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Wild top Canucks to take first place in Northwest

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVERMatt Cullen has been around for most of the Minnesota Wild's four-year drought in Vancouver, but the veteran forward didn't think it was a coincidence a pair of rookies unfamiliar with the funk helped him end it.

Defenseman Jonas Brodin tied the game on a power play late in the second period, and fellow rookie Charlie Coyle tipped in the go-ahead goal 3:20 into the third as the Wild took sole possession of the Northwest Division lead by beating the Canucks 3-1 on Monday night.

The win ended an 11-game losing streak for the Wild in Vancouver that dated back to Jan. 31, 2009, and moved Minnesota two points ahead in a Northwest Division the Canucks have won four straight seasons.

"People talk about it but for the most part a lot of the guys haven't been a part of that," said Cullen, who added an insurance goal midway through the third period. "There's no question they have been the class of the division the last few years and they are the team to beat coming into just about every season in our division, so we know how important it is to come in here and finally get a win."

Cullen said the rookie duo that helped end the drought in Vancouver will also be important to ending Vancouver's four-year reign atop the Northwest.

"Those guys are really good," he said. "They are playing big, important minutes and I can't say enough about how well and how mature they have played."

"There's a reason they're on our team," coach Mike Yeo added, "And they're showing it."

They certainly played a big role on Monday night.

After Niklas Backstrom kept it close in the first half, Brodin, a 19-year-old playing on the top defense pairing with Ryan Suter, scored his second goal of the season on a screened point shot with 4:54 left in the second period. Coyle put Minnesota ahead with his third of the season, a tip-in of Clayton Stoner's high point shot while parked atop the crease to Roberto Luongo's right, early in the third period.

"He just threw it on net and I just got a stick on it," said Coyle, who is playing on the Wild's top line at age 21. "They're all pretty crucial from here on out, but especially those guys, in this building, we'll definitely enjoy that one."

Cullen made it 3-1 when Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard turned a 2-on-2 rush into a breakaway from the left circle. Cullen fired a quick shot between the legs of Luongo to extend his point streak to five games.

"A little bit surprised," Cullen, who has 13 points in his past 13 games, said of being that open. "It was nice to see that hole open up and nice to get one."

It probably wouldn't have mattered if not for Backstrom, who made most of his 35 saves in the first 30 minutes, including several on point-blank chances and tips.

"They were taking it to us at that point," Yeo said. "He was outstanding."

Henrik Sedin did end Vancouver's longest power-play drought in at least 16 years, but it wasn't enough for a team that has two wins in the last eight games.

Luongo, making his fourth straight start for just the second time this season, matched Backstrom for quality, if not quantity, early in the game. But much like a 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night, Luongo couldn't come up big in the third period; he ended up with 22 saves -- and another loss.

"It was an important part and I needed to make a save there," Luongo said of Cullen's goal. "It happened quick and unfortunately I know Cullen likes to do that move but didn't have time to register in my brain because it happened so quick. I need to come up with a save there and keep it at 2-1."

Despite a strong start, the only positive for the Canucks by the end of the night was their power play. After failing to score in 11 games, Vancouver switched up the personnel on its top unit, inserting righty-shooting forward Jannik Hansen and hard-shooting defenseman Jason Garrison at the point.

The drought reached 0-for-36 as Garrison hammered away but missed the net on the first two chances, but the move finally paid off midway through the second period. Garrison's one-timer was stopped, but the rebound kicked straight out to Sedin in the slot and he wristed it into the vacant net with Backstrom stranded.

"Just trying to fire the puck and create some havoc down low," Garrison said.

The goal snapped a franchise record-tying streak of seven straight games scoring first for Minnesota, but it didn't take the Wild long to get even. After being outshot 21-9 to that point, and 11-2 in the second period, Minnesota began pushing back.

The Wild recorded the next seven shots and Brodin tied it at the tail end of consecutive power plays that included a couple of great saves by Luongo during eight seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage. He couldn't see Brodin's point shot through traffic, however, and it beat Luongo high on the glove side.

"In the end it's not about the power-play goals, it's about the Ws and we didn't win tonight," coach Alain Vigneault said.

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