ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Success for the Minnesota Wild is
predicated on teamwork and precision, playing their defense-first,
trapping system the way it's designed.
They can't be uptight, either. And for the first time in a
while, the formula worked -- on Wednesday against the sloppy Toronto
Marc Chouinard had two goals for the Wild in a much-needed 5-3
victory over the scuffling Maple Leafs.
Energized by a 4-2 win over the Red Wings in Detroit on Jan. 3,
Minnesota was on the brink of eighth place in the Western
Conference and about to begin a seven-game homestand. But the Wild
lost four of their next five, including an embarrassing 6-1
decision to the powerful Ottawa Senators on Monday, and fell back
with the rest of the non-contenders. They had lost confidence and
their ability to shake off mistakes.
"That's not the type of team we have," Chouinard said. "We
have to be loose. We have to be skating. We have to be forechecking
really hard and create opportunities for our team."
Kurtis Foster chipped in a power-play score, and slumping Marian
Gaborik and Wes Walz also had goals for Minnesota, which improved
to 17-0-0 in games when scoring four or more.
The Wild's Manny Fernandez made 18 saves, including a long
rebound with 1:25 left that let Jason Allison pull his team within
one on a slap shot.
Matt Stajan scored short-handed, and Alexei Ponikarovsky added a
power-play goal for the Maple Leafs, whose losing streak reached a
season-high four after giving the puck away nine times.
"We have to get away from that," captain Mats Sundin said.
"We have to cut down on the breakdowns in our end."
Minnesota beat Toronto for the first time in five meetings since
the franchise's inception more than five years ago, the last foe
the Wild had yet to defeat. The Maple Leafs, who dropped a 5-3
decision to the Avs in Denver Tuesday, lost the second game of a
back-to-back set for only the second time in 10 tries.
"When we have to get tough, and you have to do a job, we're not
doing a good enough job," said coach Pat Quinn, who also
complained about the officiating.
As Minnesota's first draft pick (2000) and first All-Star
(2003), the speedy Gaborik has created great expectations but
failed to fulfill his promise because of injuries and
inconsistency. This season, he's been up-and-down again -- entering
the night with just one goal in his previous eight games.
With the Wild leading 3-2, Gaborik streaked past defenseman Ken
Klee through the left circle and stuffed a short shot past diving
goalie Mikael Tellqvist.
"Gabby's an unbelievable hockey player," Walz said. "There's
not many guys that can skate with him."
After Ponikarovsky scored the tying goal for Toronto, Chouinard
gave Minnesota the lead back late in the second period. His helmet
came off in the middle of the opponent's zone, but Chouinard stayed
in position on the man advantage and successfully redirected a
cross-ice pass from Randy Robitaille -- who had two assists after
being moved to an even-strength line with Gaborik and Walz.
"I didn't think it was a great idea to go in front of the
net," Chouinard said, smiling.
The game began ominously for the Wild when, on a power play,
center Brian Rolston committed an unforced turnover in his own
zone. His nearest teammate, defenseman Andrei Zyuzin, wasn't
looking. Stajan almost comically skated between the two, easily
snagged the loose puck and barreled into Fernandez as he scored
less with than 3 minutes elapsed to ignite a roar from the hundreds
of Leafs fans in attendance.
Minnesota showed more life after that, strengthening the
forecheck and putting the pressure on Tellqvist. Like Toronto did
at the beginning of the first, the Wild picked up an easy one early
in the second period. Carlo Colaiacovo blindly passed from the
boards to an unaware Sundin, allowing Walz to swoop in between the
circles and slam the unguarded puck past Tellqvist for a 2-1 edge.
"They play the trap as well as anyone," Sundin said. "When
they have the lead, they don't lose."
Minnesota left wing Pascal Dupuis was scratched because of
a separated right shoulder that's expected to keep him out two
weeks. He got hurt in Monday's game. ... The Maple Leafs have
scored 12 short-handed goals this season, tied with the Senators
for first in the NHL. ... Foster's eight goals lead Minnesota
Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press
Arena: Xcel Energy Center Location: Saint Paul, Minnesota
Referees: Blaine Angus, Tim Peel Linesmen: Angelo D'Amico, Dan Schachte
Attendance: 18,568 (102.8% full)
Team Stat Comparison
Power Play Goals
Power Play Opportunities
Shots on Goal
Matt Stajan (6)
Kurtis Foster (8)
(Power Play) Assists: Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Marian Gaborik
Wes Walz (6)
Alexei Ponikarovsky (10)
(Power Play) Assists: Jason Allison, Kyle Wellwood
Marc Chouinard (9)
(Power Play) Assists: Randy Robitaille, Brian Rolston
Marian Gaborik (13)
Assist: Randy Robitaille
Jason Allison (9)
Assists: Nik Antropov, Ken Klee
Marc Chouinard (10)
(Shorthanded) (Empty Net) Unassisted