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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Erik Christensen’s power-play goal late in the second period gave Josh Harding and the Minnesota Wild a long-sought win, 2-0 over the suddenly sputtering Vancouver Canucks on Monday.
Kyle Brodziak’s empty-netter gave the Wild even more to smile about, hearing a rare end-of-the-game roar from their fans after this win over the Northwest Division leader and competitor for the NHL’s best record.
The Canucks won’t get there if they keep playing like this. They’re 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. Starting a four-game road trip the wrong way, they were shut out for the fourth time this season. The first three of those came in the first 10 games, with the last on Oct. 26.
Harding made 33 saves for his second shutout of the season and his first victory since Jan. 21 over Dallas. Christensen got his fourth goal in four games
These division rivals usually play rough games, and there was after-the-whistle shoving and jawing in each period. Late in the second, Canucks star Ryan Kesler was called for clipping when he charged at Cal Clutterbuck’s legs and sent the Wild right wing tumbling onto his back.
After a roughing call on Vancouver’s Alex Burrows and a fight between his teammate Kevin Bieksa and Minnesota’s Nick Johnson, the Wild finished the middle frame on a power play. Showing crisper puck movement and more aggression than they have in months, they ended a 1 for 23 skid with a much-needed man-advantage goal.
Clutterbuck centered a pass to Brodziak, who sent a blind backhand feed from the crease to a late-breaking Christensen from the right circle. He sneaked the puck into the side of the net, grazing goalie Cory Schneider’s shoulder area as it went in. Christensen, acquired in a February trade, was with the Wild for 17 games before finally scoring. Now he’s got four in the last four games.
Harding didn’t have to make many tough saves, though he snatched a slap shot by Kesler during Vancouver’s only power play with a slick glove save while seated in the butterfly position.
After sending rookie Matt Hackett back to the AHL club in Houston in the morning, the Wild had primary goalie Niklas Backstrom available on the bench for the first time in eight games, his groin injury finally healed enough for competition. Harding got the start, his first in four games since hurting his lower body and being pulled from the game in Phoenix on March 8. An unrestricted free agent this summer, Harding was 0-4-1 in his previous five decisions.
The Wild played well enough to give Harding a bigger padding, but they familiarly weren’t finishing at the net or rewarding themselves more for their revived attack. They outshot the Canucks 27-15 during a stretch from the middle of the first period until the second intermission.
Only four times in their previous 20 games did the Wild manage 30 or more shots on goal.
Schneider fell to 9-2-1 in his last 12 games since Christmas.
NOTES: Struggling Canucks LW Mason Raymond, who has only eight goals and eight assists this season, was a surprise healthy scratch for the first time this season. He missed the first 25 games because of a back injury. … Brodziak notched his 20th assist and has a new career high with 39 points. Clutterbuck has points in consecutive games for the first time in three months.
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