ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild have made a habit of winning ugly and winning late. So on Saturday, when they tied the score deep in regulation, at home, against the slumping New York Islanders, the final result came as somewhat of a surprise.
The Isles kept pushing in overtime, and Frans Nielsen scored the only goal of the shootout to give his team only its second win ever at Xcel Energy Center, 2-1.
Nielsen, one of the NHL's best performers in the shootout, deked Niklas Backstrom before beating him with a backhander under the crossbar in the second round. Al Montoya then stopped Dany Heatley's wrister in the third round to give the Isles their first win in five games -- and their first shootout victory in three tries this season. Minnesota is 4-3 in the tiebreaker.
The Islanders' only other win in seven trips to St. Paul was a 4-2 victory on Dec. 19, 2002. Minnesota's winless drought stretched to three -- a season high for the NHL's best team.
"You never want to let a losing streak carry out too long," said Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald. "I think we hit our limit this time. Now we just need to move forward and start playing some better hockey."
In a game Minnesota coach Mike Yeo admitted earlier in the day his team would have to grind out, it was the Islanders who were perfectly content to do just that -- they dominated play for most of the night, and only an outstanding 35-save performance by Backstrom kept them from winning in regulation.
"We had no business being in that game after two periods," Yeo said. "We got one point tonight because of him."
"We have to," said Islanders coach Jack Capuano of his team’s heavy edge in possession. "We're a team that has to play a similar style. We're a team that has to execute in the offensive zone. We have to win the territorial battle. That's the way the team is built and that's the strength of our team."
The Islanders took the lead just past the halfway point of the second period, taking advantage of a penalty on Warren Peters. Backstrom made a sprawling save to knock the puck just wide of the net as the penalty expired. John Tavares chased down the puck in the corner and backpassed between his legs to MacDonald, who blasted a shot past Backstrom at 11:13. Matt Moulson was also credited with an assist.
"Johnny made a great play to get the puck back to me," said MacDonald, playing for the first time in almost three weeks after a leg injury cost him seven games. "There was nobody really pressuring me, so I kind of cocked the shot. [Matt Moulson] and [PA Parenteau] were sniffing around the back door but there was no real lane. I knew they had their fifth guy back on the ice so I just shot it far side. It had eyes."
One minute later, the Wild called timeout, and a visibly upset Yeo laid into his team on the bench. Shots at the time favored New York 19-7. By the end of the second period, the Islanders had run their lead on the shot chart to 24-9 and the home team was lustily booed off the ice.
"The direction we were going, it needed to change," Yeo said. "It's tough to just flip a switch."
Minnesota got off to a clunky start again early in the third. But in an ugly game, the Wild tied the score on an ugly goal, as Heatley picked up a turnover by Isles captain Mark Streit near the right circle, spun to the slot and fluttered a soft shot towards Al Montoya. The shot made it through traffic in front to Matt Cullen on the right post, and he deflected the puck across to Cal Clutterbuck on the left post. Clutterbuck stuffed the puck into the net on his backhand at 8:22 for his ninth of the season and a 1-1 tie.
The goal energized the Wild, who spent much of the rest of the game in the Islander defensive zone.
"I thought they did a great job using the back of the net to get extended zone time," Capuano said. "You did get that feeling when they tied it, that 'Here we go again' type feeling. But give our guys a lot of credit. They stuck to the game plan tonight."
Montoya stopped 20 shots to beat the Wild for the second time this season.
"We had yet to win overtime or a shootout this year," said MacDonald. "That's definitely a big mental hurdle for us to get the shootout win."
New York will continue on their three-game road trip, playing at Winnipeg Tuesday before a contest against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden Thursday night.
Meanwhile, Minnesota regained a one-point lead over Chicago for the top spot in the Western Conference. They head off on a three-game Northwest Division road trip starting Monday night in Vancouver.
1 - 0 NYI