VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP)—Pierre-Marc Bouchard continued his strong recent play and Niklas Backstrom got back to last year’s form. Combined, it was enough to lead Minnesota to a big division win.
Bouchard scored twice and had two assists, and Backstrom made 38 saves, leading the Wild to a 4-2 victory Monday night over Vancouver and into first place in the Northwest Division.
“Bouchard, he’s been playing like this lately, much better,” Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. “Not only that he got four points, it’s what he does with the puck when he has it, he skates, he’s moving, he had an exceptional game.”
Backstrom, making just his second start in five games after taking over the No. 1 job with an exceptional rookie season last year, wasn’t bad either.
“Just the way he looked in the net, he looks confident,” Lemaire added. “He looked like he’s back where he was last year.”
“Everybody was skating, we were ready,” Bouchard said after rounding out his fourth career four-point game with an empty-net goal with 22 seconds left. “They’re all important but you come here to Vancouver and want two points and guys were ready to play.”
Luongo, a Hart and Vezina Trophy finalist last season and near the top of most goaltending statistics this season, has given up three of more goals in five of his last six starts.
“Listen, I’m trying to do the best I can out there,” he said softly. “I’m a human being like everyone else. It’s hard to be on top of you re A-game for 82 games. Obviously I gave up some bad goals tonight but you can always do better.”
After Backstrom made three big saves, the game changed on a big hit—or near hit—from Brent Burns that helped set up Bouchard’s goal and put Minnesota up 2-1 at 12:36 of the second period.
Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler was carrying the puck into the zone when he spotted Burns bearing down and ducked, catching the defenseman’s stick across his face.
With the crowd screaming for a penalty, Bouchard raced off on a partial breakaway down the left side. He drew Luongo down to the ice with fake a slap shot, then wristed in his ninth goal of the season through the goalie from a sharp angle.
“I faked the shot and went five hole, Bouchard said. “It was a great hit.
Actually, according to Burns, it wasn’t a hit at all.
“He got out of the way, saw me coming at the last second,” Burns said. “Everybody yelled for a penalty and I didn’t even make contact.
Bouchard set up Rolston less than three minutes earlier to make it 1-0, coming out from behind the net with a shot that hit a body in front. Rolston grabbed the rebound and spun in the slot before firing his first goal in 10 games past Luongo. Burrows tied it 40 seconds later, ending a 20-game goal drought on a wraparound, but it didn’t take long for Bouchard to restore the lead.
He helped double it with a 3-on-2 pass that Koivu converted for an insurance goal with 4:25 left in the third as the Wild improved to 19-0-0 when leading after two periods. Vancouver dropped to 0-17-1 when trailing after the second intermission.
It was Koivu’s first game against Mattias Ohlund since the Canucks defenseman broke his leg with a retaliatory slash on Nov. 16, earning a four-game suspension. But Koivu, who missed 24 games, including two against the Canucks, said he was only concerned with the win.
“That’s something I decided not to talk about when it first happened and I want to keep it that way,” Koivu said .
Backstrom was good early, making solid stops on a Sami Salo blast and a screened Burrows shot, and robbing Pyatt twice while the Wild was being outshot 17-6 in the first period.
“You have to be ready when you have the chance and for me it was a good game for me because I got a lot of shots and it was easier to get into the game and be part of the game,” said Backstrom.
Pyatt finally beat him with 28.3 seconds left and Luongo on the bench, but Bouchard scored his second of the night into the empty net 6 seconds later.
Wild RW Marian Gaborik had a six-game point streak snapped, ending the run with four goals and seven assists. Backstrom is 33-3-3 when he gets a lead at any point of a game the last two seasons. He is 24-0-0 leading after two periods.