ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Scottie Upshall scored twice and Ed Jovanovski had a goal for Phoenix, enough for the Coyotes to hang and beat the Minnesota Wild 4-2 on Wednesday night.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard returned to the Wild lineup after a 104-game absence, the product of lingering post-concussion symptoms, but his presence didn’t give the home team much of a spark.
They spent six of the first 7 minutes on a power play but couldn’t put together any kind of a push, losing for the fifth time in six games following a three-game winning streak.
Matt Cullen’s first even-strength goal of the season, a punch-in from the crease with 7:37 left after Patrick O’Sullivan’s weaving and shovel shot put Coyotes goalie Jason LaBarbera in a bad spot, ended a scoreless stretch of 118 minutes, 15 seconds for the Wild and cut the deficit to 2-1.
LaBarbera gave up despite several long rebounds in his first start in three weeks. After Upshall’s second score — a flukey shot that appeared to hit Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky’s hand — LaBarbera gave one back. Mikko Koivu scored on a quick turnaround shot from a behind-the-net pass with 1:06 left to make it 3-2.
But Lauri Korpikoski sealed it with an empty-netter for the Coyotes, who went 8-2-2 in November and started December strong.
The Coyotes matched the NHL’s longest winning streak of the young season with seven straight victories, until dropping two in a row, including a 3-0 loss at Nashville on Tuesday night.
The problem in that one was a lack of discipline, as evidenced by the seven penalties they took — six were stick-related infractions — that yielded a pair of man-advantage goals for the Predators, who have the NHL’s 27th-ranked power play.
Just 34 seconds into the game against the Wild, Ray Whitney was called for hooking. Then, less than 2 1/2 minutes later, Vernon Fiddler took high-sticking and unsportsmanlike conduct fouls to give the Wild a 4-minute power play.
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett was caught by a TV camera shaking his head with a sick look on his face, but his team emerged from the extended penalty kill unscathed and took the lead in the final minute of the first period when Jovanovski knocked in a slap shot by Adrian Aucoin through traffic.
Early in the second period, Shane Doan — who has five assists in his last four games — streaked up the left side and made an eagle-eye cross-ice pass with his backhand to a trailing Upshall with two Wild skaters trying to converge. Upshall wound up from top of the right circle and zipped the puck past Theodore for a 2-0 lead.
The best moment for Minnesota was early in the first period when Bouchard entered the game to a hearty cheer. He played on the fourth line and made little impact, and he was on the ice for the first two Phoenix’s goals.
But the fact that the fourth-leading scorer in franchise history, who made the team as an 18-year-old first-round draft pick in 2002, was on the ice was worth celebrating for the Wild.
Coach Todd Richards, who had Bouchard for exactly one of the first 105 games of his career, said before the game he had full confidence in using Bouchard and his creative offensive game on the power play or in a shootout if those situations arose.
Bouchard, a top-six forward at full strength, has a lot of catching up to do but after expressing his appreciation for the organization’s patience with his recovery he professed plenty of eagerness earlier in the day to get back to his game.
Jose Theodore started his second straight game in goal for the Wild, the first time Richards has sat Niklas Backstrom twice in a row this season. Theodore, who has started four of the last seven games, made a tough save on a breakaway by Ray Whitney in the first period when he didn’t fall for the deke and was able to kick the puck away from the goal line with his bottom leg as he fell backward into the net after the initial stop. But he wasn’t quite sharp enough to stop the Wild’s slide.
NOTES: The Wild entered the game with the league’s second-ranked power play, with a conversion rate better than 24 percent. … The Coyotes won their fifth straight game against the Wild. … The Coyotes are 9-0-1 when leading after two periods. … The Wild allowed 17 shots on goal in the first period, a season high. … Jovanovski had a hat trick on Nov. 3 against Nashville. That’s the only other game he’s scored in this season. … Upshall has four goals in his last five games. … LaBarbera’s last start was at Chicago on Nov. 10, nine games ago. He gave up only one goal in victory. … The Wild are 216-155-56 with Bouchard in the lineup.
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