By Brian Hall
PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
ST. PAUL, Minnesota (Ticker) -- If the Minnesota Wild are going
to separate themselves in the crowded Western Conference, the
next month likely will play a large part. More efforts like the
one they put forth on Tuesday will help.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored a pair of goals and set up another
to lead the Wild to a 6-1 rout of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Cal Clutterbuck opened the scoring as Minnesota led, 1-0, after
the first period. Defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron snapped a tie
5 1/2 minutes into the second and began a run of five unanswered
goals by the Wild, who have tallied at least four times in each
of their last four victories.
"We counted, they had like eight chances and only six for us,"
Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said of the up-and-down second
period. "I think we took advantage of the goalie. I think he
only had one game in the NHL, this was his second. I know we
had good shots there. We scored nice goals, passes were
accurate, we took advantage of the chances we had."
Andrew Brunette - who was playing in his 500th consecutive game
- and Owen Nolan each added a goal and an assist and All-Star
Niklas Backstrom made 26 saves for Minnesota, which also
received two assists apiece from Antti Miettinen and Eric
"For us as a team, it's important to play our best hockey,"
Brunette said. "That's something we focused on coming in after
the break. This is make or break time for this hockey team.
"I've been in this Western Conference for eight or nine years.
We all know things get tight. We've got to make a little hay
here in February with all these home games because we have a
Jason Blake netted the lone goal for Toronto, which fell to
1-6-2 in its last nine games. Making just his second career
start, Justin Pogge turned aside 15 shots.
"We gave up three 2-on-1s and a breakaway," Blake said. "That's
probably a tough game for him because we didn't give him any
support. In cases like that, I don't know if you can say if he
learned anything because we as a team need to be better in front
of him. That's four goals right there that are mistakes that
forwards or guys in front of him made."
Entering two points out of eighth place in the West, the Wild
received an early spark from Clutterbuck, whose wrist shot from
the left faceoff circle at 9:12 of the first period gave
Minnesota a 1-0 lead. It was Clutterbuck's eight goal of the
season and fourth in the past six games.
"He's been an Energizer bunny for us most of the year," Brunette
said of Clutterbuck. "He's played really well. He's been one
of our more effective players for the last couple months."
Blake tied the contest 4:29 into the second, but Toronto did not
hold the advantage for long.
Bergeron netted his fifth of the season came exactly one minute
later. As Bouchard controlled the puck behind the net, he found
Bergeron pinching for a quick one-timer that beat Pogge.
Bouchard added his first of the game at 7:47, and Brunette's
12th of the season just 39 seconds later put the Wild ahead,
Nolan collected the puck after it bounced off the end boards and
made a quick drop pass to Koivu, who found Brunette alone on the
other side of the crease for an easy shot into a wide-open net.
"Turnovers, or losing your position defensively, a lot of our D
were on the wrong side of situations, giving the inside route to
their players, and bang, bang, bang, next thing you know, we're
completely out of the game in a hurry," Toronto coach Ron Wilson
said. "We've got a lot of guys who have to show a lot more
pride in their performance defensively than they are showing.
You should dig in a little bit harder when you have a young kid
Bouchard's second of the game and 12th of the season with 1:46
remaining in the second made it a four-goal bulge, and Nolan
capped the scoring just over nine minutes into the third.
Despite his team's offensive outburst, Lemaire was disappointed
with its 0-for-3 performance with the man advantage.
"On our power play right now, we're not shooting the puck, and
it shows," he said. "Our point man has got to shoot the puck
more, and decisions on the half board are not the right ones.
So when power plays aren't working, you have to score 5-on-5 if
you want to win."
Minnesota entered the game with the third-fewest goals in the
league, a perfect opportunity for Pogge to get his second career
start after the 22-year-old posted a win over Atlanta in his NHL
debut on December 22. However, the Wild's scoring outburst will
send him back to Toronto of the American Hockey League, where he
was expected to go regardless of the outcome, with a bitter
taste in his mouth.
"That is part of learning," Pogge said. "It's only game No. 2,
so I'll see how it goes. I'll go back and work on the little
things again and start back at square one. It's not really that
big of a deal."