ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP)—The Minnesota Wild are fully aware that one more loss could ruin them.
That much was evident by the inspired desperation they showed Friday night.
Andrew Brunette, Cal Clutterbuck and Owen Nolan scored in the first for the 10th-place Wild, who moved within two points of idle eighth-place St. Louis and the postseason cutoff in the Western Conference.
“I think the desperation in our game was evident in the first period,” Clutterbuck said. “This was it for us as far as playoff chances. We wanted to get it, and we got it.”
Kiprusoff made 24 saves and was briefly pulled by coach Mike Keenan in the first period. The short-handed Flames fell to 2-10 on the second game of a back-to-back.
“We needed a little bit of a timeout to get things stabilized,” Keenan said. “We didn’t start the game assertive enough. We were a little bit on our heels.”
The Wild came into the game practically needing to win its five remaining contests to have a shot at the playoffs. They got off to a good start against a goaltender that has dominated them throughout his career and a division rival they had yet to beat all season.
Kiprusoff was 24-6-1-2 against Minnesota with a 1.79 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage, and his Flames beat the Wild in all five previous meetings this season.
“We haven’t really had any success against them this season,” Clutterbuck said. “So it was important to get on them early.”
Brunette opened the scoring by tipping in a slap shot from Marek Zidlicky to snap an 0-for-9 drought on the power play.
The next trip into the Calgary zone, Clutterbuck pounced on a loose puck to Kiprusoff’s right and zipped a wrist shot through the five-hole for a 2-0 lead. That’s when Keenan abruptly yanked his top goaltender and inserted Curtis McElhinney—sort of.
Kiprusoff was out for all of 12 seconds. Keenan had a few words for him on the bench, and sent him back in at the next stoppage.
“I was surprised,” Kiprusoff said. “And going back in, I think we all know Mike—sometimes he just tries to wake the team up. I just have to be ready, and it didn’t work out tonight.”
It was a typical head game that the hard-nosed Keenan has played with his goaltenders for years.
“He does that,” Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. “He specializes in that.”
If the move was meant to settle Kiprusoff down and clear his head, it didn’t work. He spent the rest of the period flopping on his belly to chase pucks and giving up big rebounds. Nolan capped the period with a light slap shot that somehow squeezed under Kiprusoff’s arm for a 3-0 lead, and the Wild coasted the rest of the way.
For the first time in recent memory, Lemaire beamed and raved about his team’s play, lauding the skating and puck movement while saying he was “proud of what he was seeing.”
“We’re fighting for our lives here,” Brunette said.
Calgary dressed only 16 players for this game. Defensemen Robyn Regehr and Adrian Aucoin were injured in Thursday night’s playoff-clinching victory at Dallas and were sorely missed in the first period of this one.
It’s not a good sign for Calgary, which has two more back-to-backs to finish the season and is tied with hard-charging Vancouver for the Northwest Division lead.
“It was a big game for us, too,” Kiprusoff said. “So, it’s no excuses. We didn’t play that well.”
Gaborik’s goal was his sixth in seven games since returning from hip surgery. … Clutterbuck’s goal was his first in 30 games, dating to Jan. 27 against Toronto. … Brunette’s power-play goal was just the seventh in 53 chances with the man advantage. … The Flames are mired in an 0-for-24 power-play slump.