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Vanek, Niederreiter help Wild rally past Islanders

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- After playing perhaps their worst period this season, the Minnesota Wild retreated to their dressing room after 20 minutes against the New York Islanders badly in need of a spark.

Eight minutes into the second period, a scary hit on a teammate provided the emotional lift they needed. Minnesota rallied from two three-goal deficits in a 5-4 win at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday.

It was the second consecutive game the Islanders led 3-0 and lost; they lost 6-4 to the St. Louis Blues at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday.

For Minnesota (15-10-1), it was the second straight game it erased a 3-0 deficit on home ice. The Wild rallied Friday against the Anaheim Ducks, taking a 4-3 lead before eventually falling 5-4.

Per Elias Sports Bureau, it's the first time in Wild history they've won in regulation in a game they trailed by three goals. It was the seventh time this season an NHL team has rallied from three goals down and won.

"When you mention to the group, and you use words like pride and character, we know we have too much pride and character in our locker room to let that continue," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "Our guys certainly acknowledged that. I thought they showed it the rest of the game."

Down 4-1 to start the third, the Wild got goals from Mikko Koivu and Erik Haula to start the rally before former Islanders forward Thomas Vanek chipped away at a loose puck in front of Islanders goaltender Chad Johnson, tying the game at 4-4 with 8:12 to play.

Four minutes later, it was another former Islander scoring off a scramble: Nino Niederreiter, New York's first-round pick (No. 5) at the 2010 NHL Draft, scored his team-leading 12th goal with 4:33 left.

"It felt really, really good," Niederreiter said. "Such a great comeback, when [Vanek] got that tying goal, we were just buzzing and trying to get the next one before regulation ends. We made it happen."

The Islanders (19-9-0) got a late power play and pulled Johnson with one minute left for a 6-on-4 advantage but were unable to capitalize.

"We couldn't find a way to get the momentum back," Islanders captain John Tavares said. "They got some pucks to the net and we were battling away. Just gotta win some 1-on-1 battles.

"We didn't generate a whole lot the second half of that game."

Down 3-0 after one, Minnesota was outshot 11-3 and was loudly booed off the ice. The start of the second was better, but it wasn't until an injury to defenseman Keith Ballard eight minutes into the period when the emotion finally showed up.

After dumping the puck into the zone, Ballard tried to avoid a check from Islanders forward Matt Martin at the glass between the two benches. Ballard turned and Martin checked him awkwardly into the boards. He laid motionless on the ice for several seconds before medical personnel got to him.

"Seeing a guy down like that, it really hits you," said Wild defenseman Nate Prosser, still visibly shaken after the game. "It's something you never want to see in this sport. It was scary. It was tough to see him down like that."

A few more seconds passed before stretchers and doctors from each team surrounded Ballard in what quickly became a serious situation. He eventually was able to get on his skates and leave the ice with assistance and was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul. The Wild did not have an update on his condition following the game.

"It was a very emotional night," Koivu said. "When you see something like that happen when it's right in front of your bench and you see what's out there."

"It was sickening to see, but we handled it the right way," Vanek said.

Martin was not assessed a penalty on the play, something that seemed to galvanize the Wild.

"That was the turning point for our hockey team tonight," Koivu said.

On the next shift, forward Mikael Granlund drew a power play and 18 seconds into it, Jason Pominville tipped a shot from the point by Ryan Suter past Johnson for his sixth goal.

The Islanders had one shot in the period, but made it count. Mikhail Grabovski outworked a pair of players along the wall before getting the puck to Josh Bailey all alone in front, and he he beat Backstrom for his fourth goal of the season at 17:17.

Minnesota outshot New York 30-19 for the game, including a 27-8 advantage over the final 40 minutes. Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom made 15 saves for the win.

Suter, in his first game back after missing the past two games with the mumps, played 29:08 and had three assists.

Johnson made 25 saves after Jaroslav Halak missed his scheduled start because of an upper-body injury.

"[The players] gotta figure it out," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "They shot three pucks to the net and scored. You have to have the will to defend around your goalie."

First-period goals by Michael Grabner, Brock Nelson and Martin gave the Islanders a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Grabner's goal came in transition when he fired a shot through an Anders Lee screen at 8:31 of the first. Lee got an assist, as did rookie defenseman Griffin Reinhart, his first NHL point.

Nelson tipped in a Nick Leddy shot on the power play to make it 2-0 at 17:15 of the first and Martin's goal 32 seconds later came off a scramble in front of Backstrom.

"You learn from it and move forward," Capuano said. "It wasn't like we played a terrible game. I didn't like the fact they were stronger than us around our net tonight. That was the difference in the game."

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