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The Minnesota Wild continued their surge in the Western Conference standings with a convincing 2-0 shutout of the San Jose Sharks. Niklas Bakstrom stopped all 33 shots for his first shutout of the season. Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu assisted on a pair of power play goals and they didn’t let their foot off the gas pedal in the third period. Here’s Zach Parise’s power play goal from Koivu and Suter:

What a great pass from Koivu. That’s the type of pass that doesn’t connect unless the chemistry between Koivu and Parise is good. It’s the type of play only confident players make. The fact that they made it look that easy says that they’re playing with lots of confidence and that they’ve got great chemistry together. The other impressive part of that goal is that Niemi, the Sharks’ goalie, didn’t have a chance on the play. That was a sniper’s goal, one that only the most talented players have a chance of making.

Jared Spurgeon’s goal isn’t posted yet but Niemi didn’t have a chance on that shot either. Koivu won a battle in the corner, then saucered the puck out to Suter. Suter collected himself, then sent a touch pass to Spurgeon for a one-timer from the top of the left face-off circle. Though Spurgeon’s shot was a one-timer, that doesn’t mean it was a wrist shot. Spurgeon’s shot was a booming slapper, where he wound up as the puck was going from Suter to Spurgeon.

Still, it’s impossible to say that Niklas Bakstrom wasn’t the first star of the game. He was tracking the puck exceptionally well. He stopped a penalty shot early in the game when the outcome was anything but certain. He handled all the first shots with ease, then directing the puck to his defensemen.

Early in the season, the Wild played well for a period, occasionally playing well for two periods before letting down in the third period. They haven’t gotten rid of that bad habit during their current 5-game winning streak, though today was about as strong as they’ve played all season. It was a 60-minute, complete-game performance.

Charlie Coyle continues his impressive play. He isn’t scoring tons of points but his play along the wall and in the corners is impressive, especially for a rookie. He certainly doesn’t look like the game’s too big for him. The same must be said for Jonas Brodin, who is leading NHL rookies in ice time.

Even though they didn’t figure in the scoring tonight, Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley played strong games. Each played good physical games, throwing their weight around when they got opportunities and establishing a strong forecheck from the opening face-off to the final buzzer.

The Wild continue to be the hottest team in the Western Conference the last three weeks. Their defense is playing with confidence. Niklas Backstrom is a human vacuum cleaner between the pipes. They’ve got 4 lines that are each filling their niche. The Mitchell-Clutterbuck-Brodziak line had a strong game on the forecheck. Torrey Mitchell got under his former team’s skin much of the game, with the highlight being this fight with Tommy Wingels:

As they’ve gained more confidence, the Wild have started putting more pressure on in the offensive zone. They still have yet to play their perfect game, though today’s game was easily their strongest game this season.

The playoffs are still a ways off. Still, if the wild continue playing at this level, something I think they’re capable of doing, they’ll be a nightmare for most teams in April and beyond.

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