ST. PAUL, Minn. - Journeyman Krys Kolanos and scrapper Cal Clutterbuck gave the Minnesota Wild an early lead with first-period goals, and Niklas Backstrom stayed perfect in goal against the Edmonton Oilers with a 5-1 victory Thursday night.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brent Burns scored in the third against former teammate Dwayne Roloson to stretch the lead. Mikko Koivu sliced through two Oilers defenders to set up Burns with 4:41 left, and Eric Belanger scored with 45.7 seconds remaining.
Backstrom has never lost to Edmonton, lifting his career record to 10-0 in 12 appearances with 20 saves. The Oilers have lost eight straight games at Xcel Energy Center; they've been outscored 29-9 in those contests.
Only one went to overtime, and the last victory was two years ago.
Liam Reddox scored Edmonton's only goal.
Given the tight state of the Western Conference in today's lose-in-overtime-but-still-pick-up-a-standings-point NHL, it's not a stretch to suggest the winner of the Oilers-Wild season series will have a clear edge over the other in the competition for one of the final playoff spots. Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish essentially said as much before the game. This was their first of six meetings.
These teams entered the game in a three-way tie with fellow Northwest Division foe Colorado for ninth place, just four points out of fifth slightly past the season's midpoint. The Wild started their second half with a flourish, beating Phoenix 6-3 with a badly needed breakthrough offensive game for their slumping top two lines.
The grinders picked up the slack in this one, giving Minnesota a couple more five-on-five scores to move out of last place in the league in that category. Bouchard's goal off an own-zone turnover by Edmonton in the third period was the Wild's 61st in 5-on-5 situations.
Eleven seconds after Ladislav Smid of the Oilers and James Sheppard shed their helmets and dropped their gloves for a fight that bloodied Sheppard's nose but ended without a winner, Antti Miettinen manoeuvred around defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky and made a spot-on pass to a streaking Kolanos.
Denis Grebeshkov fell down, and Kolanos tipped the puck at Roloson hard enough to get it to trickle past him.
Reddox tied the game, his late whack of a loose rebound just in time before Backstrom froze the puck. But on only the Wild's seventh shot of the night, Clutterbuck collected a back pass from Sheppard and went top shelf to make it 2-1.
Notes: Bouchard broke a 10-game streak without a goal. He has eight this season, after signing a five-year, US$20.4-million contract in July. ... Dustin Penner was credited with the first assist on Reddox's goal. He was hurt in the second period after apparently taking a friendly-fire slap shot off his lower body, but didn't miss any time. ... Team player: While Backstrom was leaving the ice for an empty net with a penalty call coming, the puck drifted toward him near the red line and he quickly made a pass before continuing toward the bench. ... The third period was especially chippy. Oilers all-star Sheldon Souray fought Craig Weller and put a licking on the Wild forward, who had trouble getting up and was taken to the training room.