Wild beat Sabres to snap six-game losing streak
SAINT PAUL — Much is made of the notion that you can start over in the New Year. For the Minnesota Wild, flipping the calendar over to 2014 seems to have made a difference, at least initially.
After a nightmarish end to 2013, the Wild began the New Year on a better note, getting 19 saves from goaltender Niklas Backstrom in a 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday to snap a franchise record six-game losing streak.
Defenseman Marco Scandella, right winger Jason Pominville and left winger Jason Zucker scored for the Wild (21-17-5) in the second period, and Backstrom, who had lost his previous eight starts, improved to 3-9-2 for the season.
“We’re undefeated this year, so it’s all good,” quipped Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner, in a Minnesota locker room that was up-beat jovial after weeks of gloom and doom.
Buffalo (11-26-4) got 28 saves from goalie Ryan Miller and a goal by left winger Matt Ellis with 82 seconds left in the game to break up the shutout. The Sabres are winners of a league-low three road games this season.
“It wasn’t a strong effort. We didn’t have any zone time at all,” said Miller, who fell to 10-18-1. “They kind of picked us apart in the neutral zone in the second period. The first was all right, then the second was a tough period and the third period was just a wash trying to keep the lead.”
After a scoreless first period, the Wild broke the game open in the second with a trio of goals. Scandella opened with a snap shot just under five minutes in, netting just his second goal of the season after a near-perfect set-up pass from left winger Matt Cooke.
Less than two minutes later, Pominville doubled Minnesota’s lead, snapping off a low shot that beat Miller on the glove side. It was the second goal Pominville scored in as many games against his former team. Pominville played 588 games with Buffalo over the course of nine seasons before being traded to the Wild in March of last season.
“If you look at it, we didn’t do anything special but we did all the little things right,” Pominville said. “That led to us out-shooting them and for the most part out-playing them.”
Zucker made it 3-0 Minnesota at 16:09 of the second when he gloved a clearing attempt at center ice, set the puck down and then blasted past Miller’s glove hand. For Zucker, recalled from the minors by the Wild earlier in the day, it was his first NHL goal of the season.
“It’s just one of those things where when we’re bad, we’re bad,” said Sabres coach Ted Nolan, admitting he didn’t talk to the team after the second period. “We keep telling the team over and over again that we have to play a simple game, we have to go north and south. We expect a lot from certain guys and they just didn’t deliver.”
Ellis scored for the Sabres during a scramble in front of Backstrom with 1:12 to play, but Minnesota was awarded an empty net goal in the final minute when center Kyle Brodziak was pulled down from behind en route to the goal. It was Brodziak’s first goal of the season.
“We needed that for sure, but we did it the right way, which is big,” said Wild coach Mike Yeo, who is widely rumored to be on the hot seat due to the team’s recent struggles. “That’s what we said after last game, that we have to take some of the things that we did and improve on some of the things that we weren’t quite good enough at. But pretty complete game tonight.”
Notes: Sabres C Cody Hodgson, who injured his left wrist and a finger on Dec. 19 while blocking a shot in a game against the Boston Bruins, was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. In his place, Buffalo recalled LW Johan Larsson and D Brayden McNabb. Larsson played one game for the Wild last season before being traded to Buffalo as part of the package that brought RW Jason Pominville to Minnesota. ... On Thursday, the Wild placed C Zenon Konopka on waivers. In 36 games for Minnesota this season, the renowned fighter has two points and 55 penalty minutes. The Wild are expected to send him to their AHL affiliate in Iowa if he clears waivers. ... Sabres RW Drew Stafford suffered an upper-body injury in the first period. He left the game and did not return. Buffalo coach Ted Nolan said after the game that the injury was “not a day-to-day thing.”... The Wild complete their current four-game homestand on Saturday when the Washington Capitals make their only trip of the season to Minnesota. The Sabres are at home for their next three games, starting Saturday when the New Jersey Devils visit Buffalo.