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Jets edge Wild, 4-3

By Michael Russo, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

MINNEAPOLIS — The Winnipeg Jets are to blame.

In what feels like an excruciating eternity ago, they started the Minnesota Wild’s tumble down the standings on Dec. 13. The Wild has lost 22 of 27 since.

(PHOTO: Mikko Koivu (9) of the Minnesota Wild chased a loose puck in the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at the Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Thursday, February 16, 2012.)

Told that fact Thursday morning, Jets coach Claude Noel said, “And you want me to cry?”

Noel has got his own problems. The Wild and Jets are in parallel universes — separate conferences yet each going the wrong way in the standings.

That desperation was evident during Thursday’s rematch — an eventual 4-3 shootout victory by the Jets that seemed to be played in front of half of Winnipeg.

Thousands of Jets fans, all wearing blue and white, all screaming “Go Jets Go!” and “BACK-STROM”ing Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom in his own barn, made the trek to Xcel Energy Center. It created an intoxicating atmosphere in what turned into a fantastic game between brewing rivals. There were lots of scoring chances, scrums and one toe-to-toe Darroll Powe vs. Tanner Glass middleweight bout.

“That’s what hockey’s all about,” Powe said. “The crowd was going. Fighting in the stands, fighting on the ice. It was a hard-fought game.”

But one with a familiar feeling postgame for the Wild, which could not pull out the extra point. Its winless streak has reached six (0-5-1) thanks to an 0-3-1 homestand.

Devin Setoguchi and Evander Kane exchanged goals in both the first and second periods. Mikko Koivu scored the go-ahead goal 63 seconds into the third, only to see Alexander Burmistrov answer two minutes later.

Then, Kane won it in the shootout as Backstrom lost his fourth consecutive shootout and the Wild its fifth in the past six.

“Once again, it’s just one or two plays where we could have put one in, could have scored a goal, could have stopped one,” said Setoguchi, who had his first two-goal game for the Wild. “It’s disappointing. … You can’t get frustrated, but right now it’s tough to swallow.”

Coach Mike Yeo was proud of the effort, saying: “We’re going through a real tough time. I know a lot of other teams would not handle it the way that our guys are. We’re coming out and we’re fighting hard every game.”

Yeo said it’s just a matter of “climbing over that hurdle right now and finding that play.”

In all four games on the homestand, the Wild’s first line struck first. Twice it was Dany Heatley, twice Setoguchi.

Setoguchi finished a beautifully executed 3-on-1 pass from Mikko Koivu for a 1-0 Wild lead, but with 1:13 left in the first, Kane lost Nate Prosser and tied it after Blake Wheeler lost Nick Schultz and hit him with a goalmouth pass.

Kane made it 2-1, but after the Wild went the first 12:15 of the period without a shot, Setoguchi tied the score on a power play. Koivu scored for the first time since Dec. 29 early in the third, but Schultz swung and missed at Dustin Byfuglien’s rebound off the end boards two shifts later and Burmistrov tied it at 3-3. “I don’t know if it bounced over my stick or I just missed it or whatever. I can’t let it get by me,” Schultz said.

Schultz nearly won it in overtime, but Chris Mason made the save before denying three shooters in the shootout.

The Wild scored seven goals on the homestand — all by Heatley, Setoguchi or Koivu. It’s getting no secondary scoring. “We’ve got to start gripping the stick looser,” said Nick Johnson.

The Wild outshot Winnipeg 14-6 in the third. It mounted pressure. But Mason stoned ‘em, and Jets fans loved it.

“Not only were they there, but they were noisy,” Wheeler said. “It’s always fun to see them make the game maybe not so fun for the home crowd and stir things up.”


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