By Bruce Brothers
Updated: 03/04/2011 02:15:27 AM CST
NEW YORK — Jose Theodore is becoming the man of the hour for the Wild.
In the past week, Theodore has registered 46 saves in a 3-2 overtime win over the Anaheim Ducks and 40 saves Thursday night in a 3-1 win over the New York Rangers in front of 18,200 at Madison Square Garden.
"Obviously, the star of the game was Theo," Wild coach Todd Richards said, adding that Kyle Brodziak, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Martin Havlat produced some good plays, but "the game belonged to Theo."
It was never more so than 15 minutes into the first period, when the Wild were still looking for their first shot on goal and, in truth, were still trying to figure just how to get the puck into the Rangers' zone at all. The Rangers led 1-0 and Ryan Callahan got loose in front, but somehow Theodore got his stick in front of the goal line to make the save.
"Those are plays that you need when you're on the road to make a difference sometimes," Theodore said.
It did exactly that.
"That was a huge point in the game, when Theo reaches back and makes that save," Richards said. "When it was 1-0 there, if they score that goal, it could be a completely different result."
Callahan said he saw nothing but a yawning net, adding, "I have to score there."
Theodore called his save "a desperation move."
The puck hit another player, he explained, "and then they had an open net; I'm sure he thought it was an open net. I put my stick along the goal line and I was able to save that."
With regular goaltender Niklas Backstrom fighting the puck lately and yielding 11 goals in his past 2 1/2 games, is it time for Richards to turn the No. 1 job over to Theodore?
"That's something that we'll talk about," Richards said.
One thing they talked about Thursday night was loosening the tourniquet that seemed to be around the throats of some of the Minnesota players. The Wild spent most of the first period in their own zone, icing the puck or flipping it out of the zone and allowing the Rangers to regroup and come roaring in again as if they were on an endless power play.
But the score stayed 1-0 through 20 minutes, and Richards told the players ... well, what, exactly?
"To be honest, I don't know what I said," he said. "We talked about trying to play a little bit looser. It looked like we were a little bit tight in the first period."
With the pressure to not slip in the standings — "It's every game," Richards said — the team probably got caught up in it. "It takes away from your game," he added.
Another thing Richards brought up, Brodziak recalled, was that the Wild hadn't played their game but were still only one goal behind.
Minnesota got an early power play in the second period and Brodziak deflected in a point shot by Jared Spurgeon to tie the score after 4:36. Eight minutes later, Casey Wellman, called up Thursday morning from Houston of the American Hockey League, took a pass from Brent Burns and one-timed it for the winning goal.
And even though the Rangers poured on the shots, finishing with a 41-19 advantage, Theodore was equal to the job.
Just a week ago, bloggers and some fans sometimes pointed to Theodore as one player the Wild might move when the NHL trade deadline arrived on Monday. He didn't endorse the idea then and he's glad he didn't.
"I'm here," he said. "We're 20 guys fighting for a playoff spot. We're a good bunch of guys. Even though Backy plays most of the games, I feel like I've got a big role on this team, and every time I have a chance to play, I need to be on top of my game."