ST. PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom thinks of the Edmonton Oilers as just another division opponent. The stats say something quite different.
On Wednesday night, Backstrom continued his mastery of the Oilers, stopping 30 shots in the Wild’s 3-1 victory to improve to 14-1 in his career against Edmonton.
“It seems like he has our team’s number,” said Oilers centre Shawn Horcoff, lamenting missed opportunities. “Tonight it actually seemed like he wasn’t that comfortable in there. He was kicking out some rebounds and we just weren’t picking up quality chances at the net.”
Backstrom, 11-0 against the Oilers at home, stopped Patrick O’Sullivan on a third-period breakaway and Sheldon Souray on a short-handed rush late in the game.
“I don’t try to think about that,” Backstrom said. “It’s the same as when you go out and think about the shutout – the next shot is going to be a goal. It’s a good team to play against.”
Andrew Brunette, Owen Nolan and Guillaume Latendresse scored for the Wild, who snapped a two-game losing streak. Robert Nilsson scored the only goal for the Oilers, losers of five in a row.
Nolan’s winner came late in the second period, when he took advantage of an Oilers defensive error. After a pass from Eric Belanger, Nolan closed on the Oilers’ net just as Edmonton defenceman Steve Staios tripped and fell, leaving a clear route to the crease. Nolan flipped a rising backhander beyond Oilers goaltender Jeff Deslauriers’ glove.
“I didn’t have many options,” said Nolan, who also had a third-period fight with Souray. “He is a big goalie and the scouting report is that he goes down. I tried to get the puck up.”
The teams traded goals midway through the opening period. With Minnesota on a power play Marek Zidlicky’s shot from the blue-line created a sizable rebound. Brunette was able to corral and deposit the loose puck with a sweeping backhand shot.
Edmonton answered less than two minutes later on a similar play. Backstrom made a blocker save of a long-range shot by defenceman Tom Gilbert, but sent the rebound 10 feet out. Nilsson got possession and was able to backhand the puck past the sprawling goaltender.
“He made some big saves at key times tonight,” Wild coach Todd Richards said. “We did a decent job in front of him. I think he would like to have that goal back. He kind of threw the rebound right back out in front.”
Latendresse scored into an empty net with 5.9 seconds left. Deslauriers finished with 24 saves for the Oilers, who had won five road games in a row before Wednesday.
“There were a lot of good things we could take out of there,” Oilers coach Pat Quinn said. “If we can just get rid of some of those boneheaded soft plays, we’ll get there.”
NOTES: Brunette, who leads the Wild with 11 goals, had not scored in his previous eight games. … Deslauriers was making his first career appearance against the Wild. His season record fell to 8-8-2 with the loss. … Wild winger Martin Havlat played despite leaving practice early Tuesday due to illness. He was held without a goal or assist, snapping a six-game points streak.