Wild begin New Year with 4-1 win
By The Sports Xchange
SAINT PAUL, Minn. —After a nightmarish end to 2013, the Minnesota Wild began the New Year on a better note, getting 19 saves from goaltender Niklas Backstrom in a 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday.
Defenseman Marco Scandella, right winger Jason Pominville and left winger Jason Zucker scored for the Wild (21-17-5), who lost their previous six games in a row. Backstrom lost his previous eight starts but improved to 3-9-2 for the season.
Buffalo (11-26-4) got 28 saves from goalie Ryan Miller and a goal by left winger Matt Ellis with 82 seconds left in the game. The Sabres are winners of a league-low three road games this season.
After a scoreless first period, the Wild broke the game open in the second with a trio of goals. Scandella opened with a snap shot just under five minutes in, netting just his second goal of the season after a near-perfect set-up pass from left winger Matt Cooke.
Less than two minutes later, Pominville doubled Minnesota's lead, snapping off a low shot that beat Miller on the glove side. It was the second goal Pominville scored in as many games against his former team. Pominville played 588 games with Buffalo over the course of nine seasons before being traded to the Wild in March of last season.
Left winger Jason Zucker made it 3-0 Minnesota at 16:09 of the second when he gloved a clearing attempt at center ice, set the puck down and then blasted past Miller's glove hand. For Zucker, recalled from the minors by the Wild earlier in the day, it was his first NHL goal of the season.
Ellis scored for the Sabres during a scramble in front of Backstrom with 1:12 to play, but Minnesota was awarded an empty net goal in the final minute when center Kyle Brodziak was pulled down from behind en route to the goal. It was Brodziak's first goal of the season.
NOTES: Sabres C Cody Hodgson, who injured his left wrist and a finger on Dec. 19 while blocking a shot in a game against the Boston Bruins, was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. In his place, Buffalo recalled LW Johan Larsson and D Brayden McNabb. Larsson played one game for the Wild last season before being traded to Buffalo as part of the package that brought RW Jason Pominville to Minnesota.
... On Thursday, the Wild placed C Zenon Konopka on waivers. In 36 games for Minnesota this season, the renowned fighter has two points and 55 penalty minutes. The Wild are expected to send him to their AHL affiliate in Iowa if he clears waivers. ... Sabres RW Drew Stafford suffered an upper-body injury in the first period. He left the game and did not return. ... The Wild complete their current four-game homestand on Saturday when the Washington Capitals make their only trip of the season to Minnesota. The Sabres are at home for their next three games, starting Saturday when the New Jersey Devils visit Buffalo.