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Wild hang on to beat Coyotes 4-3

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Minnesota Wild hadn't been scoring many goals. Dany Heatley hadn't been scoring any. All that changed Thursday night – and it turned out every goal was needed.

Heatley, who had scored just one goal in his past 13 games, broke out of the slump with a pair in the first two periods while Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi each had two assists as the surging Wild held off a late Phoenix charge to beat the Coyotes 4-3 at Arena.

The Wild have scored a season-high four goals three times, and Heatley has five of his seven goals in those games. But Minnesota hadn't scored four since Jan. 27, when Heatley connected in a 5-4 overtime loss to St Louis. He'd had only one since, but followed a Jason Zucker goal on the Wild's first shot with a pair to give his team a 3-0 lead.

"I think whenever I score everyone thinks it's a good game, and if don't they think it's not as good game," the two-time 50-goal scorer said. "We understand the situation that it's going to be a grind and a one-goal game every night no matter what. We had a pretty big lead tonight and still made it a one-goal game. But we're used to it and we're ready for it."

Jared Spurgeon added his first of the year season for Minnesota, while goalie Niklas Backstrom made 22 saves. After a disappointing 4-5-1 start, the Wild are 6-2-1 in their last nine games and up to 22 points. Backstrom is 5-1-1 in his last seven starts.

Rostislav Klesla scored in the second for Phoenix and Keith Yandle and Shane Doan added goals during the final five minutes to make things interesting. But after regaining their defensive form during a 7-2-2 spurt, Phoenix is 1-2-1 in its last four and has allowed at least one goal in 10 of the 12 periods.

Mike Smith allowed four goals on 19 shots before being pulled after two periods for backup Jason LaBarbera.

Playing without top-six forwards Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata, the Coyotes again struggled to muster much offense; their fourth line – Nick Johnson, Kyle Chipchura and Paul Bissonnette – was their best. After a huge performance in Tuesday's 4-2 win in Vancouver, the same effort wasn't there.

"Our group was a little tired tonight. You could see there wasn't the same zip," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "In Vancouver we competed so hard on every loose puck and we started out that way in the first period. But we made a couple of crucial mistakes that wound up in the back of the net and then we were chasing."

The Coyotes, who had won nine of the last 13 meetings with Minnesota, put 11 shots on Backstrom in the first -- but the Wild did all the scoring.

Backstrom made an early save on a Lauri Korpikoski wraparound bid, and the Wild capitalized when Cullen found Zucker cruising up the slot unattended and Zucker deflected the puck over Smith at 1:45. It was the third goal in five games for the former University of Denver star since being called by from Houston of the American Hockey League.

"We've been emphasizing our starts and making sure we play with a lead and that's what we did tonight," said Zucker, who had his mom and sister watching in the stands. "I know if I go to the net and stop, my linemates are going to get me the puck and that's what happened."

Minnesota made it 2-0 at 14:01 when Pierre-Marc sent Heatley in 2-on-1 with a head of steam. Heatley took the shot himself and beat Smith to the short side off the post.

The second period was more of the same. Just after a Phoenix penalty expired, Cullen gobbled up a puck lost by Mikkel Boedker in the corner and found Heatley in the left circle for a one-timer at 6:03. It was Heatley's 12th goal and 21st point in 25 games against Phoenix and gave the Wild a commanding 3-0 lead.

The Coyotes finally got on the board 4:53 later when Klesla's backhander caught the stick of Minnesota defenseman Tom Gilbert and fluttered by Backstrom. It was Klesla's first goal of the season and first in 22 games dating back to last March 14 at Vancouver.

But Phoenix couldn't build on the momentum. The Coyotes had one shot the rest of the period, and Raffi Torres' second careless penalty of the night cost them. Spurgeon was parked in the crease at the right posted and slapped a Mikko Koivu power-play rebound by Smith with the backhand at 16:02 to restore the three-goal lead.

Yandle scored a wild bad-bounce goal when his dump in deflected off the side glass and behind Backstrom with 4:39 left to play, while Doan scored his 100th at Arena with 58 seconds left and LaBarbera on the bench for an extra attacker.

"They have skilled guys and when you let a team like that play free and easy … I don't think we were nearly as hard on them as we should have been," Yandle said. "We kind of played OK in the third, but it's nothing to be proud of."

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