ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With his team losing control of a game it owned just a period earlier, Charlie Coyle earned perhaps the hardest-working second assist in the National Hockey League this season.
Coyle's sheer determination set up the Minnesota Wild's final goal in a 4-2 victory against the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday at Xcel Energy Center, vaulting the Wild into a first-place tie with the Canucks atop the Northwest Division.
After watching a 3-0 lead shrink to 3-2 just 62 seconds into the third period, Coyle's herculean shift gave the Wild the boost it needed playing in the final period of a grueling back-to-back set. Coyle fought through a double team and check by Dan Hamhuis, made a diving stop of a puck destined to leave the offensive zone and then won a puck battle in the corner, passing to Ryan Suter at the point. Suter's shot was stopped by Vancouver goaltender Cory Schneider, but the rebound came free to Zach Parise on the doorstep, and the latter jammed it home for his second of the night and a crucial insurance marker.
"I don't know how I stayed up," Coyle said of the Hamhuis hit. "I didn't even see him coming. I'm lucky I didn't get too much of it. I was surprised the puck was still there. We just got the puck to the net and good things happened. Zach's gonna put that away every time."
"It was awesome. He's come a long way," Parise said. "For him to outmuscle those guys … he's going to be a really good player for us."
Minnesota grabbed the early lead on a pair of nifty passing plays by Jared Spurgeon and Mikko Koivu. Spurgeon charged into the Vancouver zone along the right wall, dished to Koivu in the slot, who chipped a backhanded pass to Parise at the left dot. His one-timer beat Schneider for his 10th goal of the season just 24 seconds into the game.
"We had talked about our forecheck in the neutral zone then center-on-center, we missed an assignment and the puck ended up in the back of our net," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "Didn't start the way we wanted. Obviously didn't finish the way we wanted."
Another pretty pass -- this time by Matt Cullen -- set up the Wild's second goal late in the first, as the veteran fed rookie Jason Zucker in front for a tap-in goal at 18:31.
"I don't think I had ever had a tipped goal like that in a game and now I've had three this year," Zucker said. "It's nice having a linemates like that that are going to get you the puck."
Spurgeon added a power-play blast 4:12 into the second to give the Wild a 3-0 lead before the Canucks started to chip away.
"I felt pretty confident heading into the game, just looking at our leaders and looking at our team … I had a real good feeling we were going to come out and play the way we did tonight," Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
Less than four minutes later, Vancouver winger Chris Higgins' one-timer from the right corner beat Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom through his five-hole to get the Canucks on the board.
When Henrik Sedin screeched to a halt at the right post, deflecting the puck off his blade past Backstrom just 62 seconds into the third, Minnesota's lead had shrunk to just one.
But Minnesota got a great shift from its fourth line just before Coyle's effort led to Parise's goal at 6:29.
"A lot of times, it's how you respond," Schneider said. "You can afford to give up a goal or two but if you continue to do it, it's going to be harder and harder to get yourself back in the game."
A physical first period resulted in 26 minutes worth of penalties between the two teams. Minnesota finished 1-for-3 on the power play while Vancouver failed to capitalize on any of their three man-advantage chances, dropping to 0-for-19 with the extra attacker over the last eight games.
"They didn't generate much again. We're going to have to find solutions, a power play is definitely a deterrent for the other team's physical play," Vigneault said.
Backstrom made 25 saves to earn his 11th win of the season, snapping a 0-6-1 stretch over his last seven games against Vancouver. The victory also moved Minnesota's mark to 9-2-1 at home this season.
Suter, who extended his points streak to seven games on Spurgeon's goal, added a second assist on Parise's third-period goal and now has 17 assists on the season -- second most among NHL defensemen. He's also tied for third among blueliners with 18 points.
The win gives Minnesota 28 points, tied with Vancouver for best in the division. But the Wild's 13 victories (Vancouver has 11) breaks the tie in the Wild's favor. Both teams have played 24 games -- the exact halfway mark of the season.
"Our guys were ready for this one, for sure," Yeo said. "We are a team that's on the up and going in the right direction. We were looking forward to this chance."