Since 2000, there’s been a tradition in the Xcel Energy Center. After every Wild win, the Jumbotron would show Wes Walz heading toward the locker room, pointing back at the rink and shouting, “Woooo! That’s Wild hockaaaay!”
With Walz now an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Walz is no longer shown, but he’s still heard after every Wild win.
On Saturday night, the Wild showed the kind of “Wild hockaaaay” that Head Coach Todd Richards wants to see every night. That would be a hard-working 60 minute effort, and that’s what the Wild turned in with a 3-2 victory over the Dallas Stars.
After Thursday night’s 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, Richards was upset with a miserable first 20 minutes in which the Wild generated nothing more than some scattered boos from fans.
It was a different story on Saturday, as the boys in green came out with guns out of their holsters and firing constantly. The Wild finished the period with a 2-0 lead and a 17-4 shots advantage. The Stars didn’t record a shot until the 12:41 mark of the first period, when they were 3:30 into a four-minute power play.
“It was a great first period,” said Head Coach Todd Richards. “But I thought for 60 minutes, it was our best performance.”
Cal Clutterbuck and Mikko Koivu built that first period lead, scoring their third and fourth goals of the year, respectively. Clutterbuck's was Minnesota's first shorthanded goal of the season.
Marek Zidlicky accounted for Minnesota’s game-winner in the second, and Niklas Backstrom bounced back from a shaky outing with authority. He stopped 19 of 21 shots on goal, including two point blank chances late in the game.
“We stayed composed, and we did a lot of good things tonight,” said Eric Belanger, who played a solid game after leaving Thursday’s game early with an upper body injury. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
But despite the Wild’s efforts, this one didn’t come easy. Dallas battled back in the second, with a pair of power play goals from Loui Eriksson. One of those goals was an attempted pass that was put in by Wild defenseman Nick Schultz.
One of the night’s most encouraging signs was the way the Wild responded to the Stars rally. The home team came right back and started dominating again.
“A lot of positive things on the bench from the players,” said Richards of his team’s mindset. “Even the second goal, the guys were real positive. Everyone. Everybody was going. That creates that buzz in the arena. That positive energy.”
Apparently, every ying has a yang, and the Wild got a fortuitous bounce right back later in the second. Zidlicky found himself deep in the Dallas end, getting the puck off a shot that hit the backboards. He tried to center one into the crease, and Stars defenseman Nicklas Grossman took care of the rest, putting it into his own net.
“Both teams scored a goal for the other team tonight. A positive result, and he was very, very good for us,” said Richards referring to Zidlcky, not Grossman.
“It’s nice that you guys can talk about someone else putting the puck in their own net, not just me,” joked Schultz after the game.
With the Wild holding a one-goal advantage at the start of the third, Richards wanted his team to keep taking the play to the Stars, and he got what he wanted.
“We didn’t sit back. We went after them and we didn’t give them that much,” said Belanger.
Now that Wild has to duplicate these types of efforts on a more consistent basis. According to Chuck Kobasew, who assisted on Zidlicky’s goal, it’s doable.
“There’s no doubt in our minds that we can do it,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting off to a good start and putting together 60 minutes consistently.”
And that is what we want from Wild hockaaaay.
RW Cal Clutterbuck recorded his third goal of the season – his first career shorthanded goal. The Wild improved to 10-3-0 all-time when Clutterbuck scores a goal. Clutterbuck’s goal also marked the Wild’s first shorthanded tally this season.
C Mikko Koivu scored his fourth goal of the season and took the team lead in scoring with 13 points (4-9=13). Koivu scored for the first time in eight games since Oct. 21. Minnesota is 11-2-1 when Koivu scores a goal dating back to Dec. 19, 2008. Koivu ranks fifth on the Wild’s all-time scoring list with 197 points (61-136-197).
D Marek Zidlicky scored his first goal of the season. Zidlicky leads all Wild defensemen and ranks fourth overall on the team with eight points (1-7=8).
G Niklas Backstrom made 19 saves and is 13-2-4 in his past 19 decisions at Xcel Energy Center. Backstrom improved to 13-2-4 all-time in a game after he was pulled, with a 1.94 GAA and a.927 SV%. In his last 10 starts after being pulled, Backstrom is 9-0-1 with a 1.57 GAA and a .944 SV%.
C Kyle Brodziak recorded an assist to extend his point streak to three games (3-1=4) to tie his career-high. Brodziak had three prior three-game point streaks, the last coming Feb. 16-Feb. 19, 2009.
D Shane Hnidy posted a shorthanded assist – his first such point in 493 career NHL games. Hnidy does have two shorthanded goals.
The Wild improved to 11-2-4 in its last 17 home games, dating back to last season.
Minnesota notched its first two-goal first period at home this season.
The Wild won for the second time in the last seven meetings with Dallas (2-4-1).
Dallas G Alex Auld fell to 5-2-1 all-time versus the Wild.