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Wild 3, Stars 2: Koivu nets shootout winner in 1,000th NHL game

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What a fitting ending to the captain’s 1,000th game.

Dallas Stars v Minnesota Wild Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

Playing 1,000 NHL games is a rare accomplishment. In fact, no player in the 20-year history of the Minnesota Wild had reached the 1,000-game mark until Sunday afternoon.

Captain Mikko Koivu became the first to do so.

As one would expect, the crowd at Xcel Energy Center showered Koivu with cheers early in the first period against the Dallas Stars as he was honored for playing in game No. 1,000. But that wasn’t the only milestone Koivu reached Sunday. He also reached the 700-point mark — 263 more points than Marian Gaborik, who ranks second on the Wild’s all-time points list.

Not long after the game’s midway point, Koivu recovered a loose puck and threw it toward Kevin Fiala, who was stationed right in front of Dallas netminder Ben Bishop in the crease. Fiala redirected Koivu’s feed with his skate and gave Minnesota the early lead.

Not a bad way to register career point No. 700!

As pretty as Koivu’s 700th point was, though, the ending to his 1,000th game was even prettier.

Tied up at two goals apiece, the Wild and Stars needed to settle things beyond regulation. The Wild have struggled in overtime since the 3-on-3 format was implemented in 2015-16, and that hasn’t changed this season — they’ve lost each of their four appearances in overtime prior to Sunday’s tilt. But for the first time in 2019-20, the Wild managed to survive the five-minute 3-on-3 session and force a shootout.

First Zach Parise scored, and Joe Pavelski answered. Then Fiala scored, and Tyler Seguin answered. After Mats Zuccarello and Alexander Radulov were both denied on their shootout attempts, it was Mikko Koivu’s turn.

You can’t write a much script better, folks. Alex Stalock sealed the deal with a nice save on Corey Perry to officially end the shootout, giving the Wild the 3-2 victory — their first win of the season past regulation.

It may have only been a regular-season tilt, but that contest almost felt like a playoff game. Mikko Koivu could very well be the greatest player to ever dawn a Minnesota Wild sweater, and at 36 years old in the final year of his contract, the long-time captain deserved something special in game No. 1,000. He may not be the 70-point player he once was, but there’s no denying Koivu’s importance to the Wild — past, present and even future (one would imagine he’ll have a say in how things are run within the organization once his playing days are over).

What a game for the captain. What a win for the Wild.

Answers to our Burning Questions

1. Can the Wild keep up their recent scoring pace?

Not quite. The Wild only scored a pair of goals in regulation, and both were scored on the man advantage. It’s a great sign that the power play is improving, but the Wild weren’t quite as effective at 5-on-5 as one would ideally hope. Still, a win is a win.

2. Can Stalock stay strong? Or can Kaapo put a cap on the Stars’ offense?

Alex Stalock was good enough to help the Wild get the win, but it certainly wasn’t the best game we’ve seen from the 32-year-old netminder this season. He did make a couple big stops in the game, including a massive sprawling save on Stars forward Tyler Seguin, but he also probably should have stopped Blake Comeau’s game-tying goal late in the third period.

At the end of the day, though, Stalock was good enough. He made 26 saves on 28 shots and came in clutch during the shootout to seal the win. He certainly played a sizable role in helping the Wild earn the two points.

3. How will Koivu perform in his 1,000th game?

Oh, you know. Just getting his 700th point and winning the game with a filthy backhander in the shootout. Nothing crazy.

Hard not to be thrilled with Koivu’s performance in his 1,000th game.