Vancouver Canucks left winger Matt Cooke (24) and Minnesota Wild defenceman Kim Johnsson (5) battle for the puck during the first period. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
He did just that, saving 30 shots in a duel with Roberto Luongo, who was beat on a nifty double-move backhander by Petteri Nummelin in the shootout that lifted the Minnesota Wild to a 2-1 victory over the Canucks. "He was more lively, more into it," coach Jacques Lemaire said of Fernandez. "You could see he wanted to have a good game."
With Luongo at the other end, he had to be. Fernandez was pulled after the first period of his previous start when he allowed three goals on the first six shots he faced against Nashville on Saturday.
That wouldn't do against Luongo, who saved 35 shots against the Wild before the tiebreaker, but faltered in the shootout.
Fernandez stopped two of the four shots he faced in the shootout, and the Wild made Luongo look silly after he was stellar in regulation.
Mikko Koivu beat him in the second period, and after Jan Bulis fired a shot into Fernandez's pads, Nummelin came in slowly, hesitated and lifted a backhander over Luongo's glove to win it, improving the Wild to 3-0 for the first time in franchise history.
"I made the move to shoot the forehand and came back to the backhand," said Nummelin, a surprise pick over the offensively gifted Marian Gaborik, who struggled in shootouts last year.
Luongo saved just one of four shots in the shootout, while Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison scored for the Canucks.
"I've just got to be a little more patient on those fakes," Luongo said.
These teams have forged quite a rivalry the past few years, especially after the upstart Wild beat the heavily favoured Canucks in the second round of the 2003 playoffs en route to a stunning run to the Western Conference finals.
But the Canucks and Wild made wholesale changes in the off-season and brought entirely new looks into the Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday night.
Vancouver got rid of agitators Todd Bertuzzi and Jarkko Ruutu, two of the biggest targets for Xcel angst, let Ed Jovanovski leave in free agency and replaced hard-nosed coach Marc Crawford with Alain Vigneault.
They also added defenceman Willie Mitchell and Luongo, one of the NHL's top netminders, shoring up the team's biggest weakness in a trade with Florida for Bertuzzi.
The Wild went on a surprising spending spree, forking out millions for Mark Parrish, Keith Carney and Kim Johnsson, trading for Pavol Demitra and signing Gaborik to a contract extension.
Despite all the changes, the game had a familiar feel. Up and down the ice. Few solid scoring chances. Aggressive checking. Close game.
"I thought we played a good game," said Mitchell, a former Wild defenceman. "Manny made some great saves for them, and Roberto made some great saves for us."
The Canucks finally got on the board midway through the second period, when Daniel Sedin set up behind Minnesota's net, slipped a pass underneath Wes Walz's stick to feed Taylor Pyatt, who sneaked in unchecked near the right circle.
Fernandez didn't stand a chance, and watched the puck get past him high on the glove side to make it 1-0. That was all he would allow.
"He was awesome," Nummelin said of Fernandez. "He saved us. Just unbelievable."
After not getting many chances in the first two periods, Minnesota put the pressure on with two power plays in the third, finally breaking through with a fluke goal on its second chance.
Brian Rolston caught the Canucks on a change and crept in on Luongo's left side just under 12 minutes into the period. He shovelled the puck toward the slot, and it hit off Vancouver defenceman Lukas Krajicek's skate and ricocheted through Luongo's legs to tie the game.
"We didn't win tonight but I thought our guys played extremely well," Vigneault said.
Notes: The game started at 8 p.m. Central time, an hour later than normal for Wild home games, to accommodate Canadian television. ... Vancouver C Ryan Kesler left the game late in the second period after getting walloped by D Kurtis Foster. Kesler wobbled off the ice and didn't return.