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Something Wild's going on

by Brian Compton /
Mikko Koivu's goal with 3:04 left in regulation gave the Minnesota Wild a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday night.
Can anybody stop the Minnesota Wild?

The Colorado Avalanche couldn’t, and dropped to 0-4-0 on the road in the process.

Mikko Koivu scored with 3:04 left in regulation and Niklas Backstrom made 29 saves as the Wild improved to 7-0-1 on the season with a pulsating 3-2 victory over the Avs at the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday night.


The best start in franchise history gets better with each passing victory for these Wild, who are the lone team remaining in the League that hasn’t lost in regulation. Had it not been for Koivu’s shot that beat an otherwise-solid Peter Budaj, the Wild may have joined all the other teams in the NHL in the regulation-loss column.

Koivu – who had 20 goals last season – grabbed control of the puck in the corner and convinced Budaj that we was going to skate behind the net. At the last second, however, Koivu broke for the front of the net and stuffed the puck past the Colorado netminder, sending the crowd of 18,568 into a frenzy.

''It happened so fast,'' Koivu said. ''It's always tough for the goalie when it comes so quick, and that's what happened there. I don't know if he even knew that I got the puck.''
It was another difficult road loss for the Avalanche, who lost in similar fashion at Chicago on Friday night. The Blackhawks broke a 3-3 tie with only 1:25 remaining in regulation and went on to record a 5-3 win.

“It was similar way of losing, which reminded me of Friday night,” Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was tough knowing that we were close to getting one or two (points).”

Budaj, who finished with 29 saves, said he wasn’t surprised by Koivu’s move. The end result, however, left him in a state of shock.

“I was surprised it went in,” Budaj said. “He hit a five-hole.”

Minnesota’s power play entered the night clicking at a paltry 6.9 percent, but came up huge in the second period with a pair of goals on the man advantage. Mark Parrish gave the Wild a 1-0 lead with his second tally of the season at the 5:20 mark of the middle frame, when he beat Budaj with a backhand shot after being left alone in front of the net.

“I knew I had plenty of time,” said Parrish. “It’s nice to have that amount of time in front.”
Brian Rolston put the Wild up by a deuce when he took a pass from Kurtis Foster and fired a laser from just inside the point past Budaj. It was Rolston’s third goal of the new campaign as he got some help from Parrish, who set up a screen in front of the Colorado net to help
Minnesota take a 2-0 lead.

“I knew I had Budaj, because I could hear him squealing,” Parrish said. “You give a shooter like Rolston that kind of time, it doesn’t matter if I’m in front of the net or not.”

But the Avalanche stormed back with a pair of goals of their own later in the second period.

Tyler Arnason cut the deficit in half with his first goal of the season at the 11:38 mark on a power-play tally, and Andrew Brunette tied the game on a tip-in just 2:11 later.
“After the second, I told the guys ‘the third period is ours,’” Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said.

“Since the start, we’ve been good in the third. It tells me we are playing well, and we’re in shape.”
The third period did go in Minnesota’s favor, but the game was undecided for the first 16:56 of the frame until Koivu’s nifty move helped the Wild eke out their seventh win of the season. But Koivu isn’t prepared to plan any parades just yet.
“It’s good for the team and it’s good for our self confidence for the rest of the year,” Koivu said.

“But still, it’s just eight games.”
Parrish agrees. The offensively-gifted forward believes surrendering the 2-0 lead was somewhat of a wake-up call.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence, but we have to be careful and not get overly confident,” Parrish said. “We saw what can happen when you take your foot off the gas for a little while, especially with a team with the skill like Colorado. We woke up in time and pulled out a win.”

It will be an emotional night on Tuesday, when the Avalanche visit the Edmonton Oilers. It marks Ryan Smyth’s first trip back to Rexall Place since “Captain Canada” was dealt by Edmonton to the New York Islanders last March. Smyth signed with the Avalanche as a free agent in July. Colorado visits Calgary on Friday before returning home next Sunday to host this scorching-hot Minnesota squad.

“It’s always disappointing when it’s a Western Conference game, an inter-divisional game, and they get the two (points) and we get none,” Quenneville said. “That’s tough. I just think at that time of the game, we’ve got to get it to overtime. We can’t give up late goals like that. When you end up with nothing, it’s something we dealt with last year and got better later in the year. But we can’t wait to apply that lesson going forward here much longer.”

Canucks 4, Blue Jackets 1 | 700K
Markus Naslund of the Vancouver Canucks is congratulated by the Canucks bench after scoring a goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Playing back in the city where he enjoyed plenty of success on the collegiate level, Ryan Kesler made his mark in Columbus as a pro.
The Canucks’ forward – who 31 points in 40 games for Ohio State University in 2002-03 – scored twice, while Curtis Sanford stopped 35 shots in his season debut as Vancouver escaped the Nationwide Arena with a victory.
“It’s very exciting,” Kesler said of playing in Columbus. “We have a good team right now. We just haven’t been putting a full 60 (minutes) together. I think tonight’s a stepping stone.”
It was a frustrating loss for Ken Hitchcock’s Blue Jackets, who did not give up a shot on goal in the second period and out-shot Vancouver 36-19 overall. Columbus was abysmal on the power play, going 1-for-10 on the day.
“I don’t think we were very good on the power play at all,” the Blue Jackets’ coach said. “I think we were too busy trying to make plays rather than create traffic opportunities and shots. I thought we spent way too much time on the perimeter. We had opportunities to take advantage, and we didn’t.”
Hitchcock hinted there may be changes on his power play units in time for the Blue Jackets’ next game. Columbus travels to Chicago to face the Blackhawks on Tuesday night.
“We have worked extremely hard,” Hitchcock said. “But you need your people who are in charge of creating offense to create it when you work this hard. We’ve not done that. I think that’s pretty obvious. You can’t keep telling people about working hard and doing what we’re doing, and then not have people step up when other people have earned for them to go on the power play. That’s the disappointing part. We’re not doing the things that we need to do.”
Kesler sure did what he needed to do, as he got the Canucks on the board first with his first goal of the season just 5:39 into the contest. He extended his point streak to three consecutive games when his wrist shot from the left circle got past Blue Jackets’ goalie Pascal Leclaire as Vancouver took an early 1-0 lead. It was the first goal Leclaire had allowed at Nationwide Arena in 156:01. He recorded shutouts in his first two home games this season.
“I think he was screened a bit and he didn’t see the shot,” Kesler said. “I think I just caught him off guard there.”
Unlike Columbus, the Canucks took advantage of a power play when Kevin Bieska scored with the man advantage at the 13:17 mark of the first. With Rick Nash in the penalty box, Bieska took a pass from Lukas Krajicek and fired a one-timer from the left dot that found its way through a crowd and past Leclaire to make it 2-0. It was Bieska’s first goal of the season.
“We’ve been having a good first period lately,” Kesler said. “I think we caught them off guard there and jumped on them early.”
Nash gave the Blue Jackets some life when he cut the deficit in half with his fifth goal of the season 2:38 into the second period. The sniper extended his goal-scoring streak to three games with his team on a two-man advantage, as he swatted home his own rebound to make it 2-1.
But despite getting another handful of chances on the power play, the Blue Jackets failed to notch the equalizer. Markus Naslund regained Vancouver’s two-goal lead 8:51 into the third, and Kesler added a shorthanded, empty-net tally with 1:36 to play.
Between Sunday and last Wednesday’s 3-2 shootout loss on home ice to the Dallas Stars, Hitchcock has seen enough. He wants to see more havoc created in front of the net.
“We’ve lost two games – one in overtime – and neither one of these games we deserved to lose,” Hitchcock said. “But because we didn’t take advantage of these opportunities we were afforded, we lost. You can’t keep earning the opportunities to go on the power play by your hard work and then not take advantage of it. That’s what we’ve done. We’ve just sat on the perimeter and tried to make plays around people. It doesn’t work that way.”
Kesler, meanwhile, would like to see the Canucks do a better job of putting together a 60-minute effort. It’s not often a team comes away with two points when it goes a full period without recording a shot on goal.
“That’s something we’ve still got to work on,” Kesler said. “Our second period is not good lately. We’re just lucky to come out with a win tonight.”
Much could also be attributed to the work of Sanford, who put forth a solid performance while Roberto Luongo received a rare night off. The Canucks’ backup netminder kept his team in the second period while it was stuck in an offensive funk. Columbus held a 20-0 edge in shots during one stretch.
''It was a barrage out there,'' Sanford said. ''That's what happens when you kill penalties for a whole period. It was nice to come in after the second with the lead still. We knew we were still in a good situation. It was just up to us to go out in the third period, play our game and just get back to what makes us successful.''
Material from wire services was used in this report.
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