Mike Santorelli.
1 - 0 MIN
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 MIN
3 - 1 MIN