Backstrom stops 22 shots to lead Wild past struggling Oilers 3-0

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Niklas Backstrom shut out Edmonton for the second time in three days, Marian Gaborik scored his 30th goal, and the Minnesota Wild preserved slim hopes of winning the Northwest Division title with their second straight 3-0 victory over the defending Western Conference champions on Thursday night.

The Oilers haven't scored in more than eight periods - since Raffi Torres' first-period goal at Chicago on Sunday.

"We played pretty hard both games," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said. "When you go through a stretch like this you don't have the resiliency to overcome a lot. Or anything."

Two nights after stopping 25 shots in another 3-0 win over the Oilers, Backstrom had a repeat performance on Thursday with 22 saves for his fifth shutout - tying the single-season franchise record set by current Edmonton goalie Dwayne Roloson. Backstrom improved to 4-0-0 against the Oilers, stopping 88 of 90 shots.

The rookie netminder is 2-0-1 with a 0.64 goals-against average and .973 save percentage in his last four starts.

"He's been steady," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "The guys have a lot of confidence in him."

Minnesota, currently in seventh place in the Western Conference, began the night three points behind division-leading Vancouver. The Canucks hosted Colorado later Thursday.

Edmonton, meanwhile, has played itself out of the playoff picture with just one win and one overtime loss in its last 19 games. The Oilers traded leading-scorer Ryan Smyth after the first game of that stretch, and the offence has been stale since his departure. Edmonton has just 21 goals in its last 19 games.

Jussi Markkanen has been the biggest victim of the scoring deficiency recently, getting no help from his offence in both starts against the Wild this week.

"There is nothing new there," said Markkanen, who had 26 saves. "We've been like that for pretty much the last 20 games. You know, the Wild are a really well organized team, they play good defence and they have solid goaltending. Even when you're scoring goals its going to be tough to score goals against them."

The skid has the Oilers fighting to stay positive, but the players maintain that no one is just going through the motions.

"I don't think anybody is mailing it in," defenceman Matt Greene said. "I just think we have to work a little smarter in different areas rather than just working hard all the time."

Said Lemaire: "I know this team is better than what they showed the last two games. Now it's tough for them to get everything going and play then, too, with intensity. So that's the kind of game that we got."

Mark Parrish and Keith Carney scored in the first period. In the second period, Gaborik joined Brian Rolston as the only players with 30 goals for the Wild this season - reaching the mark for the fourth time in his career.

Rolston and Gaborik are the only two players in Minnesota history with 30-goal seasons, with Rolston achieving the milestone twice. Gaborik has a four-game point streak, with seven goals and 11 assists in his last 13 games.

Carney, a stay-at-home defencemen, added his fourth goal of the season on a rare breakaway, stealing the puck in the neutral zone and skating the length of the ice to beat Markkanen high on his stick side. As he stole the puck, linemates Derek Boogaard and Parrish collided near Carney and caused a brief moment of chaos.

"That might have been my best hit of the year," Parrish said. "I only saw him at the last second. I was just kind of looking back at Carney, and I looked up and I saw a big red mass coming at me. I just covered the vitals and tried not to get run over."

Parrish has two goals in Minnesota's last three games. The Wild have four 20-goal scorers already this season, with Parrish and Pierre-Marc Bouchard both at 19 with one regular season game remaining.

Notes: Minnesota F Pavol Demitra, who has failed to score a point in a season-high five straight games, sat out with a strained leg muscle. He is day-to-day. D Kim Johnsson was also out after missing Wednesday's practice with the flu. ... Oilers D Steve Staios missed his 14th straight game with a knee injury. F Shawn Horcoff was also a scratch. ... F Rob Schremp, who was recalled on Thursday, played 13:50 for Edmonton in his NHL debut.

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