By Michael Russo
Wild technically is back in first in the Northwest. Yes, Minnesota’s tied with Colorado with 84 points, but the Wild’s played one fewer game, which gives them the tiebreaker.
That makes Monday night a “Showdown for First Place” — the first of about 10 times we’ll get to say that during what’s bound to be a final three weeks where emotions fluctuate dramatically.
The Wild shut out the worst team in the NHL — at least based on points — tonight. It was a blue-collar effort in which guys like Stephane Veilleux and Branko Radivojevic were the stars.
Brian Rolston and Marian Gaborik might have gotten the goals tonight, but this game was about the unsung guys.
For instance, how about the play of defensemen Martin Skoula and Kurtis Foster? Skoula only got 17 1/2 minutes, but it looked to me like he was out there every shift lugging the puck up ice. Foster played 20:15, had four shots and had a number of big chip-outs in the third period.
Wild’s power play is still brutal — 2 for its last 30 overall and 0 for 18 in the last five home games — but the penalty kill was stellar tonight, led by guys like Veilleux, Radivojevic, Rolston. The PK was 5 for 5.
Niklas Backstrom made big saves — 24 in all — for his first shutout since the third game of the season.
Like many opposing goalies recently, Kings 26-year-rookie Erik Ersberg had all the answers for the Wild in the first 30 minutes. But moments after Backstrom robbed Alexander Frolov with a left pad, Rolston banged twice at Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s rebound for a 1-0 lead.
“Mikko was on our line and I told him, ‘Get it to the net and lets grind away. We’re going to get a garbage goal,’” Rolston said. “I knew it would take a grinding goal to get us going.”
As you’ll see in the notebook, Gaborik’s got a shaved head. His girlfriend shaved it yesterday after he went for a haircut, came home, looked at the back in a mirror and saw there were patches missing.
He’s getting torn to shreds by teammates — the most common being that he looks like Pavol Demitra’s “mini-me.”
– Gaborik’s goal, off a 2-on-1 late in the third with Brent Burns, iced the game and was his 36th of the season and 200th of his career.
– Rolston got his 27th goal and eighth winner, tying Gaborik’s franchise, single-season record.
– Backstrom’s 4-1-3 in his last eight starts and has a 1.81 GAA and .940 SP in that span.
– Pierre-Marc Bouchard has a five-game assists streak and got No. 47 tonight, one off Andrew Brunette’s team record.
– Mikko Koivu was tremendous tonight, won 13 of 19 draws and had an assist on Rolston’s winner.
– The Wild’s last seven wins were by one goal. This was their first by more than a goal since Feb. 2.
– The Wild’s scored three or fewer goals in 13 straight games.
– The Wild is 7-0-2 in its past nine against the Kings.
– The Minnesota chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association has selected Voros as the Wild’s Bill Masterton Trophy nominee. Remember, five years ago, Voros had a tumor behind his left knee half the size of a baseball. He needed six operations, had part of his femur removed and was bed-ridden for eight weeks. He’s come a long way, and was a presence in front of the net tonight.
– Derek Boogaard was very close to playing tonight instead of Voros, but the Wild will hold Boogaard off at least one more game.
– Benoit Pouliot was in the lineup, got 6:22 of ice time and I thought he looked pretty good.
– Big win because eighth-place Vancouver won, putting the Canucks two points behind the Wild. Ninth-place Nashville beat Detroit, putting the Preds four behind the Wild.