ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Success for the Minnesota Wild is predicated on teamwork and precision, playing their defense-first, trapping system the way it's designed.
They can't be uptight, either. And for the first time in a while, the formula worked - on Wednesday against the sloppy Toronto Maple Leafs.
Marc Chouinard had two goals for the Wild in a much-needed 5-3 victory over the scuffling Maple Leafs.
Energized by a 4-2 win over the Red Wings in Detroit on Jan. 3, Minnesota was on the brink of eighth place in the Western Conference and about to begin a seven-game homestand. But the Wild lost four of their next five, including an embarrassing 6-1 decision to the powerful Ottawa Senators on Monday, and fell back with the rest of the non-contenders. They had lost confidence and their ability to shake off mistakes.
``That's not the type of team we have,'' Chouinard said. ``We have to be loose. We have to be skating. We have to be forechecking really hard and create opportunities for our team.''
Kurtis Foster chipped in a power-play score, and slumping Marian Gaborik and Wes Walz also had goals for Minnesota, which improved to 17-0-0 in games when scoring four or more.
The Wild's Manny Fernandez made 18 saves, including a long rebound with 1:25 left that let Jason Allison pull his team within one on a slap shot.
Matt Stajan scored short-handed, and Alexei Ponikarovsky added a power-play goal for the Maple Leafs, whose losing streak reached a season-high four after giving the puck away nine times.
``We have to get away from that,'' captain Mats Sundin said. ``We have to cut down on the breakdowns in our end.''
Minnesota beat Toronto for the first time in five meetings since the franchise's inception more than five years ago, the last foe the Wild had yet to defeat. The Maple Leafs, who dropped a 5-3 decision to the Avs in Denver Tuesday, lost the second game of a back-to-back set for only the second time in 10 tries.
``When we have to get tough, and you have to do a job, we're not doing a good enough job,'' said coach Pat Quinn, who also complained about the officiating.
As Minnesota's first draft pick (2000) and first All-Star (2003), the speedy Gaborik has created great expectations but failed to fulfill his promise because of injuries and inconsistency. This season, he's been up-and-down again - entering the night with just one goal in his previous eight games.
With the Wild leading 3-2, Gaborik streaked past defenseman Ken Klee through the left circle and stuffed a short shot past diving goalie Mikael Tellqvist.
``Gabby's an unbelievable hockey player,'' Walz said. ``There's not many guys that can skate with him.''
After Ponikarovsky scored the tying goal for Toronto, Chouinard gave Minnesota the lead back late in the second period. His helmet came off in the middle of the opponent's zone, but Chouinard stayed in position on the man advantage and successfully redirected a cross-ice pass from Randy Robitaille - who had two assists after being moved to an even-strength line with Gaborik and Walz.
``I didn't think it was a great idea to go in front of the net,'' Chouinard said, smiling.
The game began ominously for the Wild when, on a power play, center Brian Rolston committed an unforced turnover in his own zone. His nearest teammate, defenseman Andrei Zyuzin, wasn't looking. Stajan almost comically skated between the two, easily snagged the loose puck and barreled into Fernandez as he scored less with than 3 minutes elapsed to ignite a roar from the hundreds of Leafs fans in attendance.
Minnesota showed more life after that, strengthening the forecheck and putting the pressure on Tellqvist. Like Toronto did at the beginning of the first, the Wild picked up an easy one early in the second period. Carlo Colaiacovo blindly passed from the boards to an unaware Sundin, allowing Walz to swoop in between the circles and slam the unguarded puck past Tellqvist for a 2-1 edge.
``They play the trap as well as anyone,'' Sundin said. ``When they have the lead, they don't lose.''
Notes: Minnesota left wing Pascal Dupuis was scratched because of a separated right shoulder that's expected to keep him out two weeks. He got hurt in Monday's game. ... The Maple Leafs have scored 12 short-handed goals this season, tied with the Senators for first in the NHL. ... Foster's eight goals lead Minnesota defensemen.
|SHG - Matt Stajan (8) ASST: NONE|
1 - 0 TOR
|PPG - Kurtis Foster (8) ASST: Pierre-Marc Bouchard (24), Marian Gaborik (15)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Wes Walz (6) ASST: NONE|
2 - 1 MIN
|PPG - Alexei Ponikarovsky (11) ASST: Jason Allison (30), Kyle Wellwood (18)|
2 - 2 Tie
|PPG - Marc Chouinard (9) ASST: Randy Robitaille (15), Brian Rolston (27)|
3 - 2 MIN
|Marian Gaborik (14) ASST: Randy Robitaille (16)|
4 - 2 MIN
|Jason Allison (9) ASST: Nik Antropov (7), Ken Klee (9)|
4 - 3 MIN
|SHG - EN - Marc Chouinard (10) ASST: NONE|
5 - 3 MIN
|Mats Sundin Hooking against Marian Gaborik|
|Randy Robitaille Hooking against Ken Klee|
|Pierre-Marc Bouchard Slashing against Nik Antropov|
|Tomas Kaberle Hooking against Stephane Veilleux|
|Ken Klee Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Andrei Zyuzin Cross checking against Jason Allison|
|Tomas Kaberle Hooking against Todd White|
|Jeff O'Neill Unsportsmanlike conduct against Randy Robitaille|
|Jeff O'Neill Hooking against Randy Robitaille|
|Brian Rolston Holding against Nik Antropov|
|Willie Mitchell Roughing against Mats Sundin|
|Mats Sundin Roughing against Willie Mitchell|
|Alex Henry Holding against Tie Domi|
|Andrei Zyuzin Holding against Alexander Steen|