SUNRISE, Fla. — Matt Cullen is scoring again for the Minnesota Wild. He also continues to be a master in the shootout.
After scoring in regulation for the second consecutive game, Cullen joined Erik Christensen as shootout scorers for the Wild as they beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 at the BankAtlantic Center Thursday night.
Minnesota won the shootout 2-0 after Niklas Backstrom closed the door on Florida's Sean Bergenheim and Kris Versteeg.
"This is a guy that cares incredibly about what we're doing here and putting a great deal of pressure on himself to score and to try to get us wins," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "The thing is it wasn't unfair on him to have those kind of expectations, but you can see just how relieved he's been the last couple of games since he scored that first goal. He's been unbelievable out there. Hopefully this continues on that way."
Cullen, a former Panther (2002-04) whose brother plays for Florida's AHL team in San Antonio, improved to 7-for-13 in shootouts this season when he beat Jose Theodore with a quick shot through the five-hole. Christensen then beat Theodore with a backhand-to-forehand deke for the win.
"To see a lefty, it's actually nice," Cullen said. "We have a lefty at home. So often when you go against the opposite hand like Theo there, it can throw you off, but having Hards (Josh Harding) and working on that a little bit helps, too. It was just nice. Backy made some big stops. And what a great move by Christensen to open it up. It was a big point for us."
Christensen has yet to record a point in nine games since being acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers, but he's now 2-for-3 in shootouts.
"It's nice," he said. "It's kind of a struggle offensively for me, getting chances. I hate being the one-trick pony or thought of as that. This is one of the reasons I came here. These points are valuable. Whether we like the shootout or not, it's part of our game. You have to be good at them."
The Wild improved to 6-7 in shootouts this season, but had lost six of their last seven. Florida, meanwhile, dropped to 3-6 in shootouts.
Kyle Brodziak also scored in regulation for Minnesota, which has won two in a row after losing seven straight. The Wild scored more than one goal for only the second time in their last eight road games. Backstrom, who made 48 saves in a 2-0 shutout victory over Boston on Sunday, stopped 41 shots in regulation and overtime.
"I thought he was great all night," Yeo said. "I don't think there was anything he could do on either one of those two goals and again just in control and solid all night long. Another team that's just throwing the puck at the net from everywhere and he was real solid with that."
Mikael Samuelsson and Sean Bergenheim scored for the Panthers, who wrapped up a 0-3-1 homestand but picked up their first point after regulation losses to Ottawa, Washington and Anaheim.
The Panthers dropped to second place in the Southeast Division when Winnipeg passed them by one point by beating Tampa Bay Thursday night, but Florida has four games in hand. The Panthers stand eighth in the Eastern Conference with 66 points, one more than Toronto, which lost to San Jose on Thursday.
"Some little things have crept into our game that we have to keep on tightening up and I think once we address certain issues I think we'll be all right," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "We're going through a stretch right now and it's not the time for it, but we'll be fine. There's nothing wrong with our confidence level."
Theodore, who played for Minnesota last season, made 26 saves for Florida.
Florida trailed 2-1 until Bergenheim tied the score with 4:12 left in the third period. He took a pass from Brian Campbell at the bottom of right circle and, after being cross-checked by Greg Zanon, spun around to beat Backstrom with a shot along the ice.
"I think we had a good third period," Samuelsson said. "We pushed and pushed and we scored a late goal and had a pretty good overtime as well. And a shootout is a shootout; it can go either way."
"Right now after the game you're disappointed you did not get the two points, but one point could be huge in the end and hopefully it is."
Cullen gave Minnesota – playing for the third game in a row without captain Mikko Koivu (upper-body injury) – a 2-1 lead at 1:14 of the third period with Weiss in the box for tripping. Cullen scored on a rebound from the front of the net after Theodore stopped Heatley's one-timer from the right faceoff dot. Cullen scored for the second consecutive game after breaking a 15-game goal drought in the victory over Boston.
After a scoreless first period, Samuelsson opened the scoring at 13:23 of the second. With Devin Setoguchi in the box for goalie interference, Samuelsson scored on a rebound from the side of the net after Weiss' wrist shot went off the post.
The goal snapped a scoreless streak of 134:03 for the Panthers, whose last goal had come in the first period of Friday's 2-1 loss to Washington.
"It's been a tough stretch for us and we just have to get back on the saddle here," Bergenheim said. "It was better than the other two games. We got two goals from in front of the net today, so that's a start."
Minnesota did little offensively for most of the second period, managing only one shot through the first 18 minutes. But the Wild got off seven shots in the final two minutes with Brodziak tying his career high with his 16th goal of the season with 19.8 seconds left in the period.
The seventh-year veteran, who signed a three-year contract extension Sunday, scored on a rebound after Minnesota won the draw. Marek Zidlicky broke his stick on a one-timer from the blue line, but the shot still had enough force to get to the net. It was tipped in front by Dany Heatley, and Brodziak beat Weiss to the loose puck to score.
"Huge for us," Yeo said. "I didn't like the way we were executing for the majority of that period. We had a bit of a spurt where we started to execute, we had a couple of chances and then a couple of penalties. And then when we fell down, when they scored that first goal, I thought that kind of set us off for a little bit, but then the last couple of minutes we picked it up and that was an enormous goal for us."
With the victory, the Wild snapped an streak of seven losses (0-7-1) on the front end of back-to-back sequences. They face Dallas on Friday.
"It was nice to get that extra point," Cullen said. "We battled really hard tonight. Every point is at a premium right now. That was so important for us to get both points."