Koivu scores in shootout to send Wild past Canucks
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP)—From blowing a third-period lead to regaining it and blowing it again, there was nothing characteristic about the Minnesota Wild’s 5-4 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.
Still, most of the Wild players were calling it a character builder.
“We had the lead and they got the lead and that’s what made it a good game,” said Mikko Koivu after scoring the winning goal in a shootout. “But it’s also a good sign for us when you’re down and come back, especially on the road. It’s not that easy and it’s a good sign for this team.”
It’s also not usually easy to come back against Minnesota.
The Wild improved to 24-0-1 this season—and 50-1-1 the past two seasons— when leading after two periods, but it’s a safe bet few came in this fashion.
Ryan Kesler and Alexander Edler scored 16 seconds apart early in the third period to actually give the Canucks a 3-2 lead. Kurtis Foster tied it on the power play and Marian Gaborik made it 4-3 with a great individual effort 2 1/2 minutes later, but Edler tied it again for the Canucks with 2:44 left to play.
After Trevor Linden matched Brent Burns’ goal to keep the shootout alive, Koivu got Roberto Luongo moving to his right, then tucked a backhand into the open net on the other side, finally ending an unexpectedly crazy finish.
“It always matters how you play but I think both teams played good,” Koivu said. “You play a lot against these teams so once in a while you get more scoring.”
Stephane Veilleux scored the other two goals—his first in 34 games—and Niklas Backstrom made 22 saves through overtime, and two of three in the shootout, as the Wild moved six points ahead of the ninth-place Canucks in the Northwest Division.
“Sometimes you get lucky,” coach Jacques Lemaire said. “We got lucky on a couple goals, and that’s why you get so many goals. Sometimes the goalies will make the great saves, and other nights they’re not as sharp and the puck goes in. There are a lot of chances in a game and goalies today they’ve got to be great.”
Luongo finished with 26 saves through overtime as the Canucks failed in their bid to win consecutive games for the first time in a month, but did move within a point of Colorado for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Like his Minnesota counterpart, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was looking at the positives despite watching his team blow a third-period lead.
“To battle back against a team that plays so well defensively is a very positive sign, he said, pointing to Vancouver’s 2-1-3 record the past six games as a good thing. “We’ve gotten points in five of our last six games so I think we’re slowly but surely turning the corner here. We’re right there I believe.”
The usually tight-checking teams combined for 20 shots and one goal the first half before a wild final 30 minutes featuring seven goals and three blown leads.
After blowing their first lead, Foster tied it again with an unscreened power-play point shot that was deflected perfectly over Luongo by his own player. Gaborik then celebrated his 26th birthday with his 30th goal, cutting between Willie Mitchell and Sami Salo in the slot off a rush and snapping a low shot past Luongo’s blocker. But Edler tied it again, sneaking down and snapping the loose puck over the glove of Backstrom after Henrik Sedin tied up a faceoff in the Wild end.
“Two points, that’s the biggest thing,” Backstrom said. “Usually the third period is our strength, we know how to play and what to do with the puck. They got a power play and scored right away and got momentum and turned it around.”
Minnesota led 2-0 after Veilleux scored his second of the game with 7:15 left in the second period, but Brad Isbister closed the gap with 4:23 left in the second and Burns took a roughing penalty as the period expired.
Kesler walked into the slot and snapped a puck over Backstrom’s glove just as Burns stepped back on the ice, and Edler blew a slap shot in off the goalie’s glove on the next shift to give the Canucks their first lead.
Veilleux ended a 33-game goal drought with 6:14 left in the first period after a bad pinch by Edler led to a 3-on-2 break. The puck was thrown back to Veilleux trailing the rush and he walked down the middle, faked a slap shot, deked around a challenging Luongo as he went down and tucked it in on the backhand as three Canucks tumbled comically into the crease.
These two teams meet again in Minnesota on Tuesday. Mitchell returned after missing 10 games with a stress fracture in a vertebra. Wild D Kim Johnsson was back after missing Tuesday’s loss in Edmonton with the flu. The Canucks started the season 9-0-2 within the Northwest Division they won last season, but were 1-5-1 in the past seven coming into this game.