Cal Clutterbuck's third-period goal gave the Minnesota Wild a two-goal cushion and led to a 3-1 victory over the struggling Montreal Canadiens Thursday night at the Bell Centre.
The feisty forward, who leads the NHL in hits, crashed the net and was rewarded with a loose puck that he buried behind Carey Price for the insurance goal, silencing the home town crowd.
Minnesota opened the scoring at 2:41 of the first.
When Montreal defenceman Hal Gill tripped over his own blue-line, Wild forward Robbie Earl took the puck down the right wing and snapped a shot that beat Price for only his third goal of the season.
The Habs evened the score just 45 seconds later.
Centre Scott Gomez found a streaking Andrei Kostitsyn, creating a 2-on-1 opportunity. The Canadiens forward received the pass, made a forehand to backhand deke, then beat Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom top corner, knocking the water bottle from the net.
The Habs' goal-scoring leader, Mike Cammalleri, was held off the scoresheet. But it was the loss and losing streak that bothered the Canadiens sniper.
"Moral victories suck in this business, I'm not going to sugar-coat it," Cammalleri said. "It's a results-driven business. All our fans and all the people who care so much about this team want to see it win and so do we. When you talk about the process and working towards a goal, they're things that we can look at. But they don't really hold much weight as far as I'm concerned."
Penalty killing had been a bright spot for the Habs, with an 84 per cent success rate on the season, but Minnesota capitalized late in the first frame. After a battle in the right corner, Martin Havlat's centring pass found a waiting Mikko Koivu in front of the net. The Wild captain redirected the puck past Price, giving the visitors a 2-1 lead.
"We were pretty good defensively and our goalie made the saves when he had to, and that was the key tonight," Koivu said. "Over the last two periods, he was great for us and that made the difference."
During a back and forth start to the second, Montreal nearly evened the score at the 10-minute mark. After seemingly endless flurry of scoring chances inside the Minnesota zone, Backstrom turned aside several rebounds and a wrap-around attempt by Kostitsyn to keep the Wild on top.
Montreal carried the play in the second with 12 shots in the frame.
Early in the third period, Montreal had a chance to even the score on the power play. Following a Canadiens dump in, Minnesota defenceman James Sheppard cleared the puck over the glass, resulting in a delay of game penalty. The Habs sustained constant pressure in the Wild zone but could not beat Backstrom with the man-advantage.
With two minutes remaining, the Canadiens pulled Price in favour of the extra attacker but couldn't beat Backstrom for a second time, losing their fifth game in a row.
Canadiens coach Jacques Martin was disappointed with the result but was happy about the discipline Montreal showed.
"We had better discipline tonight with only one penalty, so that's positive after the last couple of weeks," Martin said.