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Niederreiter ditches stick to snap goal-scoring drought

His tally 23 seconds into the second period Tuesday ignited four-goal eruption in 6-2 win over Carolina

by Dan Myers @DanMyers /

ST. PAUL -- Nino Niederreiter tried everything he normally does when he's in the grips of a goal-scoring drought. 

First he tried changing the knob on top of his sticks. Then he completely changed his sticks. When none of that worked, he just gave up on the stick altogether.

Niederreiter bodied a puck into the net on Tuesday, snapping a nine-game goal drought and igniting a four-goal outburst early in the second period as the Wild won 6-2 against the Carolina Hurricanes at Xcel Energy Center.

"I would buy a goal if I could have," Niederreiter said. "I'm glad it finally went in and it doesn't matter how. I'm happy."

Less than 30 seconds into the game, Niederreiter had a golden opportunity to break the skid in style, accepting a pass from Mikko Koivu off a turnover, all alone in front of Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward. 

The puck rolled right off his stick. A few seconds later, after a shot from the point went into the netting, Niederreiter simply looked skyward, then hunched over his stick with disappointment.

"I was frustrated with the first chance I had on the first shift [that I] couldn't put that one in," Niederreiter admitted. "Sometimes, you just gotta get lucky."

Given another chance to open the second period, it was puck luck that finally provided the Swiss winger with some salvation.

A solid forecheck down low by Minnesota got the puck to Koivu along the half wall, who flipped it back to Jared Spurgeon at the point. He wristed a shot toward the net that bounced off a Hurricane, then off Niederreiter's shoulder and over Ward, into the goal. 

Video: CAR@MIN: Niederreiter deflects home Spurgeon's shot

Niederreiter has scored some beauties during his NHL career ... but this one certainly won't go down as that.

"It doesn't matter," Zach Parise said. "It could have been an empty netter with the goalie pulled, we've all been there. It's hard, you feel like no matter what you do, you're just not catching a break, you're missing good chances, then you get one like that [on the first shift of the game]. But it's funny the way it can work. 

"Hopefully that's something he can feel good about. He's getting good looks and that's a hard thing too, you convince yourself, if you're getting the chances, they'll start going in. But you keep missing them, it just gets more and more frustrating, so that's good for him."

While the emergence of the Eric Staal, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker line has captured the headlines for the Wild over the past 10 days, perhaps the more important storyline has been the improved play of the Koivu line. 

The Wild captain had a pair of assists on Tuesday, extending his scoring streak to five games. Parise scored a goal two minutes after Niederreiter, extending his own points streak to five games. 

Niederreiter had assists in two of his previous three games, but snapping the goal drought was an important weight lifted. That secondary scoring will be crucial for the Wild as it heads down the stretch.

Video: Bruce Boudreau postgame vs Hurricanes

"You can't win without it," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "There's no one line in hockey that can carry the team through any sort of playoffs. So you need secondary scoring. I think all four lines contributed tonight, which was great."

For Niederreiter, who has missed multiple games in a couple of different stretches recovering from lower leg injuries, it's been a frustrating season. Aiming to reach 30 goals for the first time in his career, Niederreiter has admitted he likely won't be fully healthy until he has a chance to heal during the offseason.

But since joining Parise and Koivu, Niederreiter has at least looked the part, making an emphasis to get closer to the net and get his shot off.

His leg is slowly getting stronger, and so is his belief in it.

"I try to get [near the net] as much as I can and try to use my step more and more, starting to trust my leg more and more. It's definitely feeling more comfortable," Niederreiter said. "It's been, obviously, more of the mental side than anything else. But now I feel better and better every game. I just need to keep working on it and feel comfortable."

Video: Locker room postgame vs. Carolina

Parise says he's seen a difference in his game over the past week or so.

"I feel like the last few games, he's played a lot looser, let the plays just come to him and let it happen and not forcing so much and just playing relaxed," Parise said. "It's good to see him get rewarded."

The hope now is that Niederreiter can turn puck luck into something more.

"Sometimes that's what it takes is a puck going off your head or your back," Boudreau said. "You need that lucky break to feel good about yourself again."


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