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Koivu, Harding lead Wild past Jets

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding, there is no place like home.

Harding stopped 22 shots and improved to 10-0-0 at Xcel Energy Center this season, backstopping the Wild to a 2-1 victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday night.

Mikko Koivu's second goal of the game broke a 1-1 tie with 3:12 remaining in regulation. With the win, Minnesota finished its three-game homestand undefeated and improved to 10-1-2 on home ice this season.

While the Stanley Cup Playoffs are still a ways off, Harding's game seems to already be in post-season form, allowing 20 goals in 17 games. He is 12-2-2 overall with a 1.25 goals against average. His goals against at home is even better at 1.15.

"Our team is not giving up much and when they do, that's when I have to make that big save," Harding said. "But I can’t say enough about how the D-men are playing, coming back to get the puck and breaking it out clean. It's fun to watch."

At times Sunday, it was tough to tell who the home team was. A large percentage of the 18,000-plus in attendance were clad in blue and white, chanting "Go Jets Go," during the cheers of "Let's go Wild," and tormenting the home goalie with chants of "Har-ding."

Asked if he'd ever seen a goalie get taunted in his home rink, Wild coach Mike Yeo said he hadn't.

"That was probably a first, but I don't think it affected [Harding] too much," Yeo said. "It was awesome. I loved it. Our fans were great too; it made for a great atmosphere."

Added Koivu: "It felt a little bit like a playoff game out there."

Winnipeg trudged through the first period, putting just two shots on Harding and allowing the game's first goal when Zach Parise beat a pair of Jets to a loose puck behind the net and fired a no-look pass to Koivu in the slot, who beat Ondrej Pavelec (22 saves) for his third goal of the season at 16:37.

"It was a tough game to lose," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "I thought our guys were very engaged. They really wanted to have a good outcome."

Like they did 48 hours earlier against the Florida Panthers, the Wild seemed to let off the gas in the second, allowing the Jets to establish their game and their confidence. Harding stoned Blake Wheeler on a partial-break midway through the second and sprawled to make a glove save on a hard slap shot by Dustin Byfuglien from the top of the circle late in the period to preserve the lead.

"Pretty similar … I don't know if we get complacent or what," Parise said. "We start well. But as the game went on, I thought we got a little sloppy in some areas."

The Wild's inability to extend their lead bit them early in the third, when Byfuglien tipped a Bryan Little shot in front of a screened Harding 54 seconds into the period to tie the score. Byfuglien's goal, his fourth of the season, was his fourth in as many games.

But also like Friday, it was Minnesota's first line on the ice for the tying goal, and once again, they atoned for it.

After winning a faceoff to Pavelec's right, Koivu set up shop at the dot. Charlie Coyle won a puck battle in the corner and passed to Koivu, who rifled a one-timer short-side to beat Pavelec for his first two-goal game since Mar. 14 against the Colorado Avalanche. After a slow start offensively, Koivu now has nine points (3-6–9) over his past six games.

"It doesn't matter if it's Zach or Charlie [going into the corner], you try and find an open spot and try to create," Koivu said.

Winnipeg pulled Pavelec with just under a minute remaining, but never threatened Harding with the extra attacker. The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Jets.

"I thought we played a pretty good road game," Noel said. "I thought we made some mistakes that led to the defensive zone faceoff that led to the goal that led to the game. Other than that, we managed the game fairly well."

The Wild have now gained at least a point in 12 of their past 13 games and have points in eight straight games for the first time since 2007-08. Minnesota has pulled within two points of the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the Central Division and set off on a four-game road trip beginning Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Jets return home and open a three-game homestand Monday against the Calgary Flames.

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