SAN JOSE – Now that they've seen the view from atop the NHL standings, the surprise-of-the-season Minnesota Wild aren't about to give it up without a fight.
The Wild lost starting goalie Josh Harding to an upper-body injury just 1:11 into the game Tuesday night, but they still found a way to beat the San Jose Sharks 2-1 and increase their league best points total to 39.
Rookie goaltender Matt Hackett, the nephew of former Sharks goalie Jeff Hackett, came off the bench to make his NHL debut and hold San Jose scoreless the rest of the way, stopping all 34 shots he faced to earn his first career win.
"It's tough," Hackett said. "I mean, that's my first NHL game. I'm still shaking. I was shaking the whole time. Yeah, it's an unbelievable feeling. It's a tough building to play in, but it's a fun one, too."
The Wild won their fifth straight game and their 12th overall after giving up the first goal. The Sharks lost their second straight game and fourth in their last five.
"There is some frustration," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "You can see it on the bench and you can feel it in the locker room. Tonight the work ethic was much better than it was the other night against Florida. We played a lot crisper and a lot sharper, but we weren't rewarded for it, so there's some things we need to work on and get better at. But our overall game improved, and that’s a good sign."
The Wild were outshot 23-10 in the first period, spotted San Jose a 1-0 edge and lost their starting goalie but still managed to build a 2-1 lead before the first intermission.
"I think it's a good sign that there's a lot of character in the room," Wild forward Kyle Brodziak said of the multiple comebacks. "It's happened so many times this year, and it seems like every single time everybody's talking each other through it, saying to each other to stick with it. Every night it's a different line that steps up and is the difference. That's so huge when you fall behind like that and everybody's still confident we're going to find a way to come back in the game."
The Sharks, coming off a sloppy 5-3 loss Saturday to Florida, came out with tons of energy and took a 1-0 lead on Pavelski's goal just 60 seconds into the game.
Pavelski had won a faceoff and went directly in front of the net as defenseman Dan Boyle launched a shot from the blue line. Harding stopped Boyle's shot, but the rebound went to Pavelski, who ripped it into the net.
Seconds later, the news got worse for Minnesota when Harding was knocked out of the game.
An instant after stopping a shot, Harding was inadvertently hit in the head by teammate Nick Schultz, who was tied up with Pavelski as the Shark rushed the net, just left of the crease. When Schultz made contact, while skating past the next, Harding’s head appeared to snap backward.
Harding immediately went prone on the ice. He eventually got on his hands and knees while a trainer examined him. After a few minutes, Wild coach Mike Yeo made the switch: Harding went to the dressing room and Hackett came off the bench.
Veteran Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom wasn't available – he sat out for the second straight game since leaving Friday night's game against New Jersey in the first period with a groin injury. So the Wild turned to Hackett, who definitely has hockey genes. Jeff Hackett was San Jose's starter in its inaugural season in 1991-92. He played 15 seasons in the NHL, including two with the Sharks.
"I talk to him a lot," Hackett said of his uncle. "He's helped me a lot growing up. Every summer me and him work out a lot. He teaches me so much of the off-ice and on-ice, it's unbelievable."
Matt Hackett, a third-round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, was recalled from Houston of the AHL on Dec. 2. He had gone 9-1-1 with a 2.11 goals against average at Houston this season and proceeded to blank the Sharks for the rest of the first period, which included a four-minute power play.
"It was awesome," Brodziak said of Hackett's NHL debut. "There's nothing really else to say. He was awesome tonight. He made unbelievable saves. I think everybody knows how tough of a job it is to come in when you're cold like that. First game against the San Jose Sharks, probably could be intimidating, but apparently not."
Shortly after killing that long penalty, the Wild evened the game on Koivu's fifth goal of the season at 17:41. Former Shark Dany Heatley fired a shot from the right faceoff circle, and Koivu jammed the rebound past Antti Niemi. Heatley got an assist. So did winger Casey Wellman, a Bay Area native and former San Jose Junior Shark, playing in an NHL game at the Shark Tank for the first time.
The Wild took a 2-1 lead with just 11.6 seconds left in the first on Bouchard's power-play goal. He took a cross-ice pass in the left circle from Koivu and beat Niemi with a high blast to the far side of the net.
"It was definitely a good start for us, but special teams let us down a little bit," Pavelski said.
Minnesota winger Devin Setoguchi, facing his former team for the second time since being traded during the offseason, played only 2:51 in the first period before heading to the dressing room. He has been battling a lower-body injury.
Yeo had no injury updates on either Harding or Setoguchi other than to say, "I don't know that we're going to have either guy in the lineup for the next game."
In a scoreless second period, Hackett stopped 10 more shots. Late in the period, he killed off 1:51 of a 2:00 penalty on Heatley for boarding Marc-Edouard Vlasic at 18:11. Then in the third, Hackett stopped nine more shots, keeping his cool as the desperate Sharks peppered him with shots.
"Really impressive," Yeo said of Hackett, who played for him last season at Houston. "Not an easy team to go in and play your first game against, not an easy situation to go in and play your first game. But the way he handled it, and they threw everything at the net. They jammed him at the net, and he was in control all night."
The Wild entered the game allowing an average of just 2.2 goals per game and lived up to their reputation for playing stingy defense and protecting third-period leads. When there was a rebound, Hackett's teammates were usually there to knock it away.
Minnesota came into Tuesday night's game as one of the NHL's hottest teams. It had won 14 of its past 18, including four straight on the road. In their past three road wins the Wild overcame a two-goal deficit, rallying to beat Edmonton, New Jersey and Anaheim.
"There were a lot of missed opportunities. This team has been successful at finding ways to win this year," Boyle said of the Wild. "That's why they're in first place."
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