Wild win 4-1 as Belanger raises stakes in contract drive season
By Wild Road Tripper
It was Eric Belanger's world Wednesday night, and the 18,137 in attendance at Xcel Energy Center were only too happy to be part of it for a few hours.
The Minnesota Wild, led by Belanger's two goals, extinguished the Northwest Division's hottest team, the Calgary Flames, by ending their 5-game winning streak with a 4-1 Wild victory. The Wild also ended their own 4-game losing streak in the contest.
Niklas Backstrom outdueled his countryman, Mikka Kiprusoff, for his 19th victory of the campaign, as the Wild moved to 45 points, still good for 11th place in the NHL's Western Conference.
But it was Belanger, whose good luck and good timing came into play on both the Wild's first and third goals, who would be the beneficiary on this night. Playing in his 600th NHL game, the veteran center tipped in a Marek Zidlicky shot high in the slot area for the first goal, then took Owen Nolan's soccer-kick pass and backhanded it past a surprised Kiprusoff just past the half-way point of the game. Not only did this increase his possible trade value (the Wild front office staff, including GM Chuck Fletcher, are meeting Thursday and Friday in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, regarding their 9 unrestricted free agents-to-be), but playing in his 600th NHL game gives Belanger a little extra 'room' on the road. For being that he has played 600 NHL games and is a 10-year veteran, he now gets his own room (i.e., no roommate) under terms of the CBA.
Kyle Brodziak, who the Wild obtained at the NHL Draft last June from the Edmonton Oilers, scored his first goal in nearly two months when he golf-swung a loose puck, which then worm-burned its' way past Kiprusoff to start the second period scoring. Nick Schultz assisted on three of Minnesota's four goals, giving him a +2 on the evening, so he is now a -1 on the year.
Now, the bad news: it doesn't get any easier very soon, as the 4-game homestand continues with the Next Game: vs. Chicago, Saturday, Jan. 9, 7:00 PM Central Time, Xcel Energy Center. (Wild TV: FSNorth (includes FSWisconsin); Hawks TV: Comcast SportsNet Chicago, all feeds in HD; XM Radio, Ch. 238)