Backstrom, Suter Lead Wild Past Sharks 2-0
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Niklas Backstrom made 33 saves for his first shutout of the season and Ryan Suter had two more assists, leading Minnesota past the San Jose Sharks 2-0 on Saturday for the Wild’s season-high fifth straight victory.
Zach Parise and Jared Spurgeon scored for Minnesota. The Wild are 14-5-1 in their last 20 games, and have won by two goals or more each time in their five-game winning streak.
Bakstrom swatted aside Andrew Desjardins’s penalty shot barely 3 minutes into the game. The goalie is 13-3-1 in his last 17 games, giving up two goals or fewer in 13 of those turns.
With backup Josh Harding on injured reserve while he’s adjusting to medication for multiple sclerosis, the 35-year-old Backstrom has been a stalwart for the Wild in this lockout-condensed season. He has started 14 of their last 15 games. Since a win over Nashville on Feb. 9, Backstrom leads the NHL in wins.
After denying the penalty shot by Desjardins, Backstrom took a risk by coming way out to defend former teammate Brent Burns on a breakaway, arriving at the puck just in time to slap it out of reach of the defenseman-turned-wing.
Burns gave the Wild an extended man-advantage situation with a 4-minute high-sticking penalty in the first period, and the Wild only managed one shot. But then their power play cranked up.
With 7:50 left in the middle frame, just as an interference penalty on former Wild first-round draft pick James Sheppard expired, Parise grabbed a slick feed through the slot by Mikko Koivu and sent a wrist shot into the top corner of the net with goalie Antti Niemi staying down. The puck grazed the crossbar as it went in, giving the Wild the first goal for the ninth time in their last 10 games.
Dany Heatley’s 2-on-1 shot on a pass by Devin Setoguchi a few seconds later bounced off the left pipe and the crossbar before skipping out.
When Dan Boyle was called for tripping as the second period ended, the Wild started the final frame with a 5-on-4. Suter made the Sharks pay by setting up Spurgeon for a slap shot that stretched the lead to two. Suter has two goals and 15 assists in his last 13 games, giving him a team-high 26 points.
Niemi made several tough stops among his 22 saves for the Sharks,
The Sharks won their first seven games, but since then they’ve been unable to stay in a groove. They fell to 2-5-2 in their last nine contests, with games on Monday and Wednesday against mighty Anaheim coming next.
With Heatley, Setoguchi and Torrey Mitchell, the Wild have a strong Sam Jose presence, thanks to three separate trades the two teams made two summers ago. They’ve also got rookie Charlie Coyle on their first line, a significant part of their return for dealing Burns on draft day in 2011.
Sheppard and Martin Havlat are the former Wild skaters now with the Sharks, and while there’s still plenty of games and seasons left to change direction for now the Wild appear to have gotten the better of the Sharks in their player swaps.
NOTES: The game was played in the afternoon, with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship here at night between Colorado College and Wisconsin. … The Wild are 12-4 this season when scoring first and 12-1-1 when leading after two periods. … Parise ended a five-game streak without a goal, his longest skid of the season.
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