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Koivu's SO goal sends Wild to franchise-best 4-0 start

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- More skill brings higher standards, and
uneven performances are far less acceptable for the Minnesota Wild
than they were in the past.

There's a nice benefit to this, though: It's much easier to mask
problems with better players.

Mikko Koivu scored the only goal in the shootout, leading
undefeated Minnesota to a 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals
on Thursday night.

Off to their best start in the franchise's six-year history, the
Wild have won each of their four games by one goal -- two by
shootout, one in overtime and one with a late comeback.

It hasn't been pretty, but -- unlike in the recent past -- they've
been good enough to get it done.

"We're looking for perfection, and I know it's hard to get, but
we want to be as close as possible," coach Jacques Lemaire said,
acknowledging that his team has been winning on pure talent.

Minnesota's Manny Fernandez rebounded from a rough first period
and stopped Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Richard Zednik
with tough saves in the shootout.

Kim Johnsson scored two power-play goals for the Wild, who have
never lost at home to the Capitals in four meetings.

"Hopefully we can keep it going," Johnsson said.

It was a chippy game, featuring frequent stares, shoves and
glares between enforcers Derek Boogaard and Donald Brashear and 19
penalties -- 11 by Washington. But fans were treated to a thriller
at the end, once the 5-minute overtime ended without a score.

The nifty maneuver by Koivu, who diverted from his usual
backhand move and went left to sneak in the winner, ruined a solid
performance by goalie Brent Johnson.

"The second shooter pretty much put me in the corner," Johnson
said. "I thought I had long enough legs to cover, and he obviously
found a spot."

With his toe, Johnson kicked away a rebound try by Marian
Gaborik late in the third period. The Wild had a 4-on-3 advantage
with 1:49 remaining in regulation, too, and Capitals defenseman Ben
Clymer was helpless with a broken stick for a brief portion of
that. But Johnson turned away several slap shots in that situation,
and in overtime he gloved a riser fired by Nick Schultz with 32
seconds remaining.

"For us it can be looked at as a game of too many penalties,
and that's certainly in our control," Capitals coach Glen Hanlon
said. "For us, that's the only area of concern."

Semin and Dainius Zubrus each scored for Washington, which was
playing for the first time in five days.

Ovechkin, last season's rookie of the year, had a relatively
quiet night, save for the second assist on the goal by Zubrus.

"It's always scary when he gets the puck," Lemaire said.

His fellow countryman with the same first name, however,
continued his fast start. Semin, who returned to the Capitals this
year after spending the past two seasons in the Russian Super
League, moved into the NHL lead with his fifth goal -- a high shot
through man-advantage traffic that gave Washington a 2-1 lead late
in the first period. Semin and Ovechkin have seven of their team's
nine goals this year.

Johnson, the backup to fixture Olaf Kolzig, had a strong
preseason for Washington and carried that over to his first start
of the regular season.

Johnsson's first score came on an easy tap-in after a sharp cut
to the net, fed from a perfect opposite-side pass from Koivu that
made the shot nearly impossible to stop.

After scoring only six goals last season with Philadelphia,
Johnsson quickly boosted his total with his new team by grabbing a
rebound of Gaborik's shot in the second and slapping it into the
net from the back of the left circle to tie the game at 2.

The Capitals consistently stayed back on defense, refusing to
let Minnesota create any odd-man rushes. After spending millions to
upgrade their roster this summer, the Wild have more weapons than
ever and are suddenly finding their foes playing them with the same
type of tight defense they're known for.

"We have to be tougher to play against," Lemaire said.

Game notes
Minnesota D Brent Burns, the team's first-round draft pick
in 2003, has been a healthy scratch for all four games. ... Wild LW
Pascal Dupuis left the ice with a sprained left knee in the first
period and did not return after limping to the training room. ...
Captain Chris Clark was credited for his fifth assist on a crisp
cross-ice pass to Zubrus that put the Caps on the scoreboard first.