By Michael Russo, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
ST. LOUIS — For those who think the Wild is always a Mikko Koivu injury away from disaster, that theory may be tested now.
The Wild captain suffered what the team would only call an “upper body” injury 7 ½ minutes into the Wild’s 3-2 shootout loss Saturday night to the big, bad St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center.
Coach Mike Yeo offered no specifics regarding Koivu’s injury, waiting for a diagnosis from team doctors in Minnesota. Named to his first All-Star Game on Thursday, Koivu was hurt in the corner of the Blues’ end when checked by forward Vladimir Sobotka.
He immediately turned and headed to the bench, cradling his left arm like he had a shoulder injury.
If he is out long-term, defenseman Justin Falk said the Wild must “do what we did tonight. Everyone’s got to give a little more. We’ve got to find a way to fill that hole. It’s a huge hole to fill.”
Falk talked that talk Thursday. The hulking defenseman was physical, mean and had five of the Wild’s 29 blocked shots.
In an arena where you know you better be ready to battle and scrap for every inch of ice, the Wild put forth a gritty, physical effort before succumbing in the shootout.
Josh Harding, one game after calling his performance in Chicago “awful,” made a career-high 47 saves before Kevin Shattenkirk won it in the extra, extra session.
The Wild — already without skilled Pierre-Marc Bouchard — missed Koivu and his 26 career goals in the shootout, where Matt Cullen, Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi missed.
But the Wild said it didn’t ruin the gritty effort through regulation. It was a game that featured big hits, scraps and skirmishes after every whistle.
“We stepped right up to the challenge and went right after it with them,” Falk said. “Guys taking hits, giving hits, dropping the gloves, blocking shots, all the hard things that need to be done were being done by every single guy.”
This effort came against a team that is 20-5-6 under Ken Hitchcock and 18-3-3 at home.
Making his first start in St. Louis since tearing two knee ligaments in last year’s exhibition opener, Harding rebounded from a rocky performance two nights earlier in Chicago.
Harding was outstanding, especially in the first period when he stopped all 17 shots he faced. It seemed every shot was a genuine scoring chance.
“Anybody who watched the Chicago game, I wasn’t there,” Harding said. “I could make probably a lot of excuses, but at the end of the day, I was brutal, but I wanted to give a little bit of a boost and make for what I did.”
The Wild jumped to a 1-0 lead on David McIntyre’s tally 7:13 of the period. After a great play by Darroll Powe, McIntyre redirected Cullen’s slap pass with his shin.
“Ugly, but I’ll take em anyway I can get em,” McIntyre said.
In the second, the Wild registered 17 shots in a period for the first time since Dec. 4. But the Blues rallied for a 2-1 lead on goals by David Perron and Alex Pietrangelo.
But with Wild coaches desperately trying to get their defensemen to shoot the puck more, Jared Spurgeon snapped a 25-game goal drought with his first goal since Nov. 13, and on the power play.
The Wild spent much of the third on the penalty kill but gutted out the point.
Now it may face life without Koivu. It’s 6-11-3 since 2008-09 without him, 0-3-1 this year.
“If we keep having efforts like that, we’re going to give ourselves a great chance,” Yeo said.