Wild beat Kings, stay in hunt for playoff spot
ST. PAUL — Charlie Coyle and Cal Clutterbuck scored 16 seconds apart late in the first period, helping the Minnesota Wild break their five-game home losing streak and hang on for a critical 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night.
Jeff Carter’s slap shot whizzed past Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom with an improbable 0.8 seconds left before the second intermission, pulling the Kings within one. Carter has 26 goals, tied for third in the NHL.
Slava Voynov’s shot from the far edge of the right circle was stopped by a sprawling Backstrom with 11 seconds remaining in the game to preserve the lead.
With a 3-7-1 record in the last 11 games since this month began and that playoff spot still unsecured, the Wild badly needed a victory. They entered the evening in seventh place in the Western Conference, with two games left in the regular season after this.
The Kings failed to fetch a point for only the third time in their last 15 games. They fell to 4-1-1 in their last six games. Jonathan Bernier, in the net for the first time in seven games in relief of Jonathan Quick, made 23 saves.
Backstrom stopped 22 shots.
After losing their last two games by a cumulative score of 10-2, the Wild produced one of their most complete, aggressive performances of the season by outplaying and outworking the defending Stanley Cup champions, firing up the crowd from the start.
The fans, and the Wild, were livid in the second period when Dustin Brown viciously elbowed Jason Pominville during a scrap for the puck against the boards, a blow that didn’t draw a penalty but knocked Pominville on his back. He woozily and slowly skated off the ice with a trainer’s guidance and didn’t return to the bench.
Wild captain Mikko Koivu was shouting at the officials, and the arena was overwhelmed by booing.
The Wild welcomed fourth-line enforcer Zenon Konopka back from a five-game absence due to a lower-body injury, but they’re without one of their top scorers in Dany Heatley for the remainder of the season. Losing Pominville for any stretch would be a significant setback.
The Kings can’t do better than the fourth seed, since Anaheim has clinched the Pacific Division and the three division winners get the first three spots. But they’ve got plenty to play for this week, with San Jose right behind them for the first-round home-ice advantage that comes with fourth place. The Sharks started the night two points behind the Kings, before they hosted Dallas later Tuesday.
The Stars were one of the four teams still in playoff contention behind the Wild when the night began.
Shortly after Carter created his own breakaway at the blue line, denied with a chicken-wing block by Backstrom, Zach Parise set up Coyle for a one-timer in the slot and the lead with a quick pass from behind the net. Just 16 seconds later, before the goal was even recognized by the public address announcer, the Wild got another one.
Clutterbuck sped up the left wing and sneaked a shot between Bernier and the left post from the back of the circle at a tight angle to make it 2-0. Kings coach Darryl Sutter immediately used his timeout after that.
The Kings had a goal waved off and watched the Stars have one upheld despite a borderline high stick in a 4-3 shootout win on Sunday. Justin Williams had one discounted in the second period of this game because of a blatant high stick.
With the brawny, physical Kings on their way and their grip loosened on that precious playoff spot, the Wild shook up their lines on Monday by sending struggling rookie forwards Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker back to the AHL. In their place came gritty veterans Jake Dowell and Stephane Veilleux, who’ve spent the entire season with the minor league team in Houston. They’ve been missing some spunk from fourth-line bruisers Mike Rupp (lower body) and Konopka, though Konopka returned and Veilleux was a healthy scratch.
After signing Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to those mega contracts last summer, the Wild brought a playoffs-or-bust mentality into this lockout-shortened season. They need another win or two to avoid experiencing the bust.
Notes: Kings C Anze Kopitar has his goal-less streak reach 14 straight games. ... The Wild’s AHL affiliate, moving to Des Moines, Iowa, next season, will be called, naturally, the Iowa Wild. ... Josh Harding was on the active roster as Backstrom’s backup for the first time since early February. Harding was placed on injured reserve after developing complications from the multiple sclerosis medication he’s been taking, and he was returned from a conditioning stint with Houston on Monday.