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Wild beat Coyotes for seventh straight win

by Jerry Brown
GLENDALE, Ariz. – It might be time to stop waiting for the Minnesota Wild to come back to Earth. They seem to like the view from where they are – which is now an amazing four points ahead of the pack.

Kyle Brodziak scored a pair of power-play goals, his ninth and 10th goals of the season, Dany Heatley added another and the red-hot Wild scored on their first shot of both the first and second periods to bury the Phoenix Coyotes 4-1 for their seventh straight victory.

Winners of 17 of their last 21 games, including seven in a row on the road, the Wild have an NHL-best 43 points after 30 games. The seven straight wins overall ties Detroit and the New York Rangers for the second-longest winning streak in the NHL this season, trailing only the 10-game streak by the Boston Bruins from Nov. 1-23.

"It feels good to help contribute, but that's just a product of what we're doing," said Brodziak, who finds himself as the leading goal-scorer on the best team in the League more than a third of the way through the season. "The way everyone is playing just makes it easier for all of us. It's fun hockey to play and there is a lot of belief in the room that we're for real. The way we come to the rink and prepare and get better every day. We're not where we want to be yet, and we'll work on reaching that level Monday."

Goalie Niklas Backstrom, returning to the lineup after missing the last three games with a groin injury, stopped 35 shots – most of them coming from the perimeter as his teammates again gave him a good view of the puck. Backstrom lost his shutout bid when Lauri Korpikoski scored for Phoenix with 3:57 left.

"It's fun to go out there and play behind a team like this that goes out and works hard every night and tries to help each other," said Backstrom, who is 11-5-2 this season and saw his 2.15 goals-against average shrink even further Saturday. "The guys did a great job in front of me, letting me see the puck and clearing rebounds of pucks I shouldn't have left out there,"

The Wild, who had six players out with injuries Saturday and have used a League-high 32 different players – including nine rookies – just continue to win. They swept three games in California before coming to Phoenix and will try for a perfect 5-0 trip when they visit Winnipeg on Tuesday. Since sweeping Detroit in back-to-back games on Oct. 29 and Nov. 1, they are 17-4-0 and are the first team to 20 wins this season.

Mikko Koivu added a goal and an assist for the Wild, who scored three times on their first 12 shots and collected a rare road win against Phoenix coach Dave Tippett -- his teams had been 14-1-1 on home ice against Minnesota during his coaching stints at Dallas and Phoenix (2002-11).

The Coyotes, who came into the game leading the Pacific Division, continue to struggle at home. They are just 6-6-2 at Arena and barely avoided being shut out for the fourth time in 14 games at Arena.   

"There is an old saying that says ‘Your goaltender can win and lose hockey games' and tonight I lost it for the team. It's as simple as that," said goalie Mike Smith, who lost for the third time in his last four games after a 12-5-3 start to the season and has allowed 12 goals in those three losses. "The past week hasn't been very good so I have to find a way to get out of this funk and get back to the way I was playing before."

The Coyotes' penalty kill, a team strength all season, has imploded in the last five games. Including the three allowed Saturday, Phoenix has surrendered eight power-play goals in 18 chances over that span after allowing only eight in the first 25 games of the season.

Meanwhile, the power play continues to hurt struggle. After going 0-for-4 against the Wild, the Coyotes have just 10 power-play goals in 92 chances this season and are dead-last in the League at 10.8 percent.

"It's not rocket science that when your power play has been as bad as ours … we have to get better," captain Shane Doan said. "Our PK has been phenomenal for us all year, but it was a battle of special teams tonight and they won it."

The Wild came out flying early, putting pressure on the Coyotes and drawing a quick high-sticking penalty on Keith Yandle. But Yandle's stay in the penalty box lasted just five seconds.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard put a shot on net from the high slot that Smith gloved but couldn't hold. The puck rolled into the slot and – as he was falling to the ice – Brodziak backhanded the rebound past Smith at 2:08 for his ninth goal.

The Coyotes had better pressure to open the second period but the results weren't any better. Jeff Taffe, who had two tours with the Coyotes earlier in his career, carried the puck down the right side on the rush before finding Koivu in the slot and in-stride for a one-timer that beat a startled Smith low to the right post at 3:07.

The Wild capitalized on Martin Hanzal's hooking penalty to expand their lead, needing only 26 seconds to cash in this time. Smith stopped Koivu's shot, but Brodziak grabbed the rebound, went around the net and beat Smith to the fair post to make it 3-0 at 11:43. Heatley added another power-play tally at 11:23 of the third, deflecting home Jared Spurgeon's second assist of the game.
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