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Devils shut out again in loss to Wild

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn.Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding is making things look easy. His teammates are making it easy for him too.

The Wild scored a goal in each period and added an empty-netter late in a 4-0 victory against the New Jersey Devils at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday night.

Minnesota needed Harding's A-game in the opening 20 minutes, and got it. He stopped 10 shots in the first period, helping the Wild overcome a sluggish start that featured three penalty kills.

From there, Minnesota's skaters did the heavy lifting, holding the Devils to just nine shots on goal the rest of the way, helping to secure Harding's second shutout of the season and ninth of his career. Harding finished with 19 saves.

"It's unbelievable. He's keeping us in every game he plays in," said Wild forward Nino Niederreiter, who had three assists for the first multi-point game of his career. "We are really thankful to have goalies like that."

The victory was Harding's seventh in nine starts this season. His goals-against average dropped to 1.10 and his save percentage increased to .950. Each is tops in the NHL amongst goaltenders with at least five starts.

"The guys are making it easy," Harding said. "It's never about one player. This was another team win. Everybody contributed and pulled their weight."

Besides Harding, perhaps no group has pulled more of its fair share than the Wild's second line. Mikael Granlund entered the game with a career high four-game point streak, and extended it to five at 13:20 of the first, slamming home a pass from Niederreiter in the slot for his first goal of the season.

Over his current five-game streak, Granlund also has seven assists. He leads the team with 10 assists this season.

"I'm glad that he got that goal tonight," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "He's had a lot of chances. He's obviously been setting up a lot of plays but it's good to get that off his back."

The Wild extended their lead at 7:35 of the second when Zach Parise, playing in his first career game against his former team, got a return feed from Ryan Suter at the right circle. With Devils goaltender Cory Schneider in solid position, Parise flipped a puck towards the front of the crease, where a crashing Suter and Torrey Mitchell were headed. The puck caromed off Mitchell and in for his first of the season.

Mitchell, who has slotted in on the Wild's fourth line much of the season, was playing up with the first line of Parise and center Mikko Koivu.

"Apparently, I scored. So I'll take it," Mitchell said. "I just knew being out with those two guys, just go to the net and good things will happen and it did."

Parise said playing against the Devils was about what he expected it would be heading in.

"As a player, you always hate practicing and scrimmaging against your own team and that's what it felt like for me tonight the whole game," said Parise, New Jersey's first-round pick (No. 17) at the 2003 NHL Draft. "They don't give you much offensively, they play well systematically. Not a lot of room out there, fortunately, we were pretty opportunistic. When we did get our chances, we put them in."

Minnesota struck with the man-advantage early in the third when a shot from the point by Keith Ballard was tipped in front by Dany Heatley for his second of the season. The goal was Heatley's 141st career power-play goal, the most in the NHL since he entered the League in 2001-02.

For Ballard, it was his third assist in two games and first multi-game point streak since Dec. 4-6, 2011 when he played for the Vancouver Canucks. He has four assists in eight games this season.

Niederreiter assisted on that goal as well and also on Jason Pominville's empty-netter at 17:35.

"The more you play, the more confidence you get," said Niederreiter, who was acquired at the 2013 NHL Draft from the New York Islanders in exchange for Cal Clutterbuck and a third-round pick. "With help from players like Granlund and Pominville and Parise and Koivu, they believe in each other and it just gives you confidence."

Playing its second game in two nights, the Devils have been shut out in both and have not scored a goal since 10:54 of the second period last Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a stretch of 149:05.

"This is seven periods without a goal," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "I thought we did some good things structurally, but you're not going to win in this League without scoring some goals."

DeBoer indicated the Devils' power play is a definite issue and even sapped New Jersey of its early energy.

"We lost momentum with our power plays," DeBoer said. "In the first period, we were playing well, drew a couple of power plays playing that way and really, the momentum shifted when they killed off a couple of penalties in the first."

Schneider, making his return from a groin injury that cost him three games, stopped 16 shots in the loss.

The Devils played shorthanded on their blue line for much of the game. Anton Volchenkov was declared out Sunday with a lower-body injury. He was replaced in the lineup by Jon Merrill, who made his NHL debut. But his first appearance was marred by an injury less than five minutes into the game, when he crashed awkwardly into the boards while chasing a loose puck in the corner. The team announced during the third period he would not return due to lacerations.

The Devils, who also played without forwards Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac for the second straight night, will have three days to try and get healthy before continuing their three-game road trip with back-to-back games Thursday and Friday against the Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Minnesota wraps up its four-game homestand Tuesday against the Calgary Flames.

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