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Wild suffer rare home loss to Blues

by Dan Myers /

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- One of the best home teams in the NHL, the Minnesota Wild laid an egg Monday against the St. Louis Blues.

Jaden Schwartz scored a goal midway through the first and Andy McDonald and Kevin Shattenkirk added tallies in the second en route to a 4-1 victory at Xcel Energy Center.

Entering Monday's game, Minnesota was 13-3-1 at home this season, including a 9-1-1 mark in its last 11 games. But from the drop of the puck Monday, the Wild could not find traction against a big, strong Blues team that physically took it to Minnesota all night long.

"That's our game, it's not pretty," Blues captain David Backes said. "If we want to get into a track meet with that [Zach] Parise-[Mikko] Koivu line, we're gonna be in a world of hurt.

"We did a great job of making them earn everything they got tonight, they had a few good chances and [Blues goaltender Brian Elliott] shut the door on them. It takes a full team effort to shut them down."

Some in the Minnesota room said afterwards the game was reminiscent of the Wild's early-season struggles, which saw the team get off to a 6-6-2 start. It's been hot lately, winning more games in the month of March than any other team in the Western Conference and entered Monday winners in eight of nine overall.

Minnesota has needed third period comebacks in each of its last two victories, however, and Parise said that early-season sloppiness had started to creep back into the Wild's game. While it got away with it in wins over the Phoenix Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings last week, the Blues made it pay Monday.

"Might have given us a bit of a reminder of some of the things we need to be doing… made us play a game that gave us a reminder of some of the things we need to do to be effective and be successful," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We can't start the game like that."

The Blues never trailed, going ahead 1-0 at 12:32 in the first period when Schwartz took advantage of a Minnesota turnover at its own blue line, skated to the right hash and snapped a shot past Niklas Backstrom for his fourth of the season.

St. Louis outshot Minnesota 12-5 in the opening period.

Tied at one midway through the second, McDonald gave St. Louis the lead for good when he gathered in a rebound of his own shot in front, went to the left post and beat Backstrom at 12:17. The tally was McDonald's fourth of the season and first since Feb. 17.

The Blues extended their lead to 3-1 less than two minutes later when a blast from the point by Shattenkirk found its way through traffic for his third of the season.

"Our first two periods were exactly how we had to play," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We've played awful well lately and got no reward for it. That's been hard for everybody, but to play well and get rewarded, there's a good feeling here."

Minnesota had a heavy shot advantage in the third period, but the Blues were able to keep a majority of the Grade-A chances away from Elliott, who entered the game in the final minute of the opening period after starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak suffered a lower-body injury.

Elliott, who just rejoined the Blues on Saturday after a conditioning stint with Peoria of the American Hockey League, stopped 19 of 20 shots in his first action since Mar. 5 to improve to 4-6-1 on the season.

"I'm thankful that [Elliott] went and played in Peoria because it helped him," Hitchcock said. "Els was sharp and right there for us."

Asked about entering the game cold, especially after a long layoff, Elliott said it's simply a part of the job.

"You never want to see a teammate go down," Elliott said. "I just grabbed my helmet. Luckily, there was only about 15 seconds left in that period and I could come in here, get my mind right and help the team as much as I could."

The Blues were only able to put two shots on Backstrom in the final 20 minutes, but scored an insurance marker with 50 seconds left in regulation on a snap shot by Barret Jackman.

Minnesota went 0-for-5 on the power play and gained little momentum from any of its chances. Dany Heatley scored the lone goal for Minnesota, his 10th of the season, as one chance expired. But even the advantage that led to the goal was out of sync. Heatley buried a rebound of a shot from the point by Jonas Brodin that, at first, Elliott had appeared to glove.

"I don't think the power play/penalty kill in this League is a secret," Backes said. "It's work, make reads, execute and pick each other up if the other team makes a good play. We have a group of guys on our kill that do that time and time again."

While the Blues lost Halak early on, Minnesota also lost Koivu for a stretch in the first period after he got high-sticked in the face. He returned to the game after missing a couple of shifts.

The Wild are more concerned about the immediate future of second-line center Matt Cullen, who left the game in the final minutes of the second period and did not return. Yeo would not elaborate after the game on Cullen's injury or status and said he would provide an update Tuesday.

Backstrom made 20 saves and saw his personal eight-game winning streak snapped with the loss. The defeat was also Minnesota's first by more than two goals since Feb. 7.

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