ST. PAUL -- In a lost season for both the Minnesota Wild and Carolina Hurricanes, it was the road team that came away with a 5-3 victory Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.
The Hurricanes were led by winger Drayson Bowman's three-point effort -- he scored Carolina's first two goals and assisted on the third as the 'Canes rallied from a 3-1 second period deficit.
Goaltender Brian Boucher, seeing his first game action since Dec. 6, stopped 23 shots to notch his first win of the season.
"It's been a long time. It feels good to be back out there, and when you haven't played, the game seems a bit fast." Boucher said. "At least I'm not going to get shutout in the wins department this year. I was running out of time. I don't know how many more starts I'm going to get."
Bowman gave Carolina an early 1-0 lead, taking advantage of a turnover by Minnesota defenseman Clayton Stoner in his own zone. An errant pass wound up right on Bowman's tape, and he went to the backhand to beat Wild goalie Matt Hackett just 62 seconds into the game.
"I was just skating in to go at my d-man and all of the sudden the puck was there," Bowman said. "I'm not sure how it wound up there, I just grabbed to and fired at the net. I think it might have gone off their d-man's stick and in the net."
Just over six minutes later, the Wild tied it on a goal by Kyle Brodziak, who slid a backhander of his own over Boucher's pad.
Still knotted midway through the second, Carolina looked poised to grab the lead, as Hackett kicked a rebound right to Eric Staal at the left circle. Staal gathered in the puck and fired, but his shot was deflected at the last second by defenseman Tom Gilbert, preserving the tie.
His defensive effort was rewarded less than two minutes later, as Nick Johnson banged home his own rebound from the right post, giving Minnesota a 2-1 lead. Three minutes later, the Wild pushed their lead to 3-1 on a power-play goal by Erik Christensen, his third goal in as many games.
For Boucher, it was a rough integration back into the lineup -- he allowed three goals on just 12 shots over the game's first half. But the veteran got better as the game wore on and by the third period, Boucher had found a groove. He stopped all 12 shots he saw over the final 20 minutes to preserve the win.
"I didn't get much at the start," Boucher said. "I would have liked to get some long-range shots, maybe feel the puck. I didn't feel much of the puck at the start of the game. It was kind of a battle all the way through."
Perhaps the turning point came near the end of the second, when Bowman bounced a centering pass from behind the net off the skate of Cal Clutterbuck and past Hackett, narrowing the gap to just one heading to the final period.
"That goal gave us life to stay in the game," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. "We were able to recover during intermission and then get ready for the next period. For us, that was the biggest goal."
Seven minutes into the third, Carolina tied the game, as Bowman led Brandon Sutter with a perfect stretch, setting up a breakaway, which Sutter deposited into the net for his 15th of the season.
"I saw Sutter had huge speed. All I had to do was get it to him and he was gone," Bowman said.
"I knew I could take off and he made a great pass," Sutter said. "It was a nice play. Fortunately, it went in."
The goal capped a solid afternoon for Sutter, who scored a goal, assisted on another and fought Minnesota defenseman Nate Prosser in the first period for his first Gordie Howe Hat Trick in quite a few years.
"I think I had one in juniors. I certainly haven't had one in this league. It's kind of cool to get one of those," Sutter said.
Less than a minute later, Tim Brent blasted a slap shot from the point giving the Canes a lead they would not relinquish. Chad LaRose outlegged Gilbert to add the empty-netter at 18:45.
"It wasn't the prettiest of hockey games, but at the end of the day, we're looking to get wins. We got a win and it feels good," Boucher said.
For Minnesota, which once sat at the top of the NHL standings, the loss was the team's third straight. The Wild are 2-7-1 in their last 10 and have fallen 13 points behind eighth-place Colorado for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Minnesota is quickly gaining better odds for the top pick in the draft. The Wild are tied with Montreal for the league's fourth-worst record, but are just one point better than the New York Islanders and five better than Edmonton.
"You win hockey games by doing all these little things right; things we know how to do and we know what they are, but we're not doing them." Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
The win kept Carolina's fading playoff hopes alive. With 71 points, the Canes are seven points behind Washington for the eighth spot in the east. But with only 10 games remaining, Carolina -- the winners of two straight games -- will need to continue this streak to get back into contention.