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Wild use power play in Backstrom shutout of Sharks

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild took advantage with the power play Saturday, scoring once with the extra attacker and another as a man advantage expired, defeating the San Jose Sharks 2-0 Saturday in front of 19,358 fans at Xcel Energy Center, the second-largest crowd to watch a game here in franchise history.

The victory extended the Wild's season-long winning streak to five games. Minnesota has won seven of eight overall.

Niklas Backstrom made 33 saves for his first shutout of the season.

His biggest stop of the afternoon came just over three minutes in, when Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner hauled down Sharks forward Andrew Desjardins on a breakaway. Desjardins was awarded a penalty shot, but Backstrom steered it away with a pad save.

"That could have easily shifted the game the other direction," Wild forward Zach Parise said. "A stop like that is big for us."

Sharks captain Joe Thornton said, "We've had a couple of those in the last three or four games. We just haven't been able to score on them. You score on one of those and I think the momentum shifts."

Instead, the Wild were able to keep the Sharks scoreless and control play the rest of the way, outshooting the Sharks 10-6 through 20 minutes.

"It feels good to be there right in the beginning for the guys because they've been there every night for me," Backstrom said.

Minnesota was finally able to break through midway through the second period, when Parise took a no-look feed from the point by Mikko Koivu and buried a snap shot from just off the right post for his 12th of the season.

The goal was even strength but came just as Sharks forward James Sheppard stepped out of the box after serving an interference penalty.

"I think we almost made a little eye contact before," Parise said of Koivu. "I felt like their [defensemen] in front were puck watching a little bit. Just try to get open. I think he knew what I was thinking, too, and he made a really good pass."

A great hustle play by Wild forward Charlie Coyle in the dying seconds of the period forced Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle to trip him as time expired, drawing a penalty and setting up Minnesota with a power play to start the third.

The Wild scored 1:17 into the man advantage for a 2-0 lead. Ryan Suter passed to his left from the point to Jared Spurgeon waiting at the top of the circle. His one-timer beat Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi high to the glove side for his fourth of the season.

"Special teams let us down. It's not that we were horrendous in those areas, but they beat us in power-play and penalty-kill situations," Sharks coach Todd McLlellan said. "Other than that, 5-on-5, I thought we were even or maybe even had more scoring opportunities."

Backstrom was tested often, including a few Grade-A chances. He made a sprawling post-to-post save on former Minnesota defenseman Brent Burns in the second period and another on a partial break by the current Sharks forward in the third to nail down his 27th career shutout.

Suter assisted on each Wild goal, moving to fifth all-time among Minnesota defensemen in single-season assists with 24.

Wild coach Mike Yeo was pleased with his team's ability to deal with poor ice conditions and several other distractions. The arena has been filled all weekend with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's Final Five tournament, turning the typically quiet hallways around the Wild dressing room into a bustling area with media and four different teams.

The Wild also were coming off an emotional three-game road trip which saw the team snap lengthy losing streaks against the Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings.

"There was a lot of things to be nervous about," Yeo said. "I was answering questions yesterday and about 10 minutes in, I was thinking 'Can we please talk about tomorrow's game, please?'

"That's what I give our guys a lot of credit for: being able to stay in the moment. It's crucial, win, lose, whatever, to be able to hit the reset button, get refocused and get prepared."

Minnesota, with 38 points and an 8-2-0 record in its past 10 games, has surged to the top of the Northwest Division standings and has put some breathing room between itself and San Jose, which occupies the eighth Stanley Cup Playoff spot in the Western Conference with 32 points.

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