VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The Minnesota Wild were concerned how the Olympic break might affect their momentum.
So far, no problem.
Justin Fontaine’s goal in the seventh round of the shootout gave the Minnesota Wild a 2-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night. It was the Wild’s fourth straight victory and second since the NHL resumed play following the Sochi Games.
“Things were going really good before the break, so sometimes you want to keep going,” Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper said. “But all of a sudden, you have a three-week hiatus. But it was good to refresh mentally, and it looks like we are picking right up where we left off.”
Fontaine went wide on Eddie Lack and slid the puck under the Vancouver goalie. Kuemper preserved the win by denying Vancouver’s final shooter, David Booth, as he attempted a spin-o-rama shot.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to produce,” said Ryan Kesler, who failed to score on Vancouver’s sixth shootout attempt. “All those shootouts in practice aren’t working, I guess. We’ve got to figure out something else.”
Earlier in the shootout, Vancouver’s Chris Higgins had Kuemper down and out after a deke, but hit the post.
“Me personally, my confidence is high, and the team is playing great in front of me,” said Kuemper, who improved to 10-3-2. “So that helps you feel good about yourself.”
Kesler and Minnesota’s Zach Parise exchanged first-period goals, but the Canucks suffered their eighth loss in their last nine games despite outshooting the Wild 31-23.
“I thought we played good enough to win,” Lack said.
With the point for the shootout loss, Vancouver managed to move into a tie for eighth place in the Western Conference with Dallas. But the Canucks now trail the seventh-place Wild by seven points.
The Canucks have only scored five goals in their past six games, but coach John Tortorella had no complaints after his team gained its third of four possible post-Olympic points heading into Sunday’s Heritage Classic against the Ottawa Senators at B.C. Place Stadium.
“I’m really excited about some of the structure that we have in our game,” said Tortorella, adding it must continue.
Kesler, who missed Thursday’s win over St. Louis with a hand injury and has been the subject of trade speculation, opened the scoring 5:19 into the game while the Canucks were short-handed. After Chris Higgins forced a turnover just outside the Vancouver blue line, Kesler raced down left wing and beat Kuemper with a high shot.
The goal came while Daniel Sedin was serving a hooking penalty.
Minnesota had a goal by former Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard disallowed as officials ruled Mikael Granlund interfered with Lack, but no penalty was necessary.
Parise evened the score just under nine minutes later as he beat a heavily screened shot from the slot. The Wild captain put the puck between Alex Edler and Dany Heatley as they stood in front of the net.
The Canucks outshot the Wild 11-6 in a scoreless second period, but could not beat a steady Kuemper, who made his 14th consecutive start.
Early in the third period, he robbed Kesler while sprawled on his belly. After Kesler picked up the puck, cut in front of the goalmouth and sent a backhand toward the net, Kuemper lifted his right leg and kicked the puck out.
The Canucks controlled play for much of the third, but struggled to generate serious chances against Minnesota. The Wild only recorded its second shot of the period with 2:59 left, but still managed to force overtime.
“We had chances and we didn’t score and we didn’t get it done in the shootout,” Tortorella said, “but we can’t be negative about it.”
The Canucks received a rare power play 1:27 into the extra session as Parise was penalized for boarding Chris Tanev.
Notes: Tanev returned after missing seven games with a thumb injury. … Wild captain Mikko Koivu remained out with an ankle injury suffered Jan. 4, but took part in his club’s morning skate. He has missed 17 straight games. … Most of Vancouver’s injured players have returned. Only F Mike Santorelli (shoulder, out for season) and D Andrew Alberts (concussion) remain out. … Minnesota left wing Jason Zucker missed his second consecutive game with a lower-body injury while Marco Scandella sat out his third contest due to a sprained knee.
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