Bouchard, Wild blast Maple Leafs

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By Brian Hall

PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (Ticker) -- If the Minnesota Wild are going

to separate themselves in the crowded Western Conference, the

next month likely will play a large part. More efforts like the

one they put forth on Tuesday will help.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored a pair of goals and set up another

to lead the Wild to a 6-1 rout of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Cal Clutterbuck opened the scoring as Minnesota led, 1-0, after

the first period. Defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron snapped a tie

5 1/2 minutes into the second and began a run of five unanswered

goals by the Wild, who have tallied at least four times in each

of their last four victories.

"We counted, they had like eight chances and only six for us,"

Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said of the up-and-down second

period. "I think we took advantage of the goalie. I think he

only had one game in the NHL, this was his second. I know we

had good shots there. We scored nice goals, passes were

accurate, we took advantage of the chances we had."

Andrew Brunette - who was playing in his 500th consecutive game

- and Owen Nolan each added a goal and an assist and All-Star

Niklas Backstrom made 26 saves for Minnesota, which also

received two assists apiece from Antti Miettinen and Eric

Belanger.

"For us as a team, it's important to play our best hockey,"

Brunette said. "That's something we focused on coming in after

the break. This is make or break time for this hockey team.

"I've been in this Western Conference for eight or nine years.

We all know things get tight. We've got to make a little hay

here in February with all these home games because we have a

tough March."

Jason Blake netted the lone goal for Toronto, which fell to

1-6-2 in its last nine games. Making just his second career

start, Justin Pogge turned aside 15 shots.

"We gave up three 2-on-1s and a breakaway," Blake said. "That's

probably a tough game for him because we didn't give him any

support. In cases like that, I don't know if you can say if he

learned anything because we as a team need to be better in front

of him. That's four goals right there that are mistakes that

forwards or guys in front of him made."

Entering two points out of eighth place in the West, the Wild

received an early spark from Clutterbuck, whose wrist shot from

the left faceoff circle at 9:12 of the first period gave

Minnesota a 1-0 lead. It was Clutterbuck's eight goal of the

season and fourth in the past six games.

"He's been an Energizer bunny for us most of the year," Brunette

said of Clutterbuck. "He's played really well. He's been one

of our more effective players for the last couple months."

Blake tied the contest 4:29 into the second, but Toronto did not

hold the advantage for long.

Bergeron netted his fifth of the season came exactly one minute

later. As Bouchard controlled the puck behind the net, he found

Bergeron pinching for a quick one-timer that beat Pogge.

Bouchard added his first of the game at 7:47, and Brunette's

12th of the season just 39 seconds later put the Wild ahead,

4-1.

Nolan collected the puck after it bounced off the end boards and

made a quick drop pass to Koivu, who found Brunette alone on the

other side of the crease for an easy shot into a wide-open net.

"Turnovers, or losing your position defensively, a lot of our D

were on the wrong side of situations, giving the inside route to

their players, and bang, bang, bang, next thing you know, we're

completely out of the game in a hurry," Toronto coach Ron Wilson

said. "We've got a lot of guys who have to show a lot more

pride in their performance defensively than they are showing.

You should dig in a little bit harder when you have a young kid

playing goal."

Bouchard's second of the game and 12th of the season with 1:46

remaining in the second made it a four-goal bulge, and Nolan

capped the scoring just over nine minutes into the third.

Despite his team's offensive outburst, Lemaire was disappointed

with its 0-for-3 performance with the man advantage.

"On our power play right now, we're not shooting the puck, and

it shows," he said. "Our point man has got to shoot the puck

more, and decisions on the half board are not the right ones.

So when power plays aren't working, you have to score 5-on-5 if

you want to win."

Minnesota entered the game with the third-fewest goals in the

league, a perfect opportunity for Pogge to get his second career

start after the 22-year-old posted a win over Atlanta in his NHL

debut on December 22. However, the Wild's scoring outburst will

send him back to Toronto of the American Hockey League, where he

was expected to go regardless of the outcome, with a bitter

taste in his mouth.

"That is part of learning," Pogge said. "It's only game No. 2,

so I'll see how it goes. I'll go back and work on the little

things again and start back at square one. It's not really that

big of a deal."

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