When you work at your game as efficiently as the Minnesota Wild have recently, very little will be able to stop them. The Montreal Canadiens, the oldest franchise in the sport in North America, found out that old-fashioned effort turns into winning the hard way tonight, as the Wild out-worked the Habs en route to a 3-1 victory before the full house of 21,273 Thursday night at Centre Bell in Montreal.
Goals by Robbie Earl, Mikko Koivu and Cal Clutterbuck underscored the effort tonight, as the Habs were frustrated at every turn by the close-checking, hard-hitting, shot-blocking Wild, whose few opportunities were quickly snuffed out by Niklas Backstrom, who made 30 saves on the night. Nick Schultz led the Wild on the night with a +2, as eight different Wild players figured in the scoring. The Wild played a fairly clean game, as there were only three penalties called in the contest.
Guillaume Latendresse, the Quebec native who was traded by the Habs to the Wild Nov. 23, returned home to mostly applause...at the start. He was quickly hearing boos and catcalls, reminiscient of when Detroit's Todd Bertuzzi skates at Xcel Energy Center. It was that loud and that inappropriate, especially when they dragged the name of his significant other (singer Annie Villeneuve) into the jeering, as the game went on and the Habs failed to score. While Latendresse failed to score, his five hits were second on the Wild, only behind the hit-machine, Clutterbuck. The Wild victory brings their all-time record in Montreal to a 2-2-1 mark, and it was their first victory in Montreal since 2003.
The Wild also improve to 7-11-2 on the road, 7-3-2 since the disasterous start in October ended in Pittsburgh on Hallowe'en, good for 37 points (17-14-3) which will leave the Wild in 11th place in the NHL's Western Conference, two points behind ninth place Dallas (who lost to Atlanta in the shootoout Thursday night), four points behind eighth-place Detroit, who were idle on Thursday. Their fourth win in their last 5 games, the Wild have also won nine in their last 11, and are 7-2 overall in the month of December.
The Wild went 'old school' for the two-hour trip to Ottawa after the game, eschewing their normal chartered jet...for a 55-seat team bus. After the game, Coach Todd Richards said that after they got some sleep, they would decide about practice 'in the morning'.
The way the Wild have been playing, I really don't think that 'in the morning' will be too early.
Next Game: at Ottawa, Saturday, Dec. 19, 6:00 PM Central (7:00 PM Eastern) Time, Scotiabank Place, Kanata, Ontario. (Wild TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin); CBC 'Hockey Night in Canada' (regional game); XM Radio, Ch. 206)