ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA (TICKER) —These are heady times for the Minnesota Wild.
One day after coach Jacques Lemaire received a contract extension, the Wild set a franchise record for wins, rallying from a two-goal deficit to post a 4-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks.
Minnesota recorded its 27th win, one more than last season and two more than the Wild won in their inaugural campaign of 2000-01.
The Wild are in position to become the first of the NHL’s four newest franchises to make the playoffs. Friday’s win moved them into fifth place in the Western Conference with 63 points, six ahead of ninth-place Anaheim.
“It’s a good year for our club,” Lemaire said. “I think it’s believing. The players, they feel good. They know they have a chance to come back and they work. And as soon as there is a little spark, they play better.”
Special teams were the difference for Minnesota after the teams combined for four goals during a 1:57 span early in the first period.
Cliff Ronning snapped a 2-2 tie with a 5-on-3 goal 91 seconds into the third period and Antti Laaksonen scored a breakaway goal while the Wild were shorthanded to make it 4-2 just under four minutes later.
Laaksonen’s tally turned out to be the game-winner after Teemu Selanne pulled the Sharks within a goal with 6:10 left.
“Sort of one of those nights,” San Jose coach Ron Wilson said. “Strange things - take a 2-0 lead and dominate. The way they scored their first goal, I don’t know, it just sucked the air out of our balloon.”
“We’re a good conditioned team and we can skate with every team in the NHL,” Laaksonen added. “In the second period we have short shifts. That’s what keeps us going.”
With Minnesota skating with a 6-on-4 advantage due to a delayed penalty, Ronning appeared to give the Wild the lead when he jammed a loose puck into the net. But the goal was waved off because referee Dave Jackson blew the whistle.
“He did blow the whistle,” Ronning said. “I was aware of it, so I wasn’t going to jump up and down. We just had to regroup. We knew we were going on a 5-on-3 and had to make the best of it.”
Forty-five seconds later, Ronning scored one that counted when his slap shot from the point went through the legs of goaltender Evgeni Kafelnikov, who was screened by Pascal Dupuis.
“We talked about having someone in front of the net,” Ronning said. “It seems that whenever other teams score on the power play on us, they’ve got someone screening the goalie. It was the first time in a while that we had somebody in front. It wasn’t even a good shot. I threw it at the net.”
The loss extended San Jose’s winless streak at the XCel Center to six games. The Sharks have not won in the building since their initial visit on October 20, 2000.
The Wild, who came into the contest with just 18 goals in their previous 11 games, got a break when Mike Ricci inadvertly kicked the puck into his goal to make it 2-1. The goal was credited to Park.
“Nabokov came out pretty wide, so I just wanted to shoot quick,” Park said. “I think he got a pad on it and it went high off him. Ricci just tried to grab it and you know that proves good things happen when you get the puck to the net.
Dupuis’ goal set a Minnesota record for the fastest four goals by two teams. The Wild also set a franchise mark for their quickest two goals at home.
Minnesota scored more than two goals for only the second time in 15 games since the start of the new year.
“You can’t say it was bad luck,” Ricci said. “We knew that they were going to come after us when we got up 2-0, and they capitalized. We made some mistakes, we got away from what we were doing, and it cost us.”
Minnesota improved to 23-1-4-1 when leading after two periods and 5-1-3-1 when tied after 40 minutes.
Nabokov stopped 19 shots.