Vancouver Canucks defenseman Nolan Baumgartner (44) is checked by Minnesota Wild center James Sheppard (51) during the first period in an NHL hockey game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010, in St. Paul, Minn. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Paul Battaglia)
ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Vancouver Canucks were tired and a little testy, perhaps prematurely looking ahead to the Olympic break.
Given seven power-play opportunities against their division rival, the Minnesota Wild took full advantage of the rough stuff with one of their best all-around games of the season. Niklas Backstrom got his first win in three weeks, and the Wild scored three of their four power-play goals against Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, sending the Olympian to the bench early in a 6-2 victory on Sunday.
"If teams want to take liberties and unnecessary penalties and retaliatory penalties, that's where your power play has got to step up," Wild coach Todd Richards said.
Guillaume Latendresse, Marek Zidlicky and Andrew Brunette scored on the power play, and Kyle Brodziak added an even-strength goal for Minnesota, which had beaten Vancouver only once in nine previous meetings until winning the last two.
Cal Clutterbuck's shot off an uncovered rebound in the slot with 11:56 remaining slipped past Luongo for a 5-1 lead, prompting coach Alain Vigneault to summon backup Andrew Raycroft to finish up.
With seven of his players headed to the Olympics and the others eager to rest, Vigneault expressed disappointment in the effort.
"I don't know if it was the overall fatigue or if quite a few of our big guns had their minds somewhere else," the coach said, "but it is what it is."
Because the Olympics are in their city, the Canucks played on the road for the eighth straight game since Jan. 30 and have six consecutive road games after the break through Mar. 10. The Canucks, who got third-period goals from Mikael Samuelsson and Mason Raymond, went 4-4 with one shootout win on their first road stretch.
"I'm not ready to use that as an excuse," Luongo said. "You've got to dig deep sometimes when you're tired and find a way to win."
Luongo, who began the day ranked in the top six in the NHL in both goals against average and wins, has given up five goals four times this season - twice against the Wild.
Latendresse was happy about the Wild's win, of course, but as a fellow Canadian he noted his personal interest in Luongo's performance with the Olympics approaching and the three-time all-star picked as one of the netminders for the Canadians.
"I hope we didn't ruin his confidence," said Latendresse, who has 12 goals in 20 home games since joining Minnesota in a trade with Montreal. With 29 points this season, he has already tied his career high.
After falling this weekend to 13th place in the Western Conference, seven points out of the final playoff spot entering this game, the Wild needed this sharp effort from their special teams.
After Luongo made a pad save of Owen Nolan's shot on the game's first power play midway through the opening period, defenceman Alexander Edler whiffed on his clearing attempt and Latendresse swooped in to punch in the rebound.
Backstrom had more help from his blue-liners than Luongo. Twice, Greg Zanon stopped a shot with a full-body stretch to cover for Backstrom, who has slipped from last season's all-star form.
Defenceman Cam Barker made his Minnesota debut and scored on a late slapshot on a power play with Raycroft in goal. The third overall pick in the 2004 draft, Barker was acquired from Chicago in a trade on Friday.
Backstrom, who missed six games with a back injury and then an illness, made 27 saves. The Wild outshot the Canucks 17-2 in the second period and did just about everything right. Richards mixed up his lines, with Brodziak moving down to play on the checking line and speedy Andrew Ebbett moving up to centre Latendresse and Martin Havlat.
There was a spate of fights as usual, and the Canucks were called for 11 penalties.
"You could see that we weren't really ready to play," said defenceman Sami Salo. "They made some good plays and scored some nice goals, and we couldn't get going at any point in the game."
NOTES: The 12 players from both teams headed to the Olympics were recognized before the game as they skated to their home country's flag. Four of the eight Minnesotans on the 1960 U.S. Olympic gold medal team also participated in the ceremonial faceoff. ... Who said these teams don't get along? Canucks equipment manager Pat O'Neill, who is fulfilling the same role for Team Canada, offered to transport the bags of the Wild's Olympians on the Canucks charter back to Vancouver to spare them some travel hassle. ... Zidlicky also notched his 31st assist, a Wild franchise record for a defenceman with 21 games to go.