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Wild stay unbeaten in regulation

by Brian Hunter

October is quickly drawing to a close, and the last NHL team to record at least a point in every single game this season is still going strong.

Mikko Koivu continued his torrid play by assisting on all three Minnesota Wild goals and Niklas Backstrom turned aside 34 shots to pace a 3-2 win Monday night over the Chicago Blackhawks at Xcel Energy Center, giving the Northwest Division leaders a 6-0-1 record.

With the Buffalo Sabres having lost 5-2 to the Ottawa Senators earlier Monday, it left the Wild as the only team in the League not to have dropped a regulation game so far.

"We have to stick together -- I mean, there's a lot of skill in this conference and this League," said Koivu, who has registered 12 assists and 13 points already. "So we've got to be careful with that every night and just try to score whenever we get a chance -- and because the goaltending for us is huge, that brings the wins."

Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen and Brent Burns had the Minnesota goals, with Koivu setting up Miettinen off a 3-on-2 rush at 4:31 of the second for the go-ahead score. Backstrom, who has played all 425 minutes in net through seven games, helped compensate for a 36-18 shots advantage by Chicago and ran his record to 11-0-1 in 12 decisions dating back to last season.

''He doesn't give up bad goals,'' Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. ''They have to work for the goals they get.''

The Blackhawks' offense came courtesy of Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith, the latter score making it a one-goal game with 4:34 remaining and setting up the latest frantic finish for the Wild. In the previous two games they gave up a two-goal lead late in the third and lost their only game of the season to Buffalo in overtime, then saw a last-minute goal by Columbus that would have tied the score disallowed.

"We've just got to learn from those and try to be better in the future," Koivu said. "Hopefully Nik can play the same way, he got the win for us tonight."

Chicago hasn't won on the road yet this season and lost for the 12th time in 15 career trips to Xcel, though the Blackhawks got off to a positive start when Sharp netted his sixth of the season with 6:25 left in the first period.

Brunette got the Wild even just 2:02 before the first intermission, taking a pass from Miettinen off his chest and stuffing the puck past Cristobal Huet, who finished with 15 saves.

Nolan forced a neutral-zone turnover that started Koivu's rush and resulted in Miettinen's sixth of the season 4:31 into the second. Minnesota jumped in front 2-1 and then Burns extended the lead by taking a nifty back-door pass from Koivu and scoring his second at the 13:17 mark.

''The goals come from Mikko's line, and it's a lot of goals,'' Lemaire said. ''If you look at their shifts, their shifts are all in the offensive zone. They control the puck so well, move the puck so well.''

In between the goals by Miettinen and Burns, the Blackhawks had a terrific opportunity to tie the game when Wild defensemen Marek Zidlicky and Kim Johnsson took penalties 54 seconds apart. Chicago was unable to capitalize on the extended 5-on-3 advantage.


''I always feel if you don't score on a 5-on-3 that you don't deserve to win the game, and that's generally the result,'' Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ''I still think we did a lot of good things tonight on our side. Bottom line is I think there's a lesson to be learned.''

Keith, whose point-blank slapper that trickled past Backstrom gave Chicago hope in the closing minutes, wasn't content to call it a solid effort.

''We kind of played right into their hands,'' he said. ''So saying it's a good game, I don't think that sits well with us.''

Material from wire services and team broadcast media was used in this report.

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