Backstrom steps in and Wild win
By Dan Falloon, The Sports Xchange
Minnesota 3 Winnipeg 2
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Niklas Backstrom didn't know he would be between the pipes when the Minnesota Wild visited the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.
The short notice didn't matter, as the Wild goalie made 37 saves in the surprise start as the Minnesota continued its dominance over the Jets.
Backstrom got the goal support he needed, with center Charlie Coyle getting the shootout winner as the Wild defeated its Central Division rivals for the third time this season, 3-2.
Sidelined for four games by an upper-body injury, Backstrom was called upon when fellow netminder Josh Harding was injured in warmups.
Third-stringer Darcy Kuemper was at Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport on his way back to the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League, but boarded the team bus back to MTS Centre and was dressed in time for the second period.
"You have to be ready all the time," Backstrom said after discovering he would be starting about halfway through warm-ups. "You never know what's going to happen, so you have to find a way to be ready and be at your best.
"As a goalie, you have to be at your best for your guys because you know they'll be at your best for you."
Backstrom struggled against the Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise in his career, but he brought his record against the team up to 2-3-2.
Minnesota improved to 15-5-4 with its second win in a row, while Winnipeg dropped its fourth consecutive game to fall to 10-11-4.
The Wild overcame two deficits to earn the win.
With defenseman Marco Scandella in the penalty box for hooking, left winger Zach Parise brought Minnesota even with his 11th goal of the season after taking a feed from center Mikko Koivu and roofing a shot on Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec with 4:55 remaining in the third period.
It was the fourth shorthanded goal allowed by Winnipeg this season, while it was the first shorthanded goal for the Wild.
Parise credited Backstrom for keeping Minnesota in the game as the Jets peppered the Wild net with shots.
"If it weren't for Backstrom, it could have really gotten out of control in a hurry," Parise said. "He made some unbelievable saves.
"We woke up a little bit after the first period and had a better start to the second and played better as the game went on, but that wasn't the ideal start. We were lucky to get out of there 0-0."
The Jets have struggled mightily with the man-advantage this season, tallying only 11 power-play tallies against five shorthanded goals allowed.
Coach Claude Noel was adamant the Jets will keep with their current power-play plan.
"I don't think that you can change your power-play because you're potentially going to give up a shorthanded goal," Noel said. "You're on the man-advantage, (but) you've just got to be aware that there's five minutes to go in the game."
Noel also takes some solace in that the Jets have played the Wild well, dropping all three games by a single goal.
"They're a team that will make you pay for your mistakes," Noel said. "Our team worked hard, they gave it their all, and we lost in a shootout."
Jets right winger Michael Frolik opened the scoring at 13:07 of the second period, beating Backstrom from in tight. The play started when fellow right winger Matt Halischuk's shot attempt was deflected by Minnesota defenseman Nate Prosser and sailed in the air to Backstrom's right.
Frolik managed to free his stick from an entanglement of three Wild defenders and center Mark Scheifele in front of the goal and jammed the puck into the net.
Wild right winger Nino Niederreiter evened the game 3:21 into the third period when Scandella's shot came to his stick after being stopped by Pavelec.
Niederreiter shoveled the puck across the line for his fifth goal of the season.
Halischuk's second goal of the season brought the Jets back into the lead only 2:14 later, as he took a feed from Frolik. Though his first attempt was stopped by Backstrom, he persisted and his second try slid under the netminder's glove.
The Jets worked to challenge Backstrom in the opening period, outshooting the Wild, 14-3.
While the Wild defenders worked to keep Winnipeg's attack contained to the perimeter, Backstrom was forced to make a tough save on Scheifele by kicking out his right leg after the Winnipeg rookie gathered up a rebound from defenseman Grant Clitsome in the slot.
Backstrom appreciated the work, though.
"It's fun to get in there and get some shots and get into the game right away so you don't have much time to think," Backstrom said.
Minnesota came to life in the second period, putting pressure on Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec early in the period in the hopes of breaking the deadlock.
Pavelec's most challenging save of the frame came against rookie Jason Zucker, who garnered a puck in the slot off a rebound but was denied by the very edge of Pavelec's right skate. Pavelec made 33 saves for the Jets.
NOTES: Jets G Ondrej Pavelec played his 250th NHL game in a 6-3 loss against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday. ... Jets D Mark Stuart returned to the lineup after missing 10 games because of a lower-body injury. Stuart had been out of the lineup since Nov. 2. ... Wild D Jonas Brodin recorded his first career multi-point game by tallying a goal and an assist in a 4-3 win over the host Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night. ... Wild G Josh Harding recorded a season-high 34 saves in the victory over Ottawa. ... The game capped a three-game homestand for the Jets, who will embark on a season-long six-game trip as the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings, Canada's national Olympic curling playdowns, takes over the MTS Centre from Dec. 1-8. Winnipeg will play games at the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning before returning home to face the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 10. ... This was the third game in a four-game road swing for Minnesota, which will wrap the trip in St. Louis on Monday. The Wild lost, 6-2, at the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday before defeating the Ottawa Senators the next night. Minnesota will begin a two-game homestand against the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday.