ST. PAUL, Minn. - With their grip starting to slip on a spot in the playoffs, the Minnesota Wild responded with one of their most complete, aggressive performances of the season.
They turned that, just barely, into a critical win over the Los Angeles Kings.
"I really believe that competitors in games like that find a way to go out and be really good," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "And that's what we had."
Jeff Carter's slap shot whizzed past Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom with an improbable 0.8 seconds left before the second intermission, pulling the Kings within one. It was Carter's 26th goals, tied for third in the NHL. Then as the Kings created some late energy, Slava Voynov's shot from the far edge of the right circle was stopped by a sprawling Backstrom with 11 seconds remaining in the game to preserve the lead.
"You've got to pay 60 minutes playing a desperate hockey team," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said, adding: "We turned the puck over too much in the first period. Eventually when you have that much skill on the other side, they're going to score."
With a 3-7-1 record in the last 11 games since this month began and that playoff spot still unsecured, the Wild badly needed a victory. After losing their last two games by a combined 10-2 margin, their hold on seventh place in the Western Conference was tenuous with two games left in the regular season after this.
"The bar has been set, and we've got to make sure we're ready to bring at least that the next game," Yeo said.
Clutterbuck snapped an 18-game streak without a goal. Relentless on both ends all night with his new linemate Devin Setoguchi, Clutterbuck raised his arms in celebration after his tight-angle shot sneaked between Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier and the left post. He jumped against the boards, with the Wild ahead 2-0.
"This was probably the biggest game I've ever played in for this franchise, so I was excited," Clutterbuck said.
The Kings failed to get a point for only the third time in their last 15 games. Bernier, in the net for the first time in seven games in relief of Jonathan Quick, made 23 saves. The Kings can't do better than the fourth seed, but they don't want to fall to fifth or sixth and lose that home-ice advantage for the first round. San Jose and St. Louis have been right behind all month.
"We didn't play three periods. We didn't deserve to win the game," Kings captain Dustin Brown said.
Brown fired up the Wild with a vicious-looking elbow to the jaw of Jason Pominville in the second period that went without penalty and knocked Pominville on his back. He woozily and slowly skated off the ice with a trainer's guidance and didn't return to the bench. Yeo said he had no update on Pominville's condition and declined to comment on the hit. Brown, who had the puck on his stick at the time, said he was trying to brace himself for a hit from Pominville.
"We've seen it on the replay, but I'm sure someone will look at it," Setoguchi said. "The game's going fast. From our end, it was right in the head on the face."
The Wild already without one of their top scorers in Dany Heatley for the remainder of the season. Losing Pominville for any stretch would be a significant setback.
"I think we handled it really well, and that's something to be focusing on," said Backstrom, who stopped 22 shots. "Grow on that, that nothing rattles us no matter what happens there."
NOTES: Kings C Anze Kopitar has his goal-less streak reach 14 straight games. ... The Wild's AHL affiliate, moving to Des Moines, Iowa, next season, will be called, naturally, the Iowa Wild. ... Josh Harding was on the active roster as Backstrom's backup for the first time since early February. Harding was placed on injured reserve after developing complications from the multiple sclerosis medication he's been taking, and he was returned from a conditioning stint with Houston on Monday. ... Bernier's shutout streak against the Wild ended at 89:06. ... Fourth-line enforcer Zenon Konopka returned from a foot injury for the Wild.
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