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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Niklas Backstrom rebounded from a rough game and an early exit with 32 saves, and the Minnesota Wild stopped a two-game losing streak with a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night.
Steven Stamkos scored again for the Lightning, but Cal Clutterbuck’s short-handed goal and Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s go-ahead score in the second period gave the Wild all the offense they needed. Mikko Koivu had an assist and an empty-net goal to pad the lead in a quick, clean game that featured only four penalties.
After a fast-paced but scoreless first period, Stamkos — the NHL’s second-leading scorer — struck for the Lightning with a remarkable end-to-end rush. He stole the puck from Dany Heatley and raced up the right wing, sending a rising shot past Backstrom’s stick after the goalie went low to try to stop it.
Stamkos has nine goals in 11 games and four goals in his last four games.
The Wild answered 106 seconds later when defenseman Eric Brewer lost control of the puck behind the net during a power play, and Koivu snagged it near the slot. He flicked it to Clutterbuck for the score, giving Koivu his fifth assist — he was the primary passer on all of them — in four games.
Then Pierre-Marc Bouchard, off a feed from Nick Johnson, one-timed a shot past goalie Mathieu Garon with 2:54 left before the second intermission to give the Wild a 2-1 edge. Backstrom, who found himself on the bench less than nine minutes into Sunday night’s game after giving up three goals on eight shots, made it stand.
Dominic Moore had a clear path from close range when defenseman Clayton Stoner slipped and fell in front of him, but Backstrom kicked aside his shot. Then he thwarted Ryan Shannon’s breakaway with a glove save before the break.
Backstrom improved to 5-1-1 in his career against the Lightning, and entered the game with a 1.79 goals-against average.
This wasn’t merely an important bounce-back game for Backstrom. That was true for the entire team, coming off consecutive 5-2 losses to Northwest Division foes Edmonton and Calgary on Friday and Sunday. The Wild won 10 of 12 games going into Thanksgiving, but emerged from the holiday a bit lethargic.
Just as they did following back-to-back defeats on Nov. 10 and 12 with a victory at Anaheim that started a five-game winning streak, the Wild perked up and played a smart, disciplined, aggressive game to close a season-high, six-game homestand and notch their first win in four tries against Eastern Conference teams.
The Lightning beat Southeast Division and intrastate rival Florida twice over the weekend — Garon gave up only one goal in each game, but their momentum was slowed by Backstrom. They became the last NHL team this season to lose a one-goal decision in regulation, falling to 6-1-2 in those situations.
Defenseman Mike Lundin made his Wild debut, skating in an NHL game for the first time since the Eastern Conference finals with the Lightning last spring. He missed the first 23 games recovering from a back injury.
Fellow blue-liner Greg Zanon joined him, returning to the lineup after a 16-game absence because of a groin problem.
NOTES: Lundin became the 10th native Minnesotan to skate for the Wild in their 11 years of existence. To make room for him and Zanon, C Warren Peters and D Nate Prosser were reassigned to Houston of the AHL. C Dave McIntyre was recalled from the Aeros for his NHL debut. D Justin Falk was scratched because of an undisclosed upper body injury. … This was the third time in 11 seasons that the Wild played home games on consecutive days. … Backstrom essentially replaced Dwayne Roloson when he signed with the Wild in 2006. Roloson is sharing time with Garon in the Lightning net. Tampa Bay’s Roloson, Moore, Adam Hall and Marc-Andre Bergeron are all former Wild players. … Lightning RW Steve Downie was scratched for the third straight game because of an upper body injury.
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