Josh Harding stopped 30 shots for his fourth straight victory as the Minnesota Wild rode second-period goals from Dany Heatley and Guillaume Latendresse to a hard-fought, 2-1 victory Saturday against the St. Louis Blues at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild again executed their game plan -- the "Wild way" of physicality, disruption and balancing strong and weak shifts -- to perfection, making sure that, in the words of coach Mike Yeo, teams "should not have much fun when they come into our building."
"It's a big win for our guys because we can stress all we want, but that's always a tough game," said Yeo. "I give our guys credit, because as the game went on I thought we stepped up and raised our game."
Harding has all but replaced former first choice Niklas Backstrom in the Wild crease with his superhuman stat line. After Saturday, Harding owns the League's best save percentage (.965) and second-best goals-against average (1.18). To emphasize Harding's unlikely contribution, consider his last four-game win streak came between Dec. 14-20 in 2007.
Heatley said the Wild's momentum starts at the back.
"This team's confident," Heatley said. "Obviously it starts with Hards. He's been great for us in the starts he's had. The 'D' has been great for us, coming out clean and getting pucks. It makes the forwards' job a lot easier."
A quiet game broke open after 30 minutes when Nate Prosser blocked a Blues shot from the wing into the path of Mikko Koivu. Koivu raced up the ice in a 2-on-1 with Heatley flanking his right. Koivu crossed to Heatley, who fired a shot low to St Louis goalie Jaroslav Halak's near post at 11:39.
In the second, Jamie Langenbrunner rekindled the bad blood that exists between the non-division rivals when he shoved Marek Zidlicky into Harding's post. From there, the rest of the period played like a game of Musical Penalty Box, as fighting and roughing penalties kept the bin brimming with players. At one point, after a scuffle between Latendresse and Backes escalated to include most of those on the ice, 11 players were in the box at one time.
Amid the fray, Latendresse doubled the Wild advantage at 18:32 when he intercepted Alex Pietrangelo's attempted clear in the attacking zone. Latendresse skated in on Halak, deked left and finished with a backhand over the goalie's right shoulder.
Langenbrunner made things interesting late in the third, notching his first goal of the season at 17:58 when he put away a deflected rebound from the edge of the crease. The Blues pulled Halak seconds later, but Minnesota weathered the storm for the full points.
In the opposite crease from Harding, Halak -- another usual backup --has been as cold as Harding has been hot. Despite stopping 24 of 26 shots, Halak lost his fifth consecutive start for the Blues, who were hoping to build off of their 3-2 win against the Canucks on Friday night.
"His record is not speaking to the kind of goalie he's been," Blues forward Matt D'Agostini said. "He gave us a chance tonight."
With the victory, the Wild moves two points clear of Vancouver -- a team Minnesota beat 5-1 earlier this week -- and into second place in the Northwest Division standings.