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Backstrom, Wild regain their stride

Associated Press

PROFESSIONAL HOCKEY

ST. PAUL — After a poor showing in his last start, Niklas Backstrom was eager to get back on the ice.

And it showed.

Backstrom stopped 25 shots for his fourth shutout this season, helping Minnesota end a three-game winless skid with a 3-0 victory over Edmonton on Tuesday night.

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In his previous start last Thursday, Backstrom, who entered the night second in the NHL with a 2.11 goals-against-average and tied for first with a .925 save percentage, was pulled after allowing two goals in the first 80 seconds. He watched Saturday’s loss at Colorado from the bench.

"You can’t think too much on things that happened in the past," he said. "You never go too high or too low. There’s always the next game behind the door so you have to move on."

Mikko Koivu and Branko Radivojevic scored power-play goals for Minnesota, which reached 100 points for the first time in franchise history. Kurtis Foster scored the team’s first even-strength goal in four games, and Marian Gaborik added two assists.

"It wasn’t a complete game, but I think the guys are happy," Foster said. "There were periods of time where we really played our game."

But coach Jacques Lemaire said those instances did not occur until the outcome was no longer in doubt.

"We just played well enough to win," he said. "I think our best moment was starting about nine minutes left in the game. I thought the guys were more disciplined than they’ve been in the game at that time. Our forecheck was better, puck control was better, guys were skating with the puck."

The loss was the fifth straight for Edmonton, and eighth in a row on the road. The Oilers have lost 17 of 18, and have been outscored 65-21 in that stretch.

It was an important two points for Minnesota, which concludes its regular season at home against Edmonton on Thursday and St. Louis on Saturday. The Wild entered the night three points behind Vancouver in the Northwest Division, but two points ahead of Calgary for seventh place in the conference standings.

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Koivu gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead on the power play late in the first period. He took a pass from Gaborik and one-timed a shot from the left circle that Jussi Markkanen got a piece of before the puck trickled across the line.

Minnesota finished 2-for-5 on the power play, while Edmonton was 0-for-5 — and is 3-for-62 in its past 18 games.

"Stats don’t lie," Edmonton’s Raffi Torres said. "It’s not like we’re trying not to score. We’ve got to get a little grittier in front of their net and get some sticks on some pucks."

Markkanen, who hasn’t won in seven starts, stopped 23 shots for Edmonton, playing the fourth game of a season-ending six-game road trip.

Backstrom, 11-1-2 in his last 16 starts, was at his best in the second period. He stopped 16 shots, including sliding across the crease to get a glove on a shot by Danny Syvret, stopping Toby Petersen twice in front and Marc-Antoine Pouliot near the left post.

The Oilers had a two-man advantage for 1:05 early in the period but managed just two shots on goal.

"When you get quality chances you’ve got to put quality shots in to score," said Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish.

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