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Wild beat Sabres to snap six-game losing streak

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL , Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild overcame a slow start with three second-period goals and got a stellar performance in goal from Niklas Backstrom to defeat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 Thursday at Xcel Energy Center, snapping a franchise-record six-game regulation losing streak.

Backstrom took the place of an under-the-weather Josh Harding and was steady throughout, stopping 19 shots to earn his third victory of the season. The win snapped an eight-game losing streak for Backstrom dating back to a 3-2 victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Nov. 23.

It was the 11th consecutive road loss for Buffalo. The Sabres are last in the overall standings and 3-14-2 away from home.

"It was a good win, we needed that for sure," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We did it the right way, which was big."

The "right way" for the Wild means a puck-possession game with forwards driving the net and limiting the opposition's chances. In the second period, the Wild did just that, outscoring the Sabres 3-0 and outshooting Buffalo 15-5 in one of their better 20-minute efforts in several weeks. The win, at least for one night, relieved the growing tension gripping Minnesota's dressing room as the team plummeted down the Western Conference standings.

Although it's just one win in a season of 82 games, Wild forward Jason Pominville stressed its importance.

"It means a lot," Pominville said. "One win is important for us. It was really nice to get a win, even more so for [Backstrom]. I think a lot of games he's played, we haven't been able to get on the board. Tonight, we got the lead and were able to get some goals for him."

Playing his second game against the team he played for in eight seasons and captained for two, Pominville again played a big part in the final result. He scored the game-winner in Minnesota's 2-1 win over the Sabres in October and scored the winner again Thursday, beating former teammate Ryan Miller with a wrist shot from the right half-wall at 6:19 of the second period to give the Wild a 2-0 lead.

After a scoreless and slow-paced first period, the Wild came out flying early in the second. A series of crisp passes set Marco Scandella free down the slot, and the defenseman fired a wrister over Miller's blocker at 4:33 for his second goal of the season and a 1-0 lead.

Pominville's goal also came courtesy of some nifty passing as he took a cross-rink feed from Mikko Koivu for his team-leading 18th of the season. The assist extended Koivu's point streak to four games.

"It was more of the style we want to play," Pominville said. "We outshot them tonight, we created some good opportunities. They have a good goalie and he made some great saves but it was more of the type of effort we need."

The Wild went ahead by three on Jason Zucker's goal at 16:09. Nino Niederreiter gained control of the puck in his own zone and chipped it up the glass to Zucker near the red line. Zucker knocked the puck out of the air, zipped down the right wall and fired a wrist shot over Miller's glove.

It was the first NHL goal of the season for Zucker, who has bounced between Minnesota and the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Iowa Wild. He was recalled Wednesday for the fifth time this season.

"That's what we need those guys to do," Yeo said. "It's not always perfect, it's not always perfect for a veteran either. They play an important role on our team and we need them to continue to go out and perform."

Sabres coach Ted Nolan was so disappointed in Buffalo's effort in the second period he didn't address his team, instead, counting on his leaders to set the tone prior to the third.

"Sometimes you haven't got nothing good to say and it's better not to say nothing at all," Nolan said. "They know how bad they played and sometimes you might say something that you'll regret. I'm very disappointed. We have to play better."

Said Miller: "It's really is up to us; a coach can only say so much."

Buffalo ended Backstrom's shutout bid with 1:12 remaining in regulation on a goal by Matt Ellis.

"It wasn't a strong effort," Miller said. "We didn't have any zone time at all. They kind of picked us apart in the neutral zone in the second period. The first was all right, then the second was a tough period and the third period was just a wash trying to keep the lead. It wasn't much of a game there after the second."

Kyle Brodziak was credited with an empty-net goal after he was tripped on a partial breakaway with 25.7 seconds remaining. The goal snapped a 30-game goal drought for Brodziak and was his third of the season.

"He was going to score, he was going to go top-shelf, for sure," Yeo said with a smile. "But he earned that goal with his play, he was good all night."

Miller stopped 28 shots in dropping to 10-18-1 on the season. The Sabres lost back-to-back road games against the Winnipeg Jets and the Wild; they haven't won away from Buffalo since a 5-4 shootout win against the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 5.

The Sabres could be without forward Drew Stafford for a while. He left the game in the first period and did not return after colliding with Wild forward Matt Cooke, suffering what the team said is an upper-body injury.

"It could be a little while," Nolan said. "I'm not 100 percent sure, but it's not a day-to-day thing."

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