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Suter's hat trick leads Wild past Caps

The SportsXchange

SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- When the Minnesota Wild plunked down $98 million to lock down defenseman Ryan Suter a few summers ago, they weren't thinking about his abilities as a goal scorer. So maybe his recent propensity for finding the back of the net could be considered a signing bonus.

Suter's first career hat trick was the difference as the Wild rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat the Washington Capitals 5-3 on Saturday night.

"I can't get this smile off my face," Suter said afterward. "I've never gotten a hat trick. I can't even score two goals in summer hockey."

Suter scored a pair of power-play goals in the second period and added a third goal in the final period as Minnesota (22-17-5) won its second game in a row. Right winger Nino Niederreiter and left winger Jason Zucker also scored for the Wild, who lost their final six games of 2013, but have not lost since flipping the calendar.

Defenseman Mike Green had his first two-goal game of the season for Washington (20-16-6), which led 2-0 after one period, but fell to 0-6-1 all-time at the Xcel Energy Center. The Capitals are the NHL's only team to never win a game at Minnesota since the Wild entered the league in 2000. Center Marcus Johansson also scored for the Capitals, who held Minnesota to 11 shots on goal for the game, but got just six saves from goaltender Braden Holtby.

"We're going through a lousy stretch right now where we're playing some good hockey and getting some lousy results," Capitals coach Adam Oates said, after his team fell to 1-3-3 in its past seven games. "Eleven shots on the road should be good enough. But it's not, so we need to find a way to play just a little bit better."

The Capitals opened the game with an 11-1 advantage in shots on goal in the first 20 minutes, and scored a pair of goals just 13 seconds apart to take a 2-0 lead.

With Washington on a power play, Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom knocked down a shot from the blue line by Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin, only to have Johansson pop in the rebound.

On the next shift, Green blasted a low shot from just inside the blue line that fooled Backstrom on the glove side. Left winger Dany Heatley had Minnesota's only shot on goal of the opening period.

"The first period, I really don't think we could've scripted that any better," said Capitals center Brooks Laich. "Two-nothing lead, they have one shot, they're not in our zone, they're getting booed off the ice after 20 minutes by their own fans on a Saturday night. We're in total control of that game. We get one in the second and after that the penalties shot us in the foot. That was the story of the game."

The Wild's second shot of the game was much more productive, as Niederreiter flipped a puck over Braden Holtby's glove hand. Suter then blasted a pair of power-play shots from the blue line, both of which eluded Holtby, to give the Wild a 3-2 lead. Suter, who had not scored in the Wild's first 40 games of the season, now has five goals in the past four games.

Green tied the game for Washington when a long-range shot was off target, but bounced off Backstrom and into the Minnesota net. But Zucker scored his second goal in as many games for the Wild, and Suter scored again in the final period, this time on a 2-on-1 break with fellow defenseman Clayton Stoner.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Saturday's game was the first time since they began keeping track of such things in 1973 that a NHL team has scored five goals on fewer than a dozen shots.

"Well, our shooting percentage went up," joked Wild coach Mike Yeo after Minnesota had its lowest shot total of the season. "When you get one shot in the first period, your totals aren't going to be real high. We have to be better. Like I said, how we execute, there's no two ways about it. But the second period is much more what we should be doing and I think we saw the results of that if we're doing it."

Backstrom, who has been playing while Wild goaltending mainstay Josh Harding battles an illness, won his second game in a row with 25 saves.

NOTES: The Wild placed D Jared Spurgeon on injured reserve Saturday morning. Spurgeon suffered a lower-body injury while blocking a shot Thursday in the Wild's 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. ... Saturday's game was a return to familiar surroundings for Capitals RW Joel Ward. In the 2006-07 season, Ward made his NHL debut for the Wild, skating in 11 games. ... The assist Washington LW Alex Ovechkin had on his team's first goal was the 376th of his career, moving him ahead of Dale Hunter for third all-time in Capitals history. ... The Sabres claimed former Wild C Zenon Konopka off waivers on Friday. In 36 games with the Wild this season, the enforcer had a goal, an assist and 55 penalty minutes. ... The Capitals conclude their brief two-game road trip on Thursday when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning in Florida. With the Upper Midwest locked in what meteorologists have dubbed an "arctic vortex" for the next few days, it's the perfect time to head to warmer climates. Minnesota visits the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday and the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday.
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