By Kent Youngblood, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Before Saturday’s game against Los Angeles at Xcel Energy Center, Wild coach Mike Yeo had a meeting with the players. The subject: the Wild’s identity, both now and moving forward.
“One word kept coming up: persistence,” Yeo said.
Unlike the Kings, the Wild doesn’t have the playoffs to work for. But, in what is starting to look like a late-season renaissance, the Wild translated words into action in a 4-3 shootout victory, the team’s second win in a row.
Led by the line of Erik Christensen, Jason Zucker and Nick Johnson, the Wild rallied from a one-goal deficit in the third period and nearly won it in the overtime before winning the shootout.
Christensen and Zucker — who was playing in his second NHL game — had two points. Zucker’s drive to the net resulted in Johnson’s first-period goal. Then, 10 minutes after L.A.’s Brad Richardson scored his second goal of the game 57 seconds into the third period and gave L.A. a 3-2 lead, Christensen did it for the second time in two games.
He skated into the Kings zone and dropped the puck to Zucker, whose shot from the slot went off Christensen’s skate and into the net.
That line produced two goals, five shots and much of the energy the Wild displayed Saturday, with Zucker’s speed leading the way.
“His game went to another level today,” Yeo said.
Said Christensen: “He played great. You could just see his first couple steps, he’s pretty quick.”
For Zucker, it was just a matter of getting over those first-game jitters. “I was able to come in tonight and play more of my game,” he said. “Johnson and Christensen have been helping me a lot. We’ve been able to get some chemistry with them. It’s great.”
With 23 seconds left in regulation Wild center Mikko Koivu was whistled for tripping, giving the Kings a power play for just over 1 ½ minutes of the overtime. The Kings pressured as overtime began, and nearly won the game. But Niklas Backstrom slid across the crease to his left to get his pad on a point-blank shot by Mike Richards.
Moments later, the penalty expired, and Zucker sent a backhand pass out of his zone to Devin Setoguchi for a breakaway. Setoguchi was awarded a penalty shot after Alec Martinez dragged him down, but Setoguchi’s wrist shot went off the left pipe.
In the shootout, both Christensen and Koivu scored while Backstrom stopped Justin Williams and Richards.
But the victory came at a cost. Center Warren Peters was hurt going into the wall face-first after a hit by Jordan Nolan and left the game early in the third period. Earlier, defenseman Steven Kampfer was lost to an undisclosed injury. After the game Yeo said Kampfer wouldn’t make the trip to Chicago for Sunday’s game, but he hadn’t decided whether Peters would go.
Yeo was asked if he liked playing the spoiler.
“We’re doing this for our own reasons,” he said. “Our focus is our ourselves, wrapping this up the right way, keeping up the standards we have in ourselves.”
—Gilbert played in his 400th NHL game Saturday. The first 384 came with the Oilers. … LW Cal Clutterbuck played in his 300th NHL game, all with the Wild.
—Scandella was held out of Saturday’s game because of an upper body injury. Yeo said it wasn’t serious and termed Scandella day-to-day. Scandella took part in Saturday’s morning skate and was scheduled to travel with the team to Chicago. Kurtis Foster dressed in Scandella’s place.