The Wild owned a three-goal lead late in the third period, but had to hold off a late charge from the Flames to beat Calgary 4-3 at Scotiabank Saddledome on Monday night.
After being shut out in two of their previous three games, the Wild received two goals from Jason Pominville while Mikko Koivu snapped a nine-game goal scoring drought to give Minnesota a much-needed two points. They jumped over the St. Louis Blues into sole possession of sixth in the tight Western Conference playoff race.
"Every game matters," Koivu said. "I think every team, every player recognizes that but you can't think about it too much ahead. You've just got to go game-by-game. I know it sounds like a cliché but that's what it is right now."
Just four points separate fifth from 10th in the West -- and Pominville admitted that this causes a lot of scoreboard watching.
"I think we'd be lying to say we don't look at the standings basically every day, try to figure out what's going on throughout the league and teams that are playing and not playing but I think right now we control our destiny," Pominville said. "We've just got to go out there and execute, and tonight was a start."
It almost wasn't.
Calgary trailed 2-0 heading into the third period, but Jiri Hudler quickly cut Minnesota's lead to one, finishing a three-way passing play set up by fellow Czechs Roman Cervenka and Roman Horak by beating Niklas Backstrom to bring Calgary at 3:42.
But Minnesota needed just 11 seconds to restore its two-goal advantage -- and only 1:13 after that to expand it.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard made it 3-1 when he snapped a shot between the wickets of Joey MacDonald at 3:53. Pominville added his second of the night at 5:06 on the game's next shot when he one-timed a feed from Matt Cullen in the high slot between MacDonald's legs for a 4-1 edge.
But after being foiled earlier by Backstrom, rookie Ben Hanowski made good on his second chance of the game at 11:19, poking the puck across the goal line during a scramble for his first NHL goal to cut the margin to two.
“It was just extremely exciting. I felt a little lighter on the ice after getting that one,” said Hanowski, one of two college players the Flames received from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Jarome Iginla trade. “It's hard to put into words right now, but it was a special moment and I'll always remember it.
“To score in the NHL is something you do in your backyard in the summer, playing road hockey with your buddies, so to finally do it is pretty special.”
That lead dwindled to one with the net empty.
Sven Baertschi beat Backstrom with 39 seconds remaining by corralling a nifty cross-crease feed from Mike Cammalleri and burying it into a virtually empty net. But while they scrambled around Backstrom's crease, Calgary couldn't find the equalizer, and the Wild escaped with their second win in eight games.
"Obviously it's a big win," Koivu said. "It's a big road trip for us, so you always want to start on a good note and I think we did that tonight. It was a good battle but I think we were just a little better and earned the win."
Hunting for two points and some temporary breathing room, Minnesota capitalized on their first scoring chance of the game.
Koivu picked up Zach Parise's rebound off the pad of MacDonald and had his initial shot swatted away from the goal line by Mark Giordano. But it came right back onto Koivu’s stick, and he fired another shot that hit Giordano's stick before ricocheting off the defenseman and into the net to snap his personal scoring drought and give Minnesota a 1-0 lead 2:17 into the game.
"I think every player wants to score and create offensively," Koivu said. "I've got some chances and good thing we got one in tonight."
Backstrom took over soon after.
The Wild goaltender, making his ninth consecutive start, turned aside 11 shots in the opening 20 minutes, including robbing Hanowski on his first career shot with a glove save at 15:54. That save came one shift after Backstrom denied rookie Maxwell Reinhart from point-blank range.
Backstrom continued his strong play early in the second period with Jason Zucker in the penalty box for hooking, making a glove save off Curtis Glencross' backhand attempt from just a few feet out at the 3:00 mark.
His fast glove gave way to Pominville's quick hands at 11:13. Ryan Suter's shot from the point went wide, but Pominville, parked just off the far post, was able to snare the puck off the wall and tuck it across the goal line before MacDonald had a chance to slide over for a 2-0 lead.
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