ST. PAUL, Minn. -- There are rarely games the day after the New Year in the NHL that are considered do-or-die.
But a very telling comment was made Thursday morning that established just how critical Thursday night's game would be for the Wild.
Mike Yeo compared the game against the Buffalo Sabres with last year's must-win season finale, saying, "When we needed to win that last game against Colorado, (Niklas Backstrom) came up with a great performance."
Yep, the Wild coach's job status was so ominous, Game 43 of this regular-season was the equivalent of last year's win-and-you're-in final game.
Well, everybody around the Wild should be able to breathe easier for one more day after the Wild took advantage of a downtrodden, rebuilding Sabres team with a 4-1 victory.
The crowd at Xcel Energy Center cheered the Wild off the ice for a change as the team stopped a franchise-record six-game losing streak against the NHL's worst team.
Marco Scandella, former Sabres captain Jason Pominville and Jason Zucker, fresh off the Iowa shuttle, scored second-period goals to break open a 0-0 tie and lift the Wild to its first victory since Dec. 17 and its first regulation win in 11 games.
Backstrom, who got the start because Josh Harding was sick, won for the third time this season. It was his first victory since Nov. 23. He made 19 saves, but his shutout was ruined by Matt Ellis with 72 seconds left on a delayed penalty.
Backstrom, whose best save came on a Jamie McBain pinch in the second period, had given up three or more goals in his previous six starts.
The victory came against the worst road team in the NHL, one that was 0-9-2 in its past 11 on the road and 0-7-2 under new coach Ted Nolan. So all's not solved for the skidding Wild, but it's a start as the team closes a four-game homestand Saturday against the Washington Capitals.
In a battle of the two-lowest scoring teams in the NHL, the Wild broke open a scoreless game early in the second period.
Off a give-and-go with Matt Cooke, Scandella drove the net, took Cooke's pass from the wall and blazed a bullet underneath Ryan Miller's blocker for a 1-0 lead.
Just 1 minute, 46 seconds later, Pominville, who scored the winning goal in his first meeting against his old team in October, buried his team-leading 18th goal after some neat passing from Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter. It became the eventual winner.
Pominville has had at least a point in 11 of his past 17 games, while Suter has one point in 10 of his past 11 games. Koivu extended his point streak to four games and with 430 points, he is eight from passing Marian Gaborik for first on the Wild's all-time scoring list.
Ten minutes later, the Wild extended its lead to 3-0 when Zucker, who has been recalled five times this season and four times since Nov. 20, scored his first regular-season goal since March 10.
Off a 2-on-1, Zucker, who leads the Iowa Wild in shots, whistled a beauty by Miller to snap a 17-game pointless drought in the NHL dating to last season. Zucker did, however, score the biggest goal of the Wild's postseason last year when he scored in overtime of Game 3 against Chicago.
By the end of the second, the Wild had a 23-12 shot advantage and ended up outshooting Buffalo 31-20. It was the Wild's first victory by more than two goals since Nov. 5.
Kyle Brodziak's 30-game goal drought was snapped when he was tripped on an empty-netter. He got awarded a goal without getting a shot.
It was a pretty simple win for the Wild. We'll see if the team can build on it.
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