VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -Niklas Backstrom is at his best when games are on the line. That will come in handy for the Minnesota goalie down the stretch.
Branko Radivojevic scored 1:33 into the third period and Backstrom made 30 saves to lead the Wild to a 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night.
Brian Rolston also scored for the Wild, who won for just the third time in nine games. Minnesota, which has points in seven straight (3-0-4), moved three points ahead of the Canucks and Calgary, and five up on Colorado in the tight Northwest Division.
"It's been like this for a month or two already, every game is to the last second. You can't have a bad shift or a bad period or a bad game," Backstrom said. "You have to be sharp and be ready form the beginning, but that's what a hockey player wants, you want everything you do out there to count."
Sami Salo answered Radivojevic's goal on a power play three minutes later, but the Canucks failed to build on Thursday's 4-1 victory in Edmonton that extended their winning streak to three games. Vancouver lost for the third time in nine games.
"I might say we played better tonight than we did last night," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "Last night we were able to get goals at timely times and tonight we had the same kind of opportunities but weren't able to score."
Backstrom had something to do with that. He came into the game with 5-1-4 record, 1.84 goals-against average and 93.6 save percentage in his previous 10 starts. He improved on every category against the Canucks.
Backstrom made a handful of solid saves, including a great blocker stop on Salo's hard shot from the top of the circle during a power play, and a couple of early in-tight saves on Ryan Shannon. He also stuffed Jeff Cowan twice on rebounds late in the second period, and robbed Brendan Morrison with the right pad minutes before Salo beat him with a shot through a screen set by Taylor Pyatt.
"He won that game for us for sure," said Radivojevic, who drove hard to the far side of the net to knock in a perfect cross-ice backdoor feed from Pavol Demitra to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead.
After a dull, tight-checking first period, Rolston opened the scoring on a power play 5 minutes into the second with a point shot that hit Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell on the right hip at the side of the crease and fluttered in behind helpless goalie Roberto Luongo.
"Clean living I guess," Rolston said. "That was going probably 2 feet wide and it went off Willie. So it was a nice break for us early."
The Canucks goaltender and head coach agreed.
"They got really lucky on the first goal and really that was the difference right there," said Luongo, who finished with 19 saves.
Made a huge save on Morrison in the third to backstop his team to victory stopping 30 of 31.
| Sami Salo
Scored the Canucks only goal and recorded the most shots in the game with six on net.
Turned in a solid defensive effort shutting down Vancouver’s top guns.
“Obviously they got a good bounce that gave them the lead there and we made a mistake in the neutral zone in the third period that we know you can’t make against a team like this,” said Coach Alain Vigneault. “That being said both teams battled really hard, we only gave them 5 shots in the second and 5 shots in the third. They’ve got some offensive potential on that team and we crated enough chances to score more than one goal; give credit to their goaltender he played a pretty solid game tonight.”
Vancouver found themselves on the raw end of some borderline calls that put the surging Canucks into some penalty trouble. The trip to the sin bin started off just two minutes and forty-four seconds into the game when Markus Naslund was called for interference, and ended with a mysterious interference call against rookie defenceman Nathan McIver late in the third.
The Canucks finished the game with a total of twelve minutes in penalties. It wasn't the amount of penalties that gave the Canucks trouble but rather the times at which they took the penalties.
“I think that was the single biggest reason we didn’t get much flow early on in the game,” said assistant captain Brendan Morrison. “We took to many trips to the box, there were a couple of questionable calls but you got to live with them and move one. The penalty kill did a good job tonight but they just got one lucky goal.”
“We’ve got to be more discipline, every game is so important right now,” said the Canucks loan goal scorer Sami Salo who extends his point streak to three games. “It’s tough to get any momentum going when you’re playing on the penalty kill all the time.”
Notes: Playing their first game since D Kurtis Foster broke his leg during a collision in San Jose, the Wild got an assist from veteran D Sean Hill, who was a healthy scratch for 14 of the previous 20 games. He is now being counted on to fill some of Foster's minutes. ... Minnesota will play at Calgary on Saturday night. Vancouver's next game is also at Calgary on Tuesday.