NEW YORK -- Jose Theodore made a save that was so breathtaking that even he had to sit down for it.
With the Minnesota Wild already down a goal and being thoroughly dominated in the first period, Rangers forward Ryan Callahan had the puck on his stick with Theodore completely out of position. Callahan and spun and fired a shot toward a gaping net, but Theodore fell to his backside and extended his stick to make a scintillating save.
Theodore slammed the door the rest of the way, making 40 saves in the Wild's 3-1 comeback victory Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
"You look back at points in the game, and that was a huge point in the game," said Wild coach Todd Richards, who was supremely disappointed in his team's effort during a 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Wednesday. "When it was 1-0 there, if they score to make it 2-0, it could be a completely different result.
"Obviously the star of the game was Theo. The game belonged to Theo."
"That's just a desperation move," said Theodore, who could be the goaltender the Wild ride with starter Niklas Backstrom struggling of late. "It kind of hit somebody and I'm sure he thought he had an open net. Those are plays you need when you're on the road to make a difference sometimes."
Sean Avery's first goal in 23 games gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead at the first intermission. The Wild hadn't had a shot on goal when Theodore robbed Callahan with 5:02 left in the first period, and didn't finally get a puck on Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist until there was 2:43 remaining.
During the intermission, Richards said he didn't lay into his team, which had lost two straight and entered the game in 12th place in the Western Conference. He simply told his players to loosen up, relax.
That's easier said than done when you're in a high-pressure playoff race -- but it worked.
Kyle Brodziak's deflection of a shot by Jared Spurgeon at 4:36 of the second period eluded Lundqvist and evened the score. Eight minutes later, a redirection from emergency call-up Casey Wellman, who arrived in New York at about 12:30 p.m., off a Brent Burns shot put the Wild ahead 2-1.
The free-and-easy style paid off in a major way.
"I think we just did a good job of letting it go in the second and third and just trying to play hockey more," Brodziak said. "It was a tough first period and Theo held us in there. It was huge to get us to the second only down one. We just did a better job of loosening it up a bit more and not playing tight."
"The pressures of the games and where you're at, it's every game and sometimes you can get a little bit too caught up in it and put a little too much pressure on yourself and it takes away from your game," Richards said. "I thought we got better as the game wore on."
Theodore made that lead stand up. He made 33 saves in the final two periods to improve to 8-3-0 in his last 11 decisions and 4-1-0 since Jan. 2.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard completed a two-point night with an insurance goal at 8:15 of the third period. The Rangers turned the puck over in their zone, leading to a nice passing play between Brodziak and Martin Havlat that ended with Bouchard snapping a quick shot over Lundqvist's catching glove.
While the Wild climbed into a three-way tie for seventh place in the West, the Rangers are continuing to slip out of a postseason spot.
New York has lost three straight and now sits in eighth place in the East. The Rangers trail the Carolina Hurricanes by one point -- but more important, have only a two-point edge on the ninth-place Buffalo Sabres, who have played three less games than the Rangers. The Sabres, who won 3-2 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, lost 3-2 at Carolina on Thursday.
Scoring has been a problem during this skid for the Rangers, who have four goals in three games. They will head to Ottawa to face the Senators on Friday, searching for answers as the pressure mounts.
"We are getting chances, goalies are making saves," Callahan said. "But at the same time, this time of year, you have to find ways to bury them. I have to score there in the first. I had a pretty open net. We are playing good hockey. We just have to get a goal when we need it."
Brodziak said this was a "must-win" game after Wednesday night's clunker on Long Island.
"We go into every game looking like it's a must-win," Brodziak said. "We were obviously very disappointed in last night's game. You can see what happens when you don't get two points and you slide down in the standings. We had to stop the slide for sure tonight. Thankfully we did it."
Winning breeds confidence. Will the Wild be able to carry it into their next game against the Sabres?
"We'll see on Sunday," Richards said. "We'll definitely take the good out of the game. We weren't perfect -- I know I say that a lot -- but guys played hard. And when you play hard and do it consistently and you get rewarded. I thought we played hard against a good team and found a way to win the game."
Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh wrenched his knee during the third period and is considered "day-to-day," according to Tortorella, who also said there is no structural damage to the knee.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
|Sean Avery (3) ASST: Erik Christensen (11), Vinny Prospal (5)|
1 - 0 NYR
|PPG - Kyle Brodziak (14) ASST: Jared Spurgeon (6), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (19)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Casey Wellman (1) ASST: Brent Burns (24), Andrew Brunette (21)|
2 - 1 MIN
|Pierre-Marc Bouchard (8) ASST: Marty Havlat (36), Kyle Brodziak (17)|
3 - 1 MIN
|Jose Theodore Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Cal Clutterbuck Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Erik Christensen Hi-sticking against Brent Burns|
|Greg Zanon Tripping against Brandon Dubinsky|
|Brent Burns Hooking against Derek Stepan|
|Marty Havlat Elbowing against Ryan Callahan|