If you're ever looking for a definition of leading by example, look no further than Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu's performance Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center.
Koivu scored twice – just his second and third goals of the season – to force overtime, then tallied again in the shootout as Minnesota defeated the St. Louis Blues 3-2 for its fourth win in a row.
"He's a pretty good player," Wild coach Mike Yeo said of Koivu. "I thought he was outstanding. I thought he was really, really good last game too. As things went along, he was demanding the puck and making plays and driving his feet. Real tough to defend and he did a heck of a job carrying it into today's game."
The Wild (12-5-3) are now winners of nine of their last 11. The win snapped a three-game win streak for the Blues (10-7-2), who have still not lost in regulation under new coach Ken Hitchcock (4-0-2).
"It feels great to come back after being down late in the game, then a shootout win … yeah, it was great," Koivu said. "We didn't play that well in the first and second, but we picked it up a little bit in the third and that helped us to win."
Both of Koivu's tallies came in response to St. Louis goals, his second coming with just 1:38 to play. Minnesota had been applying sustained pressure throughout the third, holding a 16-5 shot advantage in the period. In fact, if not for a moment of brilliance from Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak (30 saves), the Wild could have won much sooner.
In Minnesota's first power play of the game midway through the third, Koivu sliced through the Blues' blue line and slotted a pass to Cal Clutterbuck, who poked it low to Halak's left. Halak anticipated perfectly, raising a glove just in time for a sensational stop just in front of the goal line.
Despite his quick glove, Halak was no match for Koivu, who converted just seconds into his team's second power play. With Jason Arnott in the box for hooking, a flurry of shots ended when the puck squirted out to Jared Spurgeon. He swung it right to Koivu, who set up in the right circle and one-timed a floater past a sprawled Halak. It was the first goal St. Louis has allowed in the second or third period in six games.
"You could just see it on the bench, everyone was so jacked up," Wild defenseman Justin Falk said. "Everyone was so excited for Mikko. We wanted to see him get rewarded."
Hitchcock said his team must be smarter in order to close games out.
"Two minutes to go, you can't take a penalty there. You've got to be able to fight through it," Hitchcock said. "It's a physical game, you've got to be able to play physical, can't be reaching and stuff like that."
Koivu's first goal came on a shorthanded play at 2:37 of the second. With Patrick Berglund laboring to retrieve a puck in the trapezoid, Koivu raced in to wrest the puck away, rounded to face Halak and finished cleanly across his body for just his second of the season.
St. Louis opened the scoring at 10:39 of the first after T.J. Oshie created space near the left circle and whipped a backhand toward Harding. The screened goalie denied Oshie's initial blast, and an onrushing David Backes arrived at the net in time to lift it past Harding's left shoulder for his seventh of the season.
Oshie, a star of the night outshone only by Koivu's brilliance, also scored the second and was the only Blue to convert in the shootout. His goal at 6:07 of the third came when Steen found him at the back post with an incisive cross-ice pass, leaving Oshie with the easiest of finishes past a helpless Harding. In the shootout, Oshie lulled Harding to sleep before zipping it through his five-hole. The duo of Oshie and Steen are tied atop the Blues roster with 13 points each.
1 - 0 STL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 STL