Sunday, October 25, 2009

Clutterbuck Takes Wind Out of the 'Canes

SAINT PAUL, Minn--With Willis Reed-like determination, Minnesota Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck heroically returned from injury—one which usually takes weeks to recover from—to lead his team to victory after sitting out a mere five games.

Clutterbuck’s goal at 3:05 of overtime lifted Minnesota to a 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at the Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night and signaled loud and clear his remarkable return from a high ankle sprain suffered Oct 10 in San Jose.

Andrew Brunette and Kyle Brodziak also scored for Minnesota while struggling defenseman Brent Burns contributed two assists and played perhaps his best overall game of the season.

“It’s definitely exciting to be able to get out there and get a winner like that. It was a step in the right direction,” said Clutterbuck after the game while admitting to being a little fatigued.

Last season’s NHL hits leader dove to the ice and swatted the puck into a wide open net to help the Wild—still seeking their first win in regulation—remain undefeated at home under Todd Richards.

Clutterbuck was the beneficiary of a shot by Greg Zanon which rang off the post during a mad scramble which left Carolina goaltender Cam Ward horribly out of position.

“The puck actually hit me in the face off the post then it dropped down in the slot. I was able to find it and just wave at it and it went in,” said Clutterbuck while conceding his good fortune.

“Clutter had to really battle for that one,” raved Zanon. “He did a great job to put it in the net.”

Richards was pleased with what he got out of the second-year forward; looking past some early turnovers the coach attributed to Clutterbuck’s trying to do too much too soon.

“(Clutterbuck) does what he does. He finishes checks. He gets under the other team’s skin,” said Richards. “He had their whole bench shouting at him and got them to focus on him instead of the game. He had a big impact on the game, especially scoring the game winner.”

The Wild have made a habit of falling behind early throughout the first month of the season and failed to make an exception against a Carolina team whose road struggles (0-4-2) have nearly matched Minnesota’s.

With Minnesota defenseman Shane Hnidy off for holding the stick, Sergei Samsonov redirected a Ray Whitney feed past a sprawled Niklas Backstrom at 10:32 for his first goal of the season.

After two miserable power plays early on, the Wild struck back on a 4-on-3 advantage when Brunette fired from along the goal line to Ward’s right. The puck squeezed between the stunned Carolina goaltender and the post for Brunette’s team-leading sixth of the season at 12:52.

Unfortunately for the Wild, it was their ninth and final shot of the period. Not even an entertaining heavyweight bout between Minnesota defenseman John Scott and Farmington native Tim Conboy could light a fire under the locals.

Minnesota’s next shot was also its next goal as Owen Nolan’s backhanded dump in attempt from in front of his own bench found Brodziak sneaking behind the Carolina defense. Brodziak cut left and tucked a backhand shot behind Ward for his first goal in a Wild uniform just 1:51 into the second period.

The Wild’s penchant for costly turnovers reared its ugly head once again midway through the second when Carolina’s Joni Pitkanen pick-pocketed Wild forward Antti Miettinen to begin a two-on-one with Ray Whitney. The pair executed a perfect give-and-go with Pitkanen burying his first of the season and second point of the night.

Carolina nearly took the lead just prior to the second intermission after John Scott’s shot was blocked by Scott Walker sending Walker in alone on Backstrom. But Minnesota’s All-Star netminder was equal to the task and snared Walker’s rising shot with a beautiful glove save with 1:33 to go.

Backstrom—who finished with 21 saves to get credit for the win—was the story in the latter stages of the third as well; thwarting high-quality Matt Cullen and Eric Staal scoring opportunities in the final three minutes of regulation to preserve the tie.

The win gives Backstrom a new team record 15-game home unbeaten streak (11-0-4) dating back to Feb 6, breaking his own 14-game streak (11-0-3) set March 9 to Nov. 15, 2008.

Richards said his team’s puck management and decision making improved as the game wore on but acknowledged that without Backstrom’s strong play it may have been for naught.

“We limited their chances but we gave up some pretty good quality chances. At this level, players are too good to be giving up chances like that,” said Richards. “But our goaltender came up big again.”

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