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Wild defense grounds Jets for first win

by Dan Myers /

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild, behind a stifling effort in its zone, got a goal each in the first and second period for a 2-1 victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.

Minnesota, which outshot Winnipeg 30-15, did not allow more than six shots in any period and never trailed in its first win of the season.

Wild goaltender Josh Harding, who stopped 14 shots in his first start in place of injured Niklas Backstrom (leg), called it the team's most impressive game so far.

"Our [defensemen] played unbelievable and our forwards did a great job down low," Harding said. "I thought we carried the play most of the game."

Jets coach Claude Noel spent a good chunk of his morning media gathering Thursday talking about faceoffs and the role he thought they'd play. He was right.

The Wild went 45-for-61 (73.8 percent) in the faceoff circle, setting a franchise record for highest single-game percentage. Winning all those draws allowed Minnesota to dominate puck possession, which kept Winnipeg in chase mode virtually the entire night.

"It's some of the same stuff we've talked about, mostly faceoffs. We never start with the puck," Noel said. "We chased pretty much the whole night and never created very much through the neutral zone.

"We don't start with [the puck], so we're always checking, we're always chasing it down. You can see our puck possession game isn't great."

Jets captain Andrew Ladd said, "We need to do a better job of winning faceoffs any way we can. It definitely makes the game a lot easier when you're starting with the puck."

With an 0-1-2 start, tension in the Wild dressing room was starting to rise. A loss Thursday would have left Minnesota six points behind the Colorado Avalanche just a week into the season and winless in three home games.

"I think it's good to get both points," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We continued to do a lot of things we have been, but bottom line is, we got both points. Needless to say, we needed that."

Wild forward Matt Cooke said, "I think it's natural to have, for lack of a better word, panic. I think if you honestly looked at [our first three games], in an unbiased way, we carried the play for most of them. But carrying the play for 55 minutes doesn't get you a win."

The Wild grabbed an early 1-0 lead Thursday, capping a 3-on-2 with a goal by Jonas Brodin. The second-year defenseman led the rush, passed to Cooke in the slot and headed for the net. Cooke's shot was stopped by Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec but the rebound deflected in off the shaft of Brodin's stick at 7:39 of the first period.

The goal, Brodin's second of the season, matched his total for all of 2012-13.

Minnesota got into penalty trouble late in the first period, and Winnipeg capitalized on a 5-on-3 advantage when Bryan Little stood tall in front of Harding, deflecting a one-timer from the point by Tobias Enstrom into the net for his third goal of the season.

Midway through the second period, Cooke jammed home a loose puck in front of Pavelec for his second goal of the season and first game-winner in his fourth game as a member of the Wild.

"I'm just thankful they don't ask how," Cooke said. "[Torrey Mitchell] did a great job of getting the puck there, it was loose, I saw it the whole time and the whistle didn't go."

Yeo said, "He's not going to score a ton of goals where he's dangling guys 1-on-1. That's not to say he doesn't have skill; he does. But he's smart enough to know how to use his skill and how to be effective."

Minnesota's defense locked down in front of Harding from there, killing a Winnipeg power play with less than seven minutes to play without allowing a shot. The Jets pulled Pavelec with 1:15 to play, and again with 45 seconds remaining, but couldn't get a shot on Harding.

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