It wasn’t always pretty – especially if you exclude a particularly enthralling segment of the second period – but the Minnesota Wild managed to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1. They’ve gotten to this point in about as different a way as possible, but the bottom line is that Minnesota tied the Chicago Blackhawks* for the first spot in the Western Conference tonight.
The biggest story was a bounce-back game for Wild workhorse goalie Niklas Backstrom, who stopped 32 out of 33 shots after being pulled less than nine minutes into Sunday’s contest against the Calgary Flames. Mikko Koivu also notched career goal 100 with an empty-netter.
While it doesn’t make for great hockey, new head coach Mike Yeo’s plan to revert back to Minnesota’s skin-tight defensive days seems to be paying off. Of course, it’s working mainly because of great goaltending. Backstrom is starting to look like a $6 million goalie (or as close as one can) while Josh Harding is hardly a backup in 2011-12. (For all the well-deserved hype that Cory Schneider gets, Harding might be the biggest free agent goalie target this summer because of his soon-to-be-unrestricted status.)
So can they keep it up? It’s tough to say, but on the bright side, they’re not just depending on one goalie to stay hot. If Backstrom falters, perhaps Harding can slide in and hold down the fort. It wouldn’t be shocking if they slide a few rungs down the West ladder, but a much-needed playoff berth doesn’t seem so far-fetched right now.
* The Wild and Blackhawks share 14-7-3 records for 31 points; Minnesota has 57 goals for and 53 goals against while Chicago scored 79 goals and allowed 75 so far this season.