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Wild edge Bruins in shootout to clinch playoff spot

The SportsXchange

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A year ago, the Minnesota Wild did not clinch a playoff spot until the final minute of the final game of the regular season.

They got that work done a little earlier this time around.

Center Mikko Koivu scored the only goal in a shootout as the Wild rallied for a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, clinching a return trip to the postseason and the top wild-card slot in the Western Conference.

"The message was, let's not wait for anything. Let's not back our way into anything. Let's not come through the back door. Let's go charging through the front door," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "And what a better way to do it against a team like Boston."

The Wild (42-26-12) got the playoff clincher in dramatic fashion, via two goals from right winger Jason Pominville and a game-tying goal with 1:05 left in regulation when defenseman Ryan Suter scored with an extra attacker on the ice.

Left winger Loui Ericksson, right winger Reilly Smith and center Patrice Bergeron scored for Boston (53-18-8). Goaltender Tuukka Rask had 21 saves for the Bruins, who are 16-1-3 in their past 20 games and are close to clinching the Presidents' Trophy.

"I felt we were a little sloppy tonight. We weren't very sharp in our passing and our playmaking. We didn't have everybody really playing that well. Some of our big players were just very average tonight," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "So it wasn't a great game, but we came out of here with a point, so with what we expect out of our team and the way we played tonight, I guess we should be happy with a point."

With the score tied 2-2 in the latter stages of the second period, Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara launched a shot from the blue line that first hit center Gregory Campbell before Ericksson redirected it past Minnesota goalie Illya Bryzgalov.

"We played a pretty solid game," Chara said. "For sure there are parts of the game where we could've been better, but they played with a lot of inspiration too. We found a way to score some goals, so good efforts and good second efforts. We battled hard, just too bad we didn't defend it until the end."

The teams traded goals early and often in an offense-heavy first period. Pominville's first goal came just 65 seconds into the game on a power play when he whistled a shot through traffic from the blue line.

Minnesota's lead lasted less than two minutes. Smith evened the score, also on a power play, with a similar shot from the blue line. The puck found its way through a crowd en route to the Wild net.

Bergeron's goal, his 29th of the season, came midway through the first period and gave Boston a 2-1 lead. He snapped a shot from close range that eluded Bryzgalov after the goalie had made two saves.

Pominville re-tied the score just 28 seconds later, tipping a shot past Rask from the top of the crease after a pass from left winger Matt Moulson.

"It's all about where you want to be. It's what you've played for throughout the season," said Pominville, who was injured late last season and played in just two of the Wild's five playoff games. "We've had ups and downs, we've had injuries, we've had goalies get hurt, a lot of different guys in the lineup. I think we did a good job staying even-keeled, not getting frustrated when times were tough, and it paid off. It's nice to be where we want to be."

Bryzgalov had 21 saves and stopped Bergeron, Smith and center Brad Marchand in the shootout. He is now 7-0-3 since joining the Wild at the trade deadline last month.

"We just want to win the game, you know," Bryzgalov said. "We're not thinking about 'Oh, we made the playoffs, there's no reason to play.' No; everybody wants to win here."

The Bruins' point, coupled with the Blues' loss to Washington, means that Boston has a three-point lead over St. Louis with three games to play in the race for the NHL's best regular-season mark.

NOTES: Boston's first period power-play goal by RW Reilly Smith snapped Minnesota G Illya Bryzgalov's shutout streak at 145:15. Bryzgalov blanked the Pittsburgh Penguins and Winnipeg Jets in his previous two starts. ... Boston D Kevan Miller and RW Jarome Iginla both skated with the team in practice, but neither played Tuesday. Miller has an undisclosed injury and is listed as day-to-day. Iginla, who has been scratched from three of the Bruins past four games with a lower-body injury, is the all-time leader vs. the Wild in points (67), goals (37) and game-winning goals (10) in 71 games. ... Wild G Josh Harding has been nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy by the Twin Cities chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Harding, who has not played since December while battling multiple sclerosis, still leads the NHL in goals-against-average and save percentage. Harding won the trophy last season. ... The Bruins, who are playing seven of their final nine regular season games on the road, play next vs. the Jets on Thursday in Winnipeg. The Wild concluded their regular season road schedule on Monday in Winnipeg, finishing 17-17-7 away from home. They host the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

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