ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Best known as a defensive-minded center, Mikko Koivu came up big at the other end Saturday night for the Minnesota Wild.
The Wild captain scored midway through the third period to lift Minnesota over the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1.
Daniel Winnik also scored and Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves. The Wild, winless in their first four one-goal games this season, have won three of four overall.
“I think we’re starting to show the way we need to play to win hockey games,” Koivu said. “There were some parts of that early on and we just couldn’t keep it for 60 minutes.”
The Wild have allowed eight goals in their past four games.
“We trust that if we’re playing the way we’re supposed to play, especially defensively, that’s something you need to do in this league,” Koivu said.
It starts with Koivu, a finalist last season for the Frank J. Selke Trophy awarded as the league’s top defensive forward.
Coach Bruce Boudreau likes to put the line of Koivu, Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund against other team’s top players, many that are more well-known for their offensive prowess.
“You know (Koivu) takes challenges,” Boudreau said. “He was against (Sidney) Crosby all night long and I thought he did a tremendous job. You know last game he was against (Islanders captain John) Tavares all night long. It gets him going when we challenge him with things like this. He took it as a challenge and he went out and did a great job at it.”
The line of Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary had just five shots on goal. The trio has 13 goals this season.
“They’ve got some of the best offensive guys in the league and I thought we did a good job shutting them down,” Winnik said.
Minnesota blocked 18 shots.
Evgeni Malkin scored for Pittsburgh, which is starting a five-game trip that includes a swing through Western Canada.
The Penguins have scored just six goals in four games, yet won two of those, both 2-1 in overtime.
“We have to find a way to play our game for 60 minutes,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “That’s the big key right now. I think we play one good period, kind of sit back. When we need a goal we start going. We had tons of chances at the end again, we just can’t score.”
On the winning goal, Kyle Quincey kept the puck in at the left point and zipped a pass across to Mike Reilly at the right wall. His wrist shot from the circle was deflected by Koivu between the pads of Matt Murray at 9:03.
Murray lost for the first time in regulation this season, having won seven straight starts since an overtime loss on opening night. He had 27 saves.
Coach Mike Sullivan hasn’t decided if Murray will play Sunday in Winnipeg or if Casey Desmith will play in his first NHL game.
Malkin’s slapshot from the right circle deflected off Luke Kunin and Quincey for a power-play goal midway through the first, but Winnik deked Murray to score on a rebound less than two minutes later and tie it 1-1.
Pittsburgh, which entered with the league’s fifth-best power play at 27.3 percent, has scored a power-play goal in all seven road games this season and nine of 12 games overall.
NOTES: Malkin has three goals and seven assists in his last seven games against the Wild. … Minnesota C Matt Cullen got his 2017 Stanley Cup ring earlier in the day. The 40 year old spent the last two seasons with Pittsburgh and strongly considered retiring before signing with his home state Wild in August. … Wild RW Nino Niederreiter, who’s missed six games with a high ankle sprain, is expected to return to the lineup Tuesday.
Pittsburgh: At Winnipeg on Sunday night.
Minnesota: Home on Tuesday night against Winnipeg