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Wild win 4th straight, top Canucks in 7-round shootout

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- As the shootout kept going and the pressure kept mounting, the Minnesota Wild turned to a couple of rookies to earn a valuable extra point against the Vancouver Canucks.

Goaltender Darcy Kuemper stopped all seven shots he faced and fellow rookie Justin Fontaine scored the only goal in the tiebreaker to give the Wild a 2-1 win against the Canucks on Friday at Rogers Arena.

Fontaine faked a shot as he cut across the crease and slid the puck back through the legs of goalie Eddie Lack. Kuemper ended the game by stopping David Booth on a spin move to give Minnesota its fourth straight win.

Neither player seemed fazed by the pressure as the Wild (33-21-7) increased their wild-card cushion in the Western Conference Stanley Cup Playoff race. They have 73 points, seven more than the Dallas Stars, who hold the second wild-card berth, and the Canucks (28-24-10), who trail the Stars because they've played three more games

"I've been in these situations growing up and at other levels so I am just trying to use that experience," said Kuemper, who was coming off a shutout win against the Edmonton Oilers the night before, and has stopped all 11 shootout attempts he's faced in the NHL. "But obviously this is a higher level."

Fontaine wasn't bothered being at that higher level, saying he relied on his shootout experience in the American Hockey League to score the decisive goal.

"The last two years in Houston I was one of our shooters, usually one of the first, so I had a little bit of experience, I know how to approach goalies," Fontaine said. "Just trying to fake and get the goalie moving a bit and try to open up his five hole and slid it through."

Zach Parise scored in the first period for the Wild, which continues to put daylight between themselves and their pursuers.

"That's the most important thing, you look at the standings and those teams you are ahead of, you want to try and create some separation," said Parise, who has five goals and 11 points in his past seven games. He was more impressed with Kuemper, who made 30 saves through overtime in his 14th straight start.

"It's fun to watch him, he's been getting better and better and playing with more and more confidence," Parise said. "Shutout last night, big saves in regulation tonight, and then he was huge in the shootout."

Ryan Kesler scored for the Canucks, who failed to convert a power play in overtime and couldn't build on a 1-0 win against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday that snapped a seven-game losing streak.

The Canucks, who play the Ottawa Senators on Sunday in the 2014 NHL Tim Hortons Heritage Classic at BC Place, have played one more game than the Wild, two more than the Coyotes, and three more than the Stars.

"Half full for me," coach John Tortorella said of the outcome. "We got three out of four points in these two heading into the Heritage Classic."

Vancouver fell to 3-7 in the shootout this season -- and despite working on it all week has only scored six goals on 44 attempts.

"All those shootouts in practice aren't working I guess," said Kesler, who was stopped in the sixth round. "We've got to figure out something else. It's frustrating to lose points on shootouts. It's no secret we're not good at it. Eddie gave us a chance and made five saves for us, or six maybe. We've got get a goal."

Lack got a second start ahead of Roberto Luongo after shutting out the Blues and finished with 21 saves.

"I thought we played good enough to win," said Lack. "We've just gotta squeeze out those 1-0 (and) 2-0 nights."

Kesler, back after missing the first game after the 2014 Sochi Olympics because he injured his hand there, opened the scoring shorthanded 5:19 into the first period. He skated onto a chip pass from Chris Higgins at center ice and into a partial break, snapping a shot from the top of the left circle past Kuemper's blocker.

Minnesota appeared to tie it a little more than three minutes later when Keith Ballard's point shot through traffic went in off the post, but referee Brad Meier immediately waved it off for goalie interference. Wild forward Erik Haula was atop the crease, but did not appear to make much, if any contact, with Lack before the puck went in.

The Wild got a goal that counted on the power play with 5:48 left in the first period. Lack made a couple of great saves early, gloving Jason Pominville's shot from the left dot and kicking out the left pad to deny Jonas Brodin's one-timer. But he never saw Parise's wrist shot; Parise circled off the left boards above the circle before firing a high shot through Dany Heatley's screen and past Lack's blocker.

"I felt like I had some room to attack the middle and if I could get around that first guy trying to block the shot," Parise said. "That's a team that blocks a lot of shots, so if you can fake one and get around him, I felt I would have a clear shot at the net and it got through."

The game tightened up during a scoreless second period, with Kuemper making a couple of tough saves, including one on Henrik Sedin in tight early, and another on a Booth deflection midway through.

Kuemper made a great save early in the third period, sprawling out to get his right pad on Kesler's backhand attempt in tight after he collected a rebound and cut across the top of the crease.

"That was a hard heavy, fast game and we did start to wear down a little bit, but our guys gutted through that one and Darcy was outstanding," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "The save he makes to get us to overtime, and then the penalty-killers did a great job in overtime, and then in the shootout, that's a huge point he got us."

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