Saturday, October 31, 2009

Backstrom Beats Penguins With Little Help From His Friends

Statistically speaking, goaltenders do receive credit for wins but, for the purpose of compiling league standings, their teammates must share in that credit. There are times, tonight for example, when it hardly seems fair.

The Pittsburgh Penguins had plenty of tricks up their sleeves, but it was Minnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom who treated his team to its first win of the season outside of St. Paul.

The Wild were held to single-digit shot totals in each period en route to being outshot by the Penguins 35-15 for the game. But Backstrom's magnificent 34 save performance stole a 2-1 victory from the defending champions and handed it to his less-than-supporting cast. The Wild has now won consecutive games for the first time this season.

Already without Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar, the Pittsburgh lost Sidney Crosby for nine second period minutes due to penalties including a fight with.....Marek Zidliky??? But the Penguins played an outstanding defensive game; clogging shooting lanes with leafy-gutter-like efficiency and frustrating several Wild attempts to get pucks through to Pens goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

Kyle Brodziak opened the scoring at 12:11 after finding himself in the right place at the right time to pounce on a loose puck after a Chuck Kobasew shot and flip the puck into a mostly open net. Less than three minutes later, however, a pair of former Wild players joined forces to tie the game for Pittsburgh.

After Craig Adams won an offensive zone draw back to Martin Skoula, Jacques Lemaire's adopted son slid a pass to original Wild forward Pascal Dupuis who rifled a one-timer past Backstrom. But Martin Havlat fed Eric Belanger from behind the net and Belanger's shot from the right circle beat Fleury with just 0:0.6 remaining in the first period. Minnesota clung to a 2-1 lead despite being outshot 16-4 in the period.

That was it for the night's scoring but not for Pittsburgh's offense which fired 19 more shots on Backstrom over the final two periods in a futile effort to knot the game at two.

The Penguins even received a gift from  the officials late in the game when, during a scramble in front of Backstrom, former Gopher Alex Goligoski's stick caught Belanger in the face. Although Belanger left the ice leaving a trail of blood on the ice, Goligoski was not penalized which paved the way for Pittsburgh to pull Fleury for an extra attacker and pelt Backstrom with a last minute flurry of shots.

Minnesota dodged a huge bullet in Pittsburgh and now returns home with four days to prepare for division rival Vancouver. The Canucks make their first visit of the season to St. Paul on Thursday night.

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