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Wild snap skid by beating Oilers 4-3

by Dan Myers /
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It's safe to say the Minnesota Wild have not been the beneficiary of many bounces over the course of their recent eight-game losing streak.

Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center, they finally were -- both literally and figuratively.

Buoyed by three second period goals and a pair of Matt Kassian fights, Minnesota killed a late penalty to hold on in a 4-3 win over Edmonton, snapping their two-week long losing streak and securing a 4-2 season series win over the Oilers.

"That was fun wasn't it?" said Minnesota coach Mike Yeo with a grin. "That was ice hockey."

It was especially fun for Minnesota during a five-minute stretch in the middle of the second period. Having taken a 2-1 lead just 19 seconds earlier, Marek Zidlicky cleared the puck from his zone. It skipped over three sticks through the neutral zone and landed on the tape of Pierre-Marc Bouchard. The diminutive Wild winger sped towards the goal and fired a snapshot low and to the short-side, beating Oilers netminder Nikolai Khabibulin glove-side for his eighth goal of the season.

It was the kind of puck luck that has eluded the Wild for the better part of December.

"Exactly right," Bouchard said. "It's definitely fun to get a bounce when you're struggling."

"There's been a couple times Butch has done that," Yeo said. "We score a goal, take a lead and the next thing you know, moments later, he goes down and extends that lead."

Indeed, Thursday was the third time this season Bouchard has scored a critical separation goal just seconds after Minnesota has taken a lead -- including an identical 19 second gap Nov. 3 in a 5-1 win against Vancouver. He also scored a goal 32 seconds the go-ahead in a 5-3 win at Anaheim Dec. 4.

"That's the one thing that's been eluding us during this stretch," Yeo said. "We haven't been able to get up by a couple on a team. That certainly felt great and it was a confidence booster for the team."

It was an inauspicious start for the Wild, who fell behind just 1:24 into the game on a goal by Taylor Hall. Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu evened the score at 13:47 of the first period, weaving through the Edmonton zone then dangling to his left. Once Khabibulin abandoned the right post, Koivu fired a wrist shot at the open space, banking it off the post and in for his ninth of the season.

Things got testy at the end of the first and beginning of the second, as both teams traded roughing and misconduct calls. The second period was especially entertaining for the 19,194 in attendance, as the puck careened from end-to-end and the physical nature of the game picked up.

Wild forward Jarod Palmer broke the stalemate with his first NHL goal at 10:02, becoming the seventh Minnesota native to score a goal with the hometown team.

"It felt like the first goal I ever scored," Palmer said. "We really needed a win. It was awesome to be able to help the team out."

Edmonton used its timeout after Bouchard's goal seconds later made it a two-goal game, and bruising forwards Darcy Hordichuk and Matt Kassian dropped the mitts within two minutes of the restart. Kassian won the fight but the Oilers reestablished some momentum, as Ladislav Smid's back-door goal at 14:40 made it 3-2.

But the Wild answered, again in short order. Just 46 seconds later, Zidlicky skated the puck around the net and put a soft shot on Khabibulin, which the goalie pushed out. The veteran couldn't corral the rebound, however, as the puck slid to Dany Heatley on the right post, who slammed it home for his team-leading 12th of the season.

"You can't help it when things haven't gone well for us lately," Yeo said. "They score, next thing you know, it's 3-2. But for us to respond, answer right back and extend that back to 4-2, it gives you a big sense of ease going into the locker room."

Khabibulin finished the second period but was pulled for Devan Dubnyk to start the third. Khabibulin's line was less than stellar, allowing 4 goals on just 19 shots.

The third period started with another Hordichuk-Kassian bout just off the faceoff. From there, the intensity level never wavered.

Shawn Horcoff scored his eighth of the season through a screen at 6:40 to pull Edmonton back within one at 4-3 but Backstrom came up big when he needed to, including a critical poke-check of Horcoff with the forward all alone in front and just five minutes remaining.

For his part, Dubnyk followed with big saves on Clutterbuck and Heatley down low and a breakaway stop on Koivu to keep Edmonton alive.

Minnesota's Justin Falk was whistled for interference with 1:23 to play, but the Wild penalty kill held Edmonton without a shot, preserving their first win since a 4-1 victory at Phoenix Dec. 10.

Backstrom finished with 27 saves -- several of them spectacular -- to earn the victory, his 12th of the season.

"You're going to go through times like that," Heatley said of the losing streak. "I thought we deserved to win last night but we didn't. But that effort carried over tonight and here we are."
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