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Desperate Wild hold off Sabres for 3-2 win

by John Kreiser

The Minnesota Wild's flickering playoff hopes are still alive, thanks to Josh Harding.

The backup goaltender, playing because starter Niklas Backstrom is out with a groin injury, stopped 43 shots on Friday night as the slumping Wild survived a third-period rally to beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on Friday night.

"I didn't play in a month before that game in Detroit, so I knew I was going to be a little shaky. But I didn't expect to be that shaky," said Harding, who was the loser in a 5-1 loss to the Red Wings on Thursday. "So I had to forget about the past and look forward to the future."

The Wild rebounded behind Harding to snap a four-game winless streak while ending the Sabres' three-game winning streak with their fourth consecutive victory in Buffalo.

"He played well," said Buffalo's Thomas Vanek, who had both of his team's goals. "You've got to give him credit, but at the same time we didn't shoot it enough, myself included, early on. We went for the easy back-door plays instead of just putting it on net."

Harding and the Wild led 3-0 after two periods, but had to survive an 18-shot barrage in the third period that included the pair of goals by Vanek. Harding preserved the win with a dazzling stick save on Derek Roy's point-blank shot with just over 30 seconds to go.

"He was very steady back there, and a steady influence on our team," Wild forward Andrew Brunette said. "He was square to the puck all night, and I thought he played real well."

The victory gives the Wild 70 points, seven behind eighth-place Calgary in the West with 15 games remaining.

"They're a good team and they generated a lot on their power plays, but the guys really came together and found a way to win the game," Minnesota coach Todd Richards said.

It was a tough night for Patrick Lalime, who started in place of Ryan Miller and made 30 saves but drew the ire of the home crowd by giving up two stoppable goals in the first periods. The Sabres, who begin a five-game trip Saturday in Detroit, remained two points ahead of idle Ottawa for the Northeast Division lead.

The Wild grabbed the lead 3:02 into the game when Andrew Ebbett's soft wrister along the ice from the left circle eluded Lalime. Guillaume Latendresse made it 2-0 at 10:11 with his team-leading 24th of the season. After picking off Lalime's clearing attempt from behind the net, Latendresse skated above the goal line and slipped the puck in before Lalime could recover.

Lalime felt the wrath of the HSBC Arena crowd after his sluggish start, as the hometown crowd mockingly cheered every time Lalime made a save after allowing the two quick goals.

"It felt like I was on the road," he said. "You just want to shake it off."

Brunette made it 3-0 with his 19th with 1:25 to go in the second period, whacking Antti Miettinen's pass from the right circle out of the air and past Lalime.

Vanek spoiled Harding's shutout bid with a power-play goal 3:42 into the third period, tapping in Roy's cross-ice pass. He cut the deficit to a goal with 1:58 remaining after the Sabres had pulled Lalime for an extra attacker.

"It wasn't good enough," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said of his team's effort and late rally. "You give that team a couple of goals' lead and you're facing trying to get through a defensive shell."

Nor was he impressed with his team's 45 shots on Harding.

"Shots aren't good enough. They've got to turn into goals," he said. "I don't buy it that we can be happy with shots and chances. Shots and chances aren't going to win games."

Material from team media and wire services was used in this report
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